BOSTON “This new wing fully realizes Gardner’s vision at last.” With these words, Anne Hawley, director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, helped kick off the January 12 press opening for the new wing, the first of a series of celebratory events that runs through Saturday.
The 70,000-square-foot wing, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, is an addition to the original palace-turned-museum. The new wing, which took three years to build, includes a performance hall, greenhouse, education studio, special exhibition gallery, visitor orientation room, gift shop, and cafe. The series of inaugural events—donor receptions on the evenings of January 12, 13, and 14 and the Bank of America-sponsored “Community Opening Days” Thursday through this Saturday—were designed to showcase the new wing’s modernization of the museum as well as its continuity with the look and feel of the original structure.
“The most challenging aspect of the planning process [for the opening festivities] was selecting a design [scheme] that truly complemented the … modern aesthetics of the new wing without detracting from the building itself and also seamlessly transitioned into the historic palace and its timeless elegance,” said Kim Rzemien, sales manager of venue rentals and events at the Gardner.
To lend the three donor events the feel of “timeless elegance” that Rzemien described, arriving guests were greeted by music from harpist Felice Pomeranz and were offered champagne, white wine, or sparkling water in accordance with the museum’s rules to preserve the building by only serving non-colored beverages. The new visitor orientation area, known as the Living Room and designed by artist-in-residence Lee Mingwei, quickly became the primary hub for the mingling guests on each night. Donors interacted with a large touch-screen monitor detailing both the new wing’s offerings and the palace’s galleries, and museum staff was available to answer questions.
Just outside the Living Room, a glass-enclosed bridge connects the new wing to the palace’s courtyard. Beside the courtyard in the long gallery, guests snacked on the Catered Affair’s passed hors d'oeuvres of fontina arancini rolls and wild mushroom spring rolls. A quintet of flutists and an oboist played amid the classical statuary and greenery within the courtyard garden, and guests chatted at high-top tables covered in Be Our Guest’s chartreuse linens. White pots displayed Winston Flowers’ delicate pink, yellow, and white orchids, chosen to recall the new wing’s greenhouse, which is stocked with the same type of orchids.
Those without food and drink could explore the newly restored tapestry room in the original museum and the special exhibition gallery in the new wing before partaking in a buffet-style dinner in the education studio. Guests helped themselves to polenta Milanese and Moroccan-spiced, slow-braised beef short rib. Small tasting plates allowed guests to continue to circulate, taking seats at tables set up in the education room or at highboys with views of Fenway’s neighborhoods.
After dinner, donors and guests were ushered into Calderwood Hall, the new wing’s performance space, for each evening’s entertainment. On January 12, soprano Kiri Te Kanawa was the guest performer; January 13 offered a performance from cellist Yo-Yo Ma with the Gardner’s resident orchestra, A Far Cry, and the Borromeo String Quartet played on January 14. As the resonance from the last string’s vibrations ended, guests streamed out of the hall to top off the evening by sampling desserts and browsing through the new gift shop, Gift at the Gardner.
After a brief closure following the donor events, the museum reopened on Thursday for the first of three community opening days, during which the public received free admission to the museum and the new wing. Visitors could also attend introductory talks and participate in art activities.
Over the six days of donor receptions and community days, the museum expects more than 2,000 to visit the new wing. According to Rzemien, “the goal of this series of events was to celebrate the culmination of many years of planning, hard work, and dedication of everyone involved in the process of designing, constructing, and completing this new wing in a style that would have made Isabella Stewart Gardner proud.”