press release

Joan Jonas - I Know Why They Left
January 23–October 14, 2019

Joan Jonas - Blue to Blue 2016/2018
January 22–June 24, 2019

Joan Jonas, a 2017 Artist-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, opens two installations of new drawings in the Museum’s Fenway Gallery and on the Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade on January 23, highlighting her keen interest in the fragility and beauty of nature, animals, and the environment.

“Over the years, Ms. Jonas has developed a strong visual language to embrace these concerns. With these two exhibitions, she reminds us of how closely connected humans are to the animal world as well as the perils many creatures face today,” said Pieranna Cavalchini, the Museum’s Tom and Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art.

Joan Jonas: I Know Why They Left is an exhibition of 55 new drawings in the Fenway Gallery, and Blue to Blue is a site-specific installation of an additional drawing on the Museum’s outdoor façade.

As an Artist-in-Residence, Jonas explored the Museum’s collections, archives, and conservation lab, searching for animals represented in furnishings, textiles, sculptures, and other decorative artworks. A celebrated multi-disciplinary artist, Jonas spent her time at the Museum developing I Know Why They Left, a series of drawings based on photographs she took of the vast array of mythical and archetypal animals she encountered there.

“Finding all those animals was amazing,” Jonas says. “There were many more that I didn't draw. But what I learned in the process was how important animals were, not just to humans, but also to artists representing the human scenes in everyday life. Animals have always been part of our lives and that was interesting to see. I knew that, but at the Gardner it was very evident at every level.”

“I'm just interpreting what somebody else has interpreted. And who knows what sources those artists used,” says Jonas. “When I make my drawings, I don't really have any control over the spirit that comes through, if there is any. Like the way some of the lions look—they do look a certain way. That's unconscious on my part.”

While in Boston, Jonas also spent time at the New England Aquarium to study the sharks, rays, penguins, jellyfish, octopus, and other fish in the Giant Ocean Tank. This research informed, in part, her piece for the façade, Blue to Blue, an energetic drawing of a fish rendered in vivid blue ink.

At 82, Jonas has had a long career filled with numerous fellowships, honors, and awards. Her multi-disciplinary art is inspired by fairy tales and myths, and how these stories intersect with global issues such as climate change. She has a wide-ranging artistic practice, and creates immersive visual and emotional landscapes using performance, video, and other media. She represented the US in the 2015 Venice Biennale. In 2018, her work was the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London, which is now touring, and she is the recipient of the 2018 Kyoto Prize, which acknowledges global achievement and contributions to humanity.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in art history from Mount Holyoke College, studied sculpture at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and received her master’s degree in sculpture from Columbia University. In 1998, Jonas began teaching at MIT, where she is now a Professor Emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology with the School of Architecture and Planning.

In 2008, Jonas came to the Gardner Museum to work on Reading Dante, a performance and installation based on sections of Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso, which she had started in 2007 for the Sydney Biennal and later developed further for the 2008 Venice Biennale. In 2002, Jonas also performed excerpts from Lines in the Sand, a lecture/video demonstration based on Hilda Doolittle’s Helen in Egypt and Tribute to Freud with her MIT students in the Gardner Museum’s Tapestry Room.

Jonas lives and works in New York and Nova Scotia, Canada.