What, When, Where: Magic Revealed
By Debbie Hagan
Renzo Piano, famed museum architect, set a lofty goal for himself several years ago, when he launched the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum expansion and preservation project. Â He declared, â€œWe must make magic.â€ When Piano unveiled his first sketches, IÂ was among several in the art and design community who reacted with concern. So modernâ€¦and so much glassâ€¦. Wouldnâ€™t this detract from Mrs. Jackâ€™s grand folly?
Now the new wing is open, and Iâ€™m happy to report, I do see magic. Pianoâ€™s sleek, contemporary and very functional 80,000-square-foot addition provides space for the museum’s much-needed services (offices, restrooms, classrooms, performance hall and contemporary exhibition space), yet Â gives the Venetian grande dame her due. â€œThe palace is thereâ€”the object of desire,â€ says Piano. â€œHomage is always present.â€
So true. The huge walls of glass provide a frame through which to see the Palace, constantly reminding visitors that Gardner ‘s creation is a work of art. Big couches and comfy chairs in the Living Room create a place not only to gather and commune, but to sit, reflect, and soak up the view of the Monks Garden, which will be redone this spring. Charles Waldheim, consulting curator of landscape, will be soliciting commissions in February with the winning proposal announced in April.
The museum, built in 1903, receives 200,000 visitors each yearâ€”heavy traffic for any old buildingâ€”but this one lacked a lobby. Its performance area had been force-fitted into the historic Tapestry Room, and the restrooms were way overworked.
With the opening of the new wing, all that has changed. Even the buildingâ€™s exterior, seen here at night, doubles as place to exhibit contemporary art, in this case Â Ailanthus, byÂ Stefano Arienti.
Photos by Nic Lehoux, courtesy of Renzo Piano Building WorkshopÂ
The new light-infused, plant-adorned entrance creates the sensation of entering a conservatoryâ€”an Â illusion of the outside. Mrs. Jack would love this as well as the gorgeous greenhouse seen past the front desk. I’m thinking the many orchids now in the Palace’s courtyard came from here.
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