One doesn’t associate the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with film, photography, or video. Canvases, preferably Renaissance, are what excited its founder and what she collected, not the handiwork of cameras. But two shows currently on display there remind us that Fenway Court can be as welcoming to the 21st century as it long has been to the 15th or 16th.
“Magic Moments” started June 21 and runs through Aug. 20. It consists of weekly installations from alums of the Gardner’s artist-in-residence program. Some of the works are videos. Some are films. Dayanita Singh’s “File Room,” which is currently on display, is a digital slide show comprising 41 black-and-white images.
A new installation starts each Tuesday. The works can be short in duration. Cliff Evans’s “Empyrean” lasts seven minutes. It showed last week. At 63 minutes, David Wilson’s “The Great Soviet Eclipse,” which kicked off “Magic Moments,” is nearly feature-film length.
The Evans and Singh demonstrate how varied the installations can be. “Empyrean” satirizes hegemonic tourism/US imperialism (hence the punning title). There are elements of decoupage, collage, stop-motion, and slide show. We get brightly colored photographic images in a vaguely Middle Eastern setting. They appear, seven at a time, on the back wall of the Gardner’s contemporary exhibition gallery. Some of the images are sinister (helicopters, drones, soldiers). Others are goofy. It’s hard to top Brad and Angelina on a camel, bearing a UN flag, with the “Lawrence of Arabia” theme playing in the background.
Visually, Singh’s display is as chaste as Evans’s is garish. The individual images are projected very large, 15½ feet by 15½ feet. They’re traditional photographs of various store rooms in the artist’s native India where records are kept. We see stacks of files piled up beneath high ceilings, folio-size account books and registers, sacks of mail. It’s a pre-digital data dump, a set of archival precincts made all the more affecting somehow by their general state of disrepair. Peeling painting and rusting metal shelves are the order of the day. Yet whether despite that decay or because of it, Singh manages to make these moldering space seem both beautiful and moving.
There’s nothing decrepit about the space Luisa Lambri
The Screen and the Eye
Photographs by Luisa Lambri
At: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 the Fenway, through Aug. 20 and Oct. 15, respectively; 617-566-1401, www.gardnermuseum.org