We can hear it before we even enter the courtyard. An almost ethereal soundscape, droning, adding nervous undertones to the otherwise sophisticated ambiance of this affair.
It is the work of André Obin, this month’s featured DJ for Third Thursdays at the Isabella Gardner Museum. Third Thursday is the museum’s monthly late night, drinks and music included. He stands alone at the center of the courtyard, clad in a casual black sweater, mixing what he calls his “organically evolving, sonically linked downtempo set” with nothing but a MacBook Pro.
We’re looking at Obin from the colonnade that traces the edges of the court- yard, the central feature of this Venetian-style palace. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was founded in 1903, and it has since become a gem in the Boston art world, touting its collection of more than 2,500 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and historical manuscripts. And, once a month, the museum opens its doors after- hours for the mingling of students and adults alike.
It’s packed: Holding glasses of white wine and champagne, people cluster with- in the dimly-lit alcoves carved out by each arch. The crowd is young and elegant. We approach a group of three in their early 20s. The girl, a student from the area, tells us that Third Thursdays make the museum “a lot more accessible and inviting to people.” Her friend from Berlin, who was drawn to the event from a Facebook photo, adds that it’s great to see “young people in places they may otherwise not congregate, especially with this energy around art.”
Near art they may be, but how much they appreciate it is another question. We make our way upstairs to exhibits. It’s a perfect snapshot of the early Italian Renaissance. The walls are covered with a luxurious red fabric. Dainty chairs line the walls, each one bearing a neat sign that reads “Do Not Touch.” But there is no risk, for there are few people.
From the crowd downstairs, we are among a very small number to have actually ventured up to the art. Perhaps this is why we got so much attention from the security guards. As we eye a bust and scribble in our notebooks, a man informs us, “Excuse me, Miss, we don’t use pens here. We use pencils.” We nod and sigh. We’ve been told this before, and will be told this again throughout the night.
We leave the vacant galleries behind to check out another part of the Third Thursday experience: studio activities. Tonight’s is organized by the Boston Society of Architects, an organization of professionals who promote sustainability. Lee Dykxhoorn, the guest architect, greets us. He’s working on how to “combine the larger aspirational goals of architecture with the need to fulfill a particular need for a particular client.”
That’s where the activity comes in. To give us a taste of this potential conflict, we are handed two index cards. The first is labelled a “common good,” that people should have access to sunlight and fresh air. The second is the client: a teacher who needs a place to meet with friends after work. Our task is to build a structure, out of LEGOs, to satisfy both goals.
We aren’t ambitious enough to tackle this project. However, we do take a pair of round plastic glasses that are being passed out. They’re supposed to inspire us, and one woman with a BSA pin tells us that “all the great architects wore glasses like these.” Maybe it worked for Philip Johnson and Le Corbusier, but we’re happy keeping them as a souvenir instead.
We find our way back to the courtyard, which is still bustling with conversation and music. Even if they aren’t exploring the art itself, these young professionals and students are undoubtedly drawn to the community and the beauty of the venue.
One woman explains that she’s been coming to Third Thursdays for more than six years. She thinks it’s a good place to meet “like-minded people.” But when we ask her what her favorite exhibits were from the past, she says “Sorry, I can’t remember.”