Rachel Perry Welty Installation Coming to Gardner Museum Façade

It incorporates a color that was special to Mrs. Gardner.
rachel perry welty gardner museum

From left: ‘What Do You Really Want?’ installation rendering; artist Rachel Perry Welty / Courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Rachel Perry Welty has found inspiration in what most of us find a nuisance.

The open-ended question posed in her new installation “What Do You Really Want?” is pulled from the subject line of a spam email.

“Spam is a daily annoyance,” says the Gloucester-based artist in a press release. “But, in these words that came to my inbox, I have found something accidentally poetic. I am struck by the sheer possibility suggested by these messages. Taken out of context, the words become something hopeful and quite beautiful.”

In early January, the mural will grace the exterior of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Welty is the seventh artist-in-residence invited to create a temporary installation for the new wing’s façade, following Bharti Kher, Nari Ward, Luisa Rabbia, Hamra Abbas, Adam Pendleton, and Stefano Arienti.

Welty formed the text featured in the mural out of a single piece of crushed aluminum foil and then photographed it against a Bardini blue backdrop. It was a color beloved by Isabella Stewart Gardner, who saw it in Italy on the walls of a palazzo that Florentine dealer Stefano Bardini had transformed into a gallery.

“Will you please someday get a piece of paper with the blue colour that Bardini has on his walls. I want the exact tint,” she told Bernard Berenson, her famous art broker, in 1900.

Recently, Mrs. Gardner got her wish—the museum’s conservation team, led by Gianfranco Pocobene, was able to recreate the color and use it to paint the Gardner’s chapel. Welty was then also able to incorporate it into her installation.

“While I think this phrase speaks to any passerby on the street or visitor to the museum, it also holds a meaning in the context of this house with its collection gathered by Mrs. Gardner,” she says. “We think we knew what she wanted by the arrangement of her objects, and since her death, we only have her will for argument. What do any of us really want, anyway?”

“What Do You Want?” will be on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from January 6 through June 2016.


Olga Khvan Olga Khvan, Assistant Digital Editor at Boston Magazine olga.v.khvan@gmail.com