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Sculpture, March/April 1995
by Ann Wilson Lloyd
Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a privately amassed collection of mostly European art treasures and architectural relics housed in a rather discreet, Yankee version of a Venetian palace. The museum is a legacy of its namesake, a flamboyant (for Boston) 19th-century arts patroness who decreed in her will that the entire palace, with its contents and collection, was to be forever frozen at the time of her death - no rearranging, no adding or subtracting. Up until very recently, the Gardner was the last place one would have gone to see contemporary art.
This fall, however, museum visitors on their way to visit their favorite Rembrandts and Titians encountered video projections of nude bodies flickering among Mrs. Gardner's original assemblage of classical antiquities. The projections were the work of Boston multimedia artist Denise Marika, the museum's second artist-in-residence. Marika created two new works near the museum's exquisite, lush (but always roped off interior courtyard garden: Nameless, four life-size still projections of nudes lying curled up on the stone floor beneath dark stone benches, and Animal, a crouching, restlessly pacing nude projected in a slit-like view on a stone column. Hug, in the museum's small temporary exhibition space, was projected on a massive steel I-beam installed as a room-spanning brace. The video showed the shoulders and arms of two figures, locked in a continual struggling embrace. While Nameless was probably the most potently site-responsive, with multivalent references from the disenfranchised intruding upon this rarefied setting, to art-historical nudes, all three of the works breathed life into what sometimes seems a dim and "dusty" static collection. Marika's video sculpture in general has never been stronger, as she minimalizes her presentation while speaking laconic volumes about the private and the public.