Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Weaves Common Threads This October

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Lee MingWei, “Mending Project”

Get tangled up in time this fall at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

From October 4 to January 13, the Common Threads: Weaving Stories Across Time exhibition will feature the work of contemporary artists reimagining textile art through music, video, metalwork, and participatory art.

A major highlight of the exhibition is an “in-ear opera” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang with libretto by playwright Sibyl Kempson. Inspired by the museum’s collection of 16th-century Flemish tapestries, true pearl: an opera, in five tapestries is an audiovisual experience with the “stage set” for each scene in individual tapestries depicting the life of King Cyrus in Persia. Created to be a personal experience, the opera will be listened to through headsets, allowing the visitor to be transported by sight and sound.

Helen Mirra, “Standard Incomparable”

This highly immersive encounter with textiles extends into the new wing’s Hostetter Gallery, where a group of artists working across media will be featured. An intimate experience between visitor and mender will unfold through narrative and textile art in Lee Mingwei’s Mending Project. The installation is participatory, inviting visitors to bring a textile in need of mending. While a volunteer mender stitches the item, visitors can share the personal backstory of the textile.

Witness the collaborative practice behind Standard Incomparable, a collective project conceived by artist Helen Mirra. Sending out a global call for weavers of all ages, Mirra asked artists to create weavings with dimensions that matched the weaver’s bodies. With each weaving made from local fibers to each artist, each piece is unique.

El Anatsui, “Many Came Back”

Some works, such as Ghanian artist El Anatsui’s Many Came Back, challenge the notion of what constitutes a tapestry. Made from flattened metal liquor caps stitched together with copper wire, the work has many correlations to African history, including the demand for rum as one of the goods exchanged in the transatlantic slave trade. Though made of hard metal material, the work bends in softly draping folds, giving it the character of flowing fabric.

Other works include William Kentridge’s Porter Series: Russie d’Europe (Man with Bed on Back), Raqs Media Collective’s Great Bare Mat, Elaine Reichek’s Paint Me a Cavernous Shore, and Nevet Yitzhak’s Warcraft.

The Gardner Museum is gearing up for a full calendar of fall programming tied to the exhibition. Notably, “A Carpet for Conversation” will happen on Thursday, December 6 at 7 p.m. This creative twist on the traditional artist and curator talk unfolds around The Great Bare Mat, the carpet creative by Raqs Media Collective on display in the exhibition. Artist-in-Residence Elaine Reichek, William Kentridge, and curators Pieranna Cavalchini and Christina Nielsen will hold an open dialogue focusing on history and storytelling through time.

Elaine Reichek, “Paint Me a Cavernous Waste Shore”

Visitors can also gather for a night of fashion and performance at the October 18 Third Thursday themed “Social Fabric.” Boston Ballet costume designer Shane Maxwell will lead a textile art-making workshop in the studio. Choreographer-in-Residence Peter DiMuro will present his world premiere of Small Visitations Near an Empty Loom. Other textile inspired activities will be woven in throughout the night.

Don’t miss your chance to travel through time and discover the ways we can draw inspiration from the past and reinterpret the present through the stories we tell.

For more information, visit gardnermuseum.org.

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