Open Studio with Jared Bowen


Boston Lyric Opera's Mobile Truck and Artist Adam Pendleton

This week opera arrives via a mobile truck as the Boston Lyric Opera shares live performances in a colorful trailer designed by teen artists employed at Artists For Humanity (AFH), then artist Adam Pendleton discusses his work, “Elements of Me” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and his endeavor to save singer Nina Simone’s childhood home. Plus, Florida artist Ruth Gilmore Langs.

AIRED: October 16, 2020 | 0:26:46

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

opera's back, and coming soon to a trailer near you.

>> ♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas

♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime ♪

>> BOWEN: Then artist Adam Pendleton on the installation

he created after many a night at the Gardner Museum.

>> I like to think of the installation

that I did at the Gardner

as a kind of intervention.

>> BOWEN: Plus an artist finding energy

in Abstract Expressionism.

>> It's not unnatural for an artist

to burst out into abstract painting,

because what you're doing is, you're losing an image,

and it becomes all about shapes and colors.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, I just saw my first live musical performance

in seven months, and you might get to, as well,

because Boston Lyric Opera is hitting the road

with the simple formula: have pianist, have singer,

will travel.

>> (singing in Italian)

>> BOWEN: This dress rehearsal

for the operaNorma back in March

was the last time the Boston Lyric Opera was on stage.

>> (singing)

>> BOWEN: What a difference a pandemic makes.

With no sense of when indoor performances can resume,

the B.L.O. has decided to take the show on the road

in this tricked-out trailer.

Esther Nelson leads the company.

>> But you can't just give up on life singing,

because we need it-- we're social animals.

We need that interaction.

>> BOWEN: Where do you hope to take this?

>> Everywhere.

>> BOWEN: The opera company is calling this 26-foot-long,

eight-and-a-half-foot-wide custom-built trailer

its "Street Stage."

It was painted-- where else

but at the Museum of Fine Arts--

by a group of teenagers from Artists for Humanity.

And recently, it rolled up

to our GBH studios for a dry run.

With its doors parted, the trailer is open for opera.

>> (playing "Habañera" fromCarmen on piano)

>> ♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas

♪ Si tu ne m'aimes pas, je t'aime ♪

>> BOWEN: Is it opera if it's in a trailer?

>> Opera is singing

and telling you a story that moves you.

>> BOWEN: The B.L.O. is planning

on a string of pop-up performances,

where the Street Stage will pull up to communities

all around Greater Boston

for some surprise, socially distanced concerts.

(thermometer beeps) >> All right, there's your temp.

>> BOWEN: And here, a medic always has a starring role.

>> I'm going to have you fill out this form right here.

It's just a self-assessment form,

and it basically asks if you're having any,

experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.

>> As artists, we, we go to where the art is

and where the art can be done.

>> BOWEN: For the moment, Street Stage is traveling

only with a pianist and singer, although other musicians

and performers can be added-- even to the roof--

as safety guidelines allow.

>> ♪ Autour de toi, vite, vite ♪

♪ Il vient, s'en va

>> BOWEN: This is the first time mezzo-soprano Zaray Rodriguez,

a B.L.O. Emerging Artist, has performed in seven months.

Until the coronavirus set in,

she had a packed calendar of upcoming concerts and operas.

Now, nothing.

>> There are so many musicians and, and singers

just trying to make it work, in that sense,

and I think we are, we, we are a very resilient kind.

>> BOWEN: So this opportunity before a small audience,

even if it's onstage in a parking lot

sandwiched between traffic and tow trucks,

is hugely meaningful to her, if not downright emotional.

>> BOWEN: What will it mean to you

to have people in front of you again?

>> (sighs): Well, I honestly think

I would probably cry a little bit, yeah.

(laughs): Probably, you know, get a little teary and,

and if it happens while I'm singing, then, you know,

the singer in me will control it.

>> ♪ Time to gather and time to spare ♪

>> BOWEN: On the Street Stage playlist is the song "Somewhere"

fromWest Side Story.

It's more than 60 years old,

but it's an especially apt anthem for today.

>> ♪ Somewhere

♪ We'll find a new way of living ♪

♪ We'll find a way of forgiving ♪

♪ Somewhere

There is things that we can't control

that are happening around us.

But for the human spirit, it's so important for us

to be hopeful, and to stay hopeful.

>> The hope that, that our audiences will still need music,

will still need the message of hope.

>> You have to have some sense of hope.

And when you look through history,

uh, wars, um, disasters, it's music, very often,

that is the first sign of hope.

>> ♪ And I'll take you there

♪ Somehow

♪ Someday

♪ Somewhere

(song concludes)

>> BOWEN: Next, Adam Pendleton

had the honor of being an artist-in-residence

at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 2008.

That meant he could roam and explore

the museum day and night.

The experience formed Elements of Me,

his installation now on view

and which stands in stark contrast

to the famed Mrs. Gardner's collection.

Adam Pendleton,

thank you so much for being with us.

>> Pleasure to be here.

>> BOWEN: So you had this, this great experience

of being an artist-in-residence

at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Just to reacquaint people, this, of course,

is the museum that she constructed largely herself,

collection she amassed, largely by herself

with the help of advisers,

all of the objects placed everywhere she wanted them.

And I understand that in your time there,

you were really struck by her influence on that museum.

>> I was struck by her influence

on the museum, yes, and I was mostly struck, though,

by the ways in which the objects in the museum are displayed,

because it's, of course, such a atypical way for paintings,

silverware, tapestries, sculptures--

basically all kinds of things you can imagine--

to be on display within a "museum."

And I say "museum," because really often,

when you're walking through the Gardner Museum,

it doesn't really feel like a museum.

It still feels as though you're moving through

someone's very personal space that they have organized

and realized in a very particular way.

>> BOWEN: Well, what do we find on display in your installation?

>> I like to think of the installation that I did

at the Gardner as a kind of intervention

into the space of the museum.

And I think one of the things that is most striking

is that it is very, it's arguably very sparse

in comparison to all of the other displays

that are in the museum.

And so its logic, I think,

reads as other than the visual logic

that is more widely used throughout the museum.

And so I've taken over this small gallery space

on the first floor of the museum,

and I've created a kind of three-dimensional drawing,

where every surface of the room,

of the gallery space, has been considered.

So no wall was left untouched or unnoticed.

>> BOWEN: How do you describe the juxtaposition,

which is pretty profound, of the two adjacent galleries that,

of course, arevery Gardner Museum,

very filled to the brim with works and paintings in one room,

if you're walking in, to your right,

it's yellow walls again...

>> (inaudible) >> BOWEN: Yeah,

your stark installation, it must've been

very satisfying to go into that space.

>> Mm-hmm, well, I think...

I think it's a kind of counterpoint.

And I think the, the contrast is what is useful here.

I think it's how sometimes to mark difference.

It allows you to bring a kind of focus

to very subtle and sometimes very overt decisions

that are made, particularly the decisions that I made

as I was realizing and executing this particular project.

>> BOWEN: And you've brought in, I mean,

we see images of pieces

that we don't see elsewhere in the Gardner Museum.

Tell me about those.

>> You see a lot of...

So while the Gardner has this very diverse collection, um,

and it's still largely-- not only--

but there is a kind of focus on, on Europe, in particular.

And I think in my installation,

you see all this, images, examples of African art,

but then, of course, just because of the gap in time

between when Gardner was collecting

and when my work was realized,

you also have this kind of pull towards minimalism

and this pull towards conceptualism

that just hadn't been realized at that particular time.

So in a strange way,

my intervention in the museum acts as a kind of a timeline.

It kind of pulls you forward, pulls you into the present.

>> BOWEN: Speaking of other art forms and other artists,

I was really struck to realize that you as a child

and as a young man paid a lot of attention

to the really well-known artists of the 20th century--

Sol LeWitt, Rauschenberg...

This is, this was your stream, and so then what was it like

to be in Gardner's stream, where you're surrounded

by Rembrandt and Titian?

>> Yes, I mean, I have to be honest, my-- and I think

that's actually one of the interesting things, right?

Is that the Gardner is, through the residency program,

bringing contem...

contemporary artists into a art-historical space

that they don't typically dwell, and it's true.

These are, I did not sit around

thinking about, you know, Rembrandt

all day long.

I was thinking about, you know,

people who probably came to prominence in the,

starting in the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s,

and, of course, even the '90s.

So it's a curious thing, I have to be honest.

I'm not so enthralled with art

from that moment. (laughs)

But at the same time, there, there is something

that I would say is emotive and effective about the way

in which these objects are on display.

And I think it's, kind of speaks to this

anachronistic quality that exist

in a lot of great art, you know?

And I'm always fascinated by, with art,

how we end up looking

at the same paintings, sculptures,

films, songs, not for one year or two years,

but in many cases for 100 years,

200 years.

And I think that says something about our humanity,

and how art speaks to us on a very broad level

and in a very deep way.

>> BOWEN: Before we leave you, I also want to ask,

this is such a great project that you've undertaken

with several fellow artists... >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: Where you have purchased

the home of Nina Simone in North Carolina

and have restored it. >> Mm-hmm.

>> BOWEN: What's the significance to you

of what you've been able to do there?

>> Well, it's, it's an ongoing project,

and it was a bit of happenstance when a friend and curator,

Laura Hoptman, who has a home in North Carolina,

brought to my attention that Nina Simone's birthplace,

the home she was birthed in, was born in,

was for sale in a small town in North Carolina.

And I think it was really important for me because

it was a particular moment, I think, in America where--

and I, and I think we're still in that moment--

where we're asking ourselves hopefully very deep

and critical questions about who we are,

and who we want to be as a people, as a country,

as a society.

And I thought-- and think-- that Nina Simone,

from a political standpoint, represented something

very pressing about this question of, what is

American culture?

And to point to someone like Nina Simone and say,

"This is American culture,"

that was something that was really important for me to do

at that time.

>> BOWEN: Well, Adam Pendleton, such a pleasure

to speak with you and to see your exhibition at the Gardner,

and anticipate your upcoming exhibition

at the Museum of Modern Art.

Thank you so much.

>> Thank you so much.

Pleasure to be here, take care.

>> BOWEN: You, too.

It's time now for Arts This Week,

where we find the young at art.

See the richness of African textiles

at Fitchburg Art Museum's

Cloth Is Money: Textiles from the Sahel Sunday.

>> (playing classical piece)

>> BOWEN: Catch classical music from Bach to Beethoven Tuesday

by tuning into Boston Symphony Orchestra's

Encore BSO Recitals.

>> ♪ I could have danced all night ♪

>> BOWEN: Wednesday marks the anniversary of the premiere

ofMy Fair Lady 56 years ago.

The film went on to win eight Academy Awards,

including best picture.

Jump online Thursday to see Downtown Crossing,

presented by Company One Theater.

It's a digital world-premiere play built around

real interviews with immigrants, their families, and advocates.

Artists for Humanity is turning neighborhoods into galleries.

Saturday presents Voices of the Future,

projections of artwork by teen artists onto buildings

in Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, and Roxbury.

We move to Florida now, for a look at

an international art exhibition presented for more than 15 years

by the not-for-profit organization

Embracing Our Differences, where kids and adults

frame our togetherness through art.

>> This is our 17th year at Embracing Our Differences.

Embracing Our Differences is an arts and education organization

focused on promoting the importance of diversity,

inclusion, kindness, and respect.

>> ...favorite picture in this whole exhibit.

Okay, come back here, and sit down.

>> We try to start at the youngest age possible,

teaching these important messages

of kindness and respect,

and we want the kids to come back year after year

so they continue to understand

these messages in different ways

through different pieces of artwork.

And that's why these high school docents

work with the younger kids and really ask them questions.

They're not there to tell them about the art piece.

They're there to see

what the kids see

and what they think about this art piece.

>> I love being a docent.

I do a lot with kids ordinarily.

And this, it's just so much fun for me

because I love working with kids.

I love talking to them.

And then just being able to see the change on their face

when I say something

that really clicks, that what they're seeing is important

and it's making a difference, that is amazing for me.

(kids cheering)

>> I really appreciate Embracing Our Differences,

because for me, it ties into

what I want to do as an artist and as far as

making art that has meaning,

and, uh, just sending a message.

And I think Embracing Our Differences allows people

to do that.

The piece I submitted in Embracing Our Differences

is a photograph of one of the students at the school.

He's Mexican American,

and that piece just really symbolized people

coming from other countries, especially Mexico,

in search of a better opportunity.

In art, my interest has always been painting people,

and I like to make it more expressive, kind of abstract,

using, like, many different colors and stuff like that.

But lately, I've been trying

to focus more on making art

that has, like, meaning and a purpose behind it

in hopes to create change.

And that's why I really like Embracing Our Differences,

because it allows you to do that

and it's helping me, you know, with different ideas

on how I could do that.

>> I think the draw for artists from around the world

to submit to our exhibit is that they're not able

to express themselves a lot of times,

especially about this topic of diversity and inclusion.

So we give them that outlet

and that way that they are able

to really put their emotions out there.

>> In my art class, Antonio is one of the students

who is more focused on his artwork during class.

Antonio really gets excited about making art,

and, you know, he was one of the students who had a opportunity

to submit work to Embracing Our Differences,

because he really took the time and put in the effort

to make a piece more complete.

>> I hope to open people eyes with my artwork.

The reason I picked that topic is because other people

and my father are going into war

to fight for our freedom,

and they don't want to kill other people,

and they don't want to die by other people.

I hope people really get it.

>> Our goal with the exhibit, as well as our

year-round education program, is for everyone

to start treating others with kindness and respect.

So we want young kids, as well as adults,

to understand that their words matter

and their interactions with others matter.

>> As a docent, it is our job to try and help the little kids

make sense of it.

Various kids have different experiences with the artwork.

They interact with it differently.

It helps if you have a good docent who's expressive

in asking them questions.

You saw the mice?

>> Out of the 16,000-plus submissions,

about 9,000 of them were from students in our community

in Sarasota and Manatee County schools.

However, the rest of those submissions

come from around the world.

And when you go down to the Bayfront and see

the 50 art pieces and 50 quotations that are on display,

about half of them are from places outside of Florida.

So it's really exciting to see the representation.

>> I think an exhibit like Embracing Our Differences

is very important, especially in our community,

where we have a lot of diverse individuals

and we might not know where someone else comes from,

you know, what their background is,

what they go through.

And this exhibit allows them to see

a glimpse of what other people might see.

>> When I draw, it makes me feel good.

It makes me feel relaxed,

like nothing is around me.

I'm only focusing on that drawing.

>> With Embracing Our Differences,

I'd say that my biggest takeaway

has been that all of these people from around the world

come and try and make a difference in the community.

>> I want people to walk away from the exhibit thinking about

how this art can impact their daily lives,

and how these messages

can change their interactions with others

in a more positive way.

>> Do you see the wings?

>> BOWEN: And we stay in Florida for our next story,

in which Ruth Gilmore Langs,

an Abstract Expressionist painter,

guides us through her process in her studio gallery.

(paintbrush scraping)

>> I love color.

It seems to talk to me when I work.

My name is Ruth Gilmore Langs.

I'm an abstract painter,

and my studio gallery is in Islamorada, Florida.

I think that the Keys are unique in their light.

The light is very different here.

It's very ultraviolet light,

and that's an inspiration.

As an Abstract Expressionist, I love painting large-scale.

I love thick paint all the way--

thicker, the better.

I use a lot of texture.


I used to be a weaver when I was younger,

and I loved the texture and fibers.

And I think it's translated into the painting.

It's not unnatural for an artist

to burst out into abstract painting,

because what you're doing is, you're losing an image,

and it becomes all about shapes and colors.

And for me, I see it as a very high form of expression

and extremely challenging,

because you're, you're losing the trees and the ocean,

and you're trying to emote and communicate through

brushstroke, color, paint, energy.

In my heart and in my soul, I'm a storyteller.

And however I... Whatever medium

you land on as an artist, it's storytelling.

If we're lucky, we get to show,

and showing is a completely different thing

than painting and working.

So suddenly, you've been working alone, and working alone,

and focusing on your topic,

and then you move it into a studio and hopefully have

a really big fun party.

I pick themes and then I follow them.

And that's true for the U.S.A. series.

I've been following it

for 20 years, and one of the things about following a story

is, it started with 9/11 and the shock of that,

the shock the whole country had--

the whole world had-- with that.

And then to follow that series

into what America is today,

there's a story there,

and I'm telling it through shapes and color.

And what it's saying is gonna be

everybody's eyes and ears

to figure that out.

For me, that painting is a victory,

because I'm, was trying really hard

to express the beauty of America-- the rivers,

the sunshine, the land,

the expansiveness.

All the while with the limitation--

which isn't that big of a limitation--

but I was on a ten-and-a-half- foot canvas trying to express

our huge nation.

The second piece to theU.S.A. series,

which I started after 9/11, is probably the darkest

piece in the series, mostly because it's black and white.

It's a repetition of "U.S.A." and the numbers 11.

And as I began repeating the numbers 11,

it became obvious to me that that represented

the Twin Towers.

I myself have come to see the paintings as mirrors.

And, um, they're a reflection,

and I think they'll offer whatever needs to be offered

to each individual person, because we bring ourselves

as much as anything to these paintings.

They will give out, but you bring yourself,

and everybody is gonna bring their own history,

and their own story,

and their own feelings about America,

no matter where you're from in the world.

And I think these paintings are an attempt to express it

through Abstract Expressionism.

How lucky is that that that's my tool?

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, a major new exhibition looks at

Jean-Michel Basquiat and the friends who defined

the hip-hop generation.

And two musicians striking all the right notes

with horn and harp.

>> (playing gentle piece)

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

As always, you can visit us online at

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,



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