Stewart Gardner presents flower sculpture show



World renowned sculptor Jean-Michel Othoniel opened a new exhibit, “Secret Flower Sculptures,” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 12. A site-specific sculpture, Peony, The Knot of Shame, is suspended from the ceiling in the Museum’s Hostetter Gallery alongside four new gold paintings and a presentation of his 2015 Versailles project. Outdoors near the gallery is a companion sculpture, La Rose des Vents, a gold aluminum kinetic sculpture made to capture and reflect sunlight in all directions as it turns in the wind. The sculptures will be on exhibit through Sept. 7.

JeanMIchelOthoniel works mainly with glass, depicting its timelessness as well as its paradox of fragility and strength. The influence behind “Secret Flower Sculptures” came from his tenure as an Artist-in-Residence at the Gardner Museum during the summer of 2011, a tradition that honors Isabella Stewart Gardner’s belief in supporting artists in the process of their discovery, conceptualization, and creation of art. Since 1992, the Museum has offered various artists the gift of time, and all of the Museum’s contemporary installations are done by Artists-in-Residence.

During his residency, Othoniel discovered an 18th century book at the Boston Public Library called The Art of Describing Dance by Raoul-Auger Feuillet about ballet choreography and performances during Louis XIV’s reign in France. The book, its drawings, and time at the Museum inspired him to draw concepts for three fountain sculptures, Les Belles Danses (The Beautiful Dances) for Versailles’ “Water Theater Grove” which opens May 12 outside of Paris. It will be the first permanent contemporary sculptures in the Versailles gardens in 300 years. Othoniel won the competition with French landscape designer Louis Benech. This historical project will be shown, for the first time, in the U.S. at his Gardner exhibition. Several of the drawings made in Boston will be exhibited along two bronze models of Les Belles Danses, and the library will loan Raoul-Auger Feuillet’s original book to the Museum for the exhibition.

For “Secret Flower Sculptures,” Othoniel also assembled his own personal tour of the Gardner Museum and created a book, The Secret Language of Flowers, in which he explores the symbolic meaning of flowers in the Gardner collection and from other collections around the world through drawings and pictures. His passion for flowers and their meaning informed his view of the Museum’s collection as a beautiful garden.

JeanMIchelOtholiel_03062015_9557_editJean-Michel Othoniel lives and works in Paris. He began working with glass in the early 1990s after being introduced to some of the finest glassmakers in Murano, Italy. From 1996, he began creating artworks for specific places – hanging giant necklaces in the gardens around the Villa Medici in Rome and from trees in the gardens of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. In 2000, he had an invitation to transform a Paris subway station into a double crown of glass and aluminum for his work, Le Kiosque des Noctambules.

In later works for the “Crystal Palace” exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in Paris and MoCA in Miami, Othoniel made blown-glass enigmatic sculptures that resembled jewelry, architecture, and gigantic erotic objects. By 2004, he exhibited his freestanding glass necklaces at the Musee du Louvre, and by 2011, he had an important retrospective, “My Way,” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris which moved onto the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art/Plateau in Seoul, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the Macao Museum of Art in China, and the Brooklyn Museum of New York.

His art has also been exhibited in various museums and galleries all around the world.

“To exhibit Jean-Michel Othoniel’s work is a great honor in and of itself,” said Pieranna Cavalchini, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art. “Having the sculptures installed on the gallery’s ceiling and outside reflects his ingenuity and vision as an artist but it also showcases the museum as a continually inspiring place to experience contemporary art in Boston.”

Anne Hawley, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Norma Jean Calderwood Director, said it is gratifying to see Jean-Michel Othoniel come full circle as an Artist-in-Resident whose time at the Gardner lead to a major installation in Versailles and in Boston.  “He is an example of how we perpetuate the legacy of our founder, Isabella, by supporting current artists and their work,” she said.

Related exhibit events and lectures:

•Murano: Glass from the Olnick Spanu Collection. On Saturday, April 18 at 2 p.m., Nancy Olnick and Giorgio Spanu will discuss how they began collecting Murano glass, what factors inform their decisions about what to purchase, and what they see as their personal mission as collectors. Jean-Michel Othoniel learned from the glassmakers in Murano, Italy. Tickets are $5 to $15. Reserve online at or call 617-278-5156.

•A Closer Look: Glass. On Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m., Pieranna Cavalchini, the Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art at the Gardner Museum, and James McLeod, an associate professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, will lead an intimate discussion about Jean-Michel Othoniel’s Secret Flower Sculptures exhibit in Hostetter Gallery followed by a master glassmaker demonstration in MassArt’s glass studio. The program will run about two hours. Tickets are $17 to $27. Reserve online at or call 617-278-5156.

If you go …

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is located at 25 Evans Way, Boston MA 02115.

Hours: Open daily from 11 am to 5 p.m. and Thursdays until 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.

Admission: Adults $15; Seniors $12; Students $5; Free for members, children under 18, everyone on his/her birthday, and all named “Isabella”

$2 off admission with a same-day Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ticket

Info Line, 617-566-1401 and  Box Office, 617-278-5156


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