Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
I like places where I can be quiet. Where I can walk around, explore and be subject to immense and awe-inspiring beauty without disrupting it. I love to interact, yes, and to feel that I’m offering comparable curiosity in return, but sometimes it’s best to remain still, observing, taking note of the details, and marveling at the comprehensive artistry and allure of it all.
Something else I’ve learned about museums: there’s no perfect day for them, no ideal moment in which to enter. The display of art assembled, lives curated, and histories amassed, offers an interminable respite to the anxieties that seem to pervade, the worries which seem to haunt, and the uncertainty and unease of always. And I like this reprieve both rain or shine.
My attempts to call in earnest for delicacy and fascination in everyday life are often misunderstood as evasions, as avoidances of truth and rejections of reality. But in seeking out museums, I can reposition interpretations of this pursuit, leaning into history not as a crutch, but as an instrument, as a means of illustrating and illuminating how I understand and imagine myself to be.
And maybe this is true of all inquiries into aesthetic realms. Maybe we delve into books, indulge in films, or concern ourselves with the lives of others, so that we can build with context, create with a framework that grounds us and orients us. Maybe we chase after this information so that we don’t feel so lost.
Or maybe it’s only me.
We came into the museum on Sunday afternoon, following a brunch at Juliet (oh, how I regret not giving documentation to the fluffy brioche spread with the best butter I’ve ever licked off the tip of my knife, and a thick, tangy Greek yogurt swirled with jewel-toned preserves and the surprising freshness of herbs--maybe memory serves as its own image.) Walking through the museum’s doors marked a thankful departure from the heat, and an entrance into what can only be called a welcome interlude we were afraid would wither in our departure.
But we didn’t think of that then, not yet, hoping instead to take solace in this sanctuary where we hid out, a sort of retreat that ran parallel to the weekend’s pause in accountability, suspension of commitment and constraint. Coming to the courtyard, we looked out across a garden of powdery hydrangea, suggesting a knowledge of organic growth and change tempered by the sculpture’s suggestion of endurance, the continuity and persistence of art.
The interplay was evident, the use of the courtyard as a center, a view of this essential piece from every room. You circle around this space at the museum’s heart, subconsciously aware that your movement is dependent upon its positioning. Because of this, rooms interact with one another, and you sense landscape and suspect context, realizing then the reality that you’re not engaging with a collection, but immersing yourself in a life.
The lighting was low, pieces unlabeled, details convincing me that I was not here as a visitor, but as an occupant, a denizen dwelling in a place I could know as my own. But would I ever grow accustomed to it, and what would I lose if I did? Would I become bored, complacent, satisfied with what I saw, with what I claimed to know?
For a moment, I thought this solidified a love of museums for the discovery and happenstance they offered, the possibility that everything could be new when I turned the corner, when I looked up, or paused to glance downward. But I thought again, realizing that such novelty is not made possible by context, but by the shift of perspective, recognizing that wonderment is inherent within everything, inextricable from every moment, object, or idea. In returning to a place, a person, or even a previous me, I could find something changed, something different, something new to wonder about and to love.
What else is there to believe in if not the promise of that?