I recently sat down with Anne Hawley Director of the ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM which opens its new wing—all glass and light– by architect Renzo Piano on January 19, 2012. The opening is sure to be the highlight of the cultural scene this winter!
For me, this Venetian palazzo of a museum has always been a highlight– my absolute favorite space in all of Boston– ever since I was a student right next door on the Fenway at Simmons College! I used to wander over to the Gardner, snuggle up with a book in an alcove in the courtyard, and pretend that I lived there. Years later, when I made my very first appearance on TV on EVENING MAGAZINE, it was from the balcony overlooking that very courtyard. Now, I live in a house with an interior courtyard inspired by Mrs. Gardner and designed by my architect husband; we hold musicales there. It’s a dream come true.
The Gardner is about to enter a new phase and I couldn’t wait to see the new space and share it with you! Here’s my conversation with Anne and some photos of the new space!
JK:The Gardner is a museum that isn’t supposed to change– per Mrs. Gardner’s will—but the new wing is all about change!
AH: The mission isn’t changing. The new wing is all about the kinds of programs that Isabella did in her lifetime. She had artists in residence — John Singer Sargent painted here; she had composers, and she produced their work. So she was running a center (for) new work, new ideas, new music, new thought.
We resumed that work about 20 years ago—but there wasn’t enough space to do it well—and attendance is going up!
(In the new wing) you’re entering a workshop. All these activities– from being in the living room ( a salon-like space for
conversation and tea and real live birds—which Isabella loved!), or going to a concert upstairs, watching a museum at work, the café, the classroom, the gift shop– happen here. Basically we’ve off-loaded (those) public programs and services to make the original museum sacred space again for the protection of the collection. The sacred space is through the link and into her world, her mind, and it’s now been uplifted; many of the galleries have been re-installed and refurbished to the appearance they had in 1926! So the magic is going to be even better in here!
JK: Why Renzo Piano– and did it have anything to do with his being Italian?
AH:Well, partly! We picked Renzo out of 75 different architects. He gets it! He understands the quirkiness; he refers to (Mrs. Gardner) as this mad, mad
woman who landed a spaceship on the Fens because there was nothing here—and then there’s a Venetian Palazzo?!
JK: What are you most excited about?
AH: I guess I’m so thrilled that we can interact with the public .. so they can see Mrs. Gardner’s legacy! She was a patron of creative people and she supported them and she presented their work. There is nobody doing what she did– the way she did it –today, as an individual. But as a museum we are carrying that out!
JK: What would Isabella think?
AH: I think she’d LOVE it! In fact Renzo Piano was asked what he would do if he met her in paradise and he said, “I’d ask her to Tango!”
There are many more photos– click here! But that’s just to hold you until you can plan a trip to the Gardner itself when it officially re-opens to the public on JANUARY 19, 2012.
There’s a new restaurant “Cafe G ” which is light and airy and a new chef who took me behind the scenes to tour the huge new kitchen. There’s an extensive calendar of events including concerts (everything from classical music to cutting edge jazz and contemporary), educational programs for kids and adults, informal “salon” like gatherings planned with hosts in the living room, after hours activities, and on and on.
Be sure to travel through the glassed-in walkway over to the original palazzo– it’s mid-winter courtyard garden is now lush with tropical and subtropical plants. Up above, the Tapestry Room has been restored to its former glory; that sweeping expanse of russet tiled floor, carved stone mantelpiece , and elaborate wall tapestries have been relieved of decades of grime, and released to their original burnished beauty. It all looks the way Isabella last saw it.
Clearly, I am absolutely enamored of the place and the woman. When the Boston Symphony Orchestra asked me to appear on opening night two years ago as Mrs. Gardner, dressed as she was in that famous portrait by her friend John Singer Sargent, I was thrilled to oblige. I humbly submit a photo of me as the woman whose mission has guided me through my professional life: