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Nightlife: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Gallery games, artist talks, music in a Venetian-style palace


On a recent evening, we were among a crowd of about 500 people in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Hostetter Gallery to see a series of photographs and text recalling the March 18, 1990, theft of more than a dozen of the Gardner’s masterpieces. The Venetian-style palace in the Fenway houses the world-famous art collection of the late Isabella Stewart Gardner. That March night,
two men disguised as police officers pulled off one of the greatest art heists in history, stealing an estimated $500 million worth of art, including Vermeer’s The Concert, Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and several Degas sketches. The case remains unsolved.

The special exhibition—Sophie Calle: Last Seen—which the museum calls “a visual meditation on absence and memory,” includes interviews with curators, guards, and staff about what they recalled of the stolen works.

Calle’s exhibition provided that night’s Third Thursdays theme: How do our memories play tricks on us? The monthly program is built around a single theme and is held on the third Thursday evening of each month. The music, games, conversation, lectures, and refreshments are designed to bring together artists, young professionals, and college students.

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Studio “artivities” and live music at the Gardner’s Third Thursdays provide a relaxing outlet for guests of all ages. Photo courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

We stopped by to see why the Gardner’s Third Thursdays have become such a hot ticket. In addition to the Calle exhibition, guests were treated to a series of 15-to-20-minute talks by staff that introduced Gardner, her collection, and the present-day museum. We learned that Boston socialite “Mrs. Jack” was one of the most distinguished American art collectors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that her namesake museum, which opened in 1903, houses an esoteric collection of more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, textiles, rare books, and other objects, some dating back to ancient Rome, others to Medieval Europe, the Renaissance, and 19th-century France.

Throughout the evening, guests could create their own print in a studio “artivity” called block printing, a traditional method used to decorate textiles. Drawing inspiration from textiles found in the Dutch Room, guests sat around a long table to sketch an original design to cut out of foam, pasted the design onto a block, and stamped their design on paper using colorful paints.

The Chez Tortoni courtyard cash bar served a special sparkling wine cocktail with peach and white cranberry juice ($8) and beer ($6). For a sit-down dinner, the Café G offered a special French menu inspired by Calle’s birthplace. Among the reasonably priced dishes were escargots and leek stew ($10), duck leg confit ($19), and cinnamon beignets ($8).

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Inspired by the motifs and details found in the fabrics in the museum’s Dutch Room, guests created their own block prints during a recent Third Thursday event. Photo by Sonia Su

At 7 and 8 p.m. art fans could discuss Calle’s work with residency and contemporary program manager Tiffany York. On view now through March 3, Sophie Calle: Last Seen features two Gardner-inspired works by the artist, the first from 1991, the second created in 2012.

Inside the breathtaking four-story Calderwood Hall, guests jammed to High Rock Mountain band’s tributes to bluegrass, newgrass, blues, and American roots music. Musicians Sadie Currey, Chris Rooney, Jordan Alleman, JD Williams, and Nate Sabat were led by Berklee Professor Dave Hollender.

The courtyard garden, filled with flowers and plants, offered a welcoming spot for leisurely strolls and amiable chatter.

The museum’s Third Thursdays provide a calm, culturally invigorating change from a typical college night out. Another incentive? Admission to the event, which normally costs $15, is free for BU students.

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Roving memory journals allowed guests to record a memory anonymously—such as a favorite meal, a first or last kiss—then pass it on to someone else. Photo by Sonia Su

Visit the Gardner tonight, Thursday, January 16, from 5:30 to 9 p.m. for the January Third Thursday, “Midwinter Tropics,” and revel in the courtyard’s blooms and listen to DJ Adam Gibbons spin his Caribbean rhythms in Calderwood Hall. The night’s decidedly botanical theme will allows guests to take part in a hands-on horticulture project, potting up succulents in the museum’s greenhouse, as well as participate in a writing activity and, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., a gallery game designed to focus on a few pieces with a verdant theme.

And remember, if you’re a BU student, it’s free.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is at 280 The Fenway, Boston; phone: 617-566-1401; hours: Wednesday to Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Tuesday. Admission to the museum and the Third Thursday events is free for BU students with a valid ID, museum members, members of the US military and their families, and anyone named Isabella. General admission is $15, $12 for seniors 65 plus; and $5 for students from colleges not participating in the University Membership Program. Third Thursdays events are held on the third Thursday of each month in the courtyard garden from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and include free music, a cash wine bar, artist and spotlight talks in the galleries, and art-related activities. By public transportation, take an MBTA Green Line E trolley or a #39 bus from Copley Square to the Museum of Fine Arts stop.

‘Like’ the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Facebook for museum and event updates.

This is part of a series featuring Boston nightlife venues of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.

Sonia Su can be reached at ssu@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @SoniaSu_.


4 Comments on Nightlife: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

  • Daniela on 01.16.2014 at 9:45 am

    My experience when I attended the first Third Thursdays was marvelous and unforgettable. The art, environment, and people make you feel that you are no longer in Boston, but rather in Europe. I definitely recommend to attend this event as you will leave with a completely different mindset on art and on the Boston art scene, I promise! Plus it’s free, if you are a BU student, just bring your Terrier car. After your first visit, you will come back for more, I assure you!

  • Anne DiNoto on 01.16.2014 at 10:43 am

    Thx for posting this–the Gardner is one of my favorites in Boston.

  • Rebecca DiMattia on 01.16.2014 at 1:05 pm

    Please note: Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait at age 23 was NOT among the works stolen from the museum. It is very much still on view at the Gardner Museum. Among the works stolen were Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, and his Lady and Gentleman in Black. As a BU employee, and long-time Gardner Museum volunteer, I can HIGHLY recommend Third Thursdays for the BU community!! You will not want to miss this.

    • BU Today on 01.16.2014 at 2:43 pm

      We erroneously reported that Rembrandt’s “Self Portrait at age 23″ was among the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It was another self-portrait by Rembrandt that was stolen, as well as his masterpiece, “Storm on the Sea of Gaililee.” We have amended the story to reflect that. Thank you for your comment.

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