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Gardner Museum presents a project on absence and memory following the museum's 1990 art theft
What Do You See? (Rembrandt, A Lady and Gentleman in Black), (detail), 2013 1 Lambda print and 1 lithograph on Rives BFK paper 2 panels, each: 26 7/8 x 39 7/8 in. (68.2 x 101.2 cm). Edition of 2 French, 2 English 2013 Sophie Calle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy of Sophie Calle, Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.

BOSTON, MASS.- The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum announced today the opening of an exhibition titled Last Seen by French artist Sophie Calle on view from October 24, 2013 through March 3, 2014. The exhibition includes Calle’s 1991 Gardner-inspired work on display for the first time at the Gardner, as well as new work created in 2012.

The 14 photographic and text based works in Last Seen consist of two distinct series. The first, created in 1991, titled Last Seen… is a series of photographs and texts created shortly after the 1990 theft during which 13 objects were stolen from the Museum. The second series, titled What Do You See?, includes new work which Calle made in 2012 at the Museum while revisiting the earlier project.

“It’s a thrill to welcome Sophie Calle to the Gardner Museum for this exciting exhibition,” said Anne Hawley, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “She is a major artistic force and her exhibition will pave the way for an exciting fall and winter season of contemporary art at the Gardner Museum.”

In 1990, during an exhibition of Calle’s work at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Calle was interviewed for a Parkett magazine article by Sheena Wagstaff. At Calle’s request the interview took place at the Gardner in front of Jan Vermeer’s 1658–60 painting The Concert, one of Calle’s favorite paintings. Later that March, the painting became one of the thirteen works stolen from the Museum. Wagstaff later jokingly hinted that perhaps Calle was responsible for the theft. This suggestion spurred Calle to consider creating a project focused on the Gardner’s stolen works.

While standing in front of the empty spaces on the Museum walls where works were once hung, Calle asked curators, guards, conservators, and other Museum staff members what they remembered of the missing pieces. Calle used text from the interviews and the photographic images to create a visual meditation on absence and memory, as well as reflection on the emotional power works of art hold on their viewers.

“Calle regularly inserts the personal circumstances of her own life into her artistic activities, often placing herself in challenging emotional and psychological situations, and enlisting the participation of others,” said Pieranna Cavalchini, Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “She has created works dealing with the loss of sight, loss through death, missing people, missing identities or experiences that must be re-created from recollections. Absence and memory are crucial threads that run through all her projects. This exhibition is a poignant reminder of just how much power art and, a great artist like Sophie Calle, can yield in bringing life, energy and beauty to what is in essence a never ending story of loss. "

In 2012 the Gardner invited Calle to revisit her Last Seen… project, which had never been viewed in Boston. Since Calle’s 1991 work in the Museum, the empty frames that once held the absent works had been reinstalled in the galleries, literally framing the emptiness.

“While I was discussing the project of showing Last Seen at the Gardner with the curator, I learned that since my last visit they had restored the frames of the missing paintings (they had been left behind) and put them back on the wall,” said Sophie Calle. “So I decided to propose a new version of the project, based on the fact that the paintings’ absence was now so visible, delimited by an empty frame. My work is often about absence: of a lover, a parent, a friend, or of something else that is missing. What was interesting here is how the absence was emphasized and made visible in such a striking way.”

In creating her new project, What Do You See?, Calle once again questioned people in the Museum’s Dutch Room, but this time she did not mention the missing paintings to the staff and visitors with whom she spoke. She asked each viewer to respond to what they saw before them.

Last Seen… was first shown at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh in 1991. Since then, it has been presented, in its entirety or in abridged form, at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum in Hanover, New Hampshire; Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; the Muse Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne; the Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris; and the Portalen, Koge Bugt Kulturhus, Copenhagen. Last Seen… was also featured as part of a Calle survey show organized in 2003 by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which traveled to the Ludwig Forum fr Internationale Kunst, Aachen; the Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin; and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin.

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