Lorraine O’Grady opens on Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Façade

Above: Lorraine O’Grady, The Strange Taxi, Stretched, 2020. Photo: Stewart Clements Photography and Design.

On January 14, 2020, acclaimed Boston-born artist Lorraine O’Grady unveiled her adapted autobiographical work The Strange Taxi, Stretched (2020) as the latest installation featured on the Gardner Museum’s Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade. The Strange Taxi, Stretched will be on view through May 19, 2020. 

The work is an adaptation of one of two autobiographical photomontages made in 1991 by O’Grady to depict and clarify her New England and Caribbean heritages—The Strange Taxi: or From Africa to Jamaica to Boston in 200 Years and The Fir-Palm. In both the original and newly stretched versions, O’Grady features female members of her own family: her mother, Lena (second from left) and three aunts. 

The four figures emerge through the roof of a classic New England mansion, representing black women escaping from the limitations placed on them in a post–World War I Boston, when domestic service was virtually the only employment available to them. For the Gardner’s Façade, O’Grady doubled the height of the sky above them, metaphorically giving the women—and their descendants—expanded room to grow.

For the first time, exhibitions in the Museum’s special exhibition galleries and on the Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade are in thematic dialogue with one another. The Strange Taxi, Stretched will be joined by concurrent exhibitions—Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent, and Adam Pendleton’s Elements of Me—each of which delves into Black and Brown lived experiences, past and present, to expand the story of American Art.

Lorraine O’Grady has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions, featured at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) and Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, Monastery de Santa María de las Cuevas, Seville, Spain (2016); among others. She has been a resident artist at Artpace San Antonio, TX, and has received numerous other awards, including a 2015 Creative Capital Award in Visual Art, a Creative Capital Grant, the CAA Distinguished Feminist Award, a Life Time Achievement Award from Howard University, an Art Matters grant, and the Anonymous Was A Woman award, as well as being named a United States Artists Rockefeller Fellow. Most recently, she was honored with a Skowhegan Medal (2019) and the Francis J. Greenburger award (2017).

In addition to her work as a visual artist, O’Grady is also a writer whose contributions to cultural criticism include the now-canonical article, “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity.” Her essay NOTES on Living a Translated Life,” written for the Boston’s Apollo: Thomas McKeller and John Singer Sargent catalogue, is fairly autobiographical and imagines how her family’s life and that of Thomas McKeller relate. A book of her collected writings, Lorraine O’Grady: Writing in Space, published by Duke University Press, will be released this year.

On Saturday, February 15 at 3pm, Adam Pendleton’s film Lorraine O’Grady: Portrait (2012) will be followed by a conversation between the artists in a program titled REDEFINED: The Black Model in 21st-Century Portraiture.

The Gardner Museum’s Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade has previously featured works by artists including Joan Jonas, Elaine Reichek, Steve Locke, Rachel Perry, Hamra Abas, Ambreen Butt and Nari Ward.

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