Arts 

PHANTASMA: VICTORIA MORTON

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Victoria Morton is one of the rare artists able to garner success in two mediums without formal training in either. Rarer still, she was able to display both for the public opening of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s new wing on Thursday.

Her exhibit, “Tapestry {Radio On}” fills the new wing’s primary gallery – a large white room that verges on art itself ­– with a multi-media display of oil canvases, every day items and sounds. The individual pieces work as stand alone art, but the exhibit as a whole aims for a more psychedelic appreciation. It aims for world making.

“It’s an exploration of how far you can extend the notion of the interior space of your mind and the physical space of your body,” she said. “To become part of the situation I am trying to create.”

The nine oil paintings are accompanied by a ladder, tom drum, cymbols, wood blocks, pieces of fabric, rusted out ammunition case and motion sensing speakers that play ambient tones drawn from every day noises, in an attempt to inject ordinariness into the world of the paintings, further drawing the viewer in.

Morton is a 40 year old Scottland native currently living in Glascow. For a month in 2009 she participated in The Gardner’s Artist-in-Residency program, where she was paid to live on the Gardner grounds and focus exclusively on her art.

“It was very fruitful because I was completely focused on the collection,” she said. “When I was here, I spent a long time looking at the paintings, and the garments in the archive, and trying to understand why it had been displayed that way.  I understood there was a basis of free association and narrative that I can relate directly to in my own work.”

To which I say, If you ever consider magazine writers for that program, Isabella Stewart Gardern Museum, I call fivesies – no trades.

Morton said she believes deeply in the D.I.Y. ethos and applies it to both her art and her band, Muscles of Joy, a seven piece act from Glascow that also played in the new wing Thursday night and are slotted to play New York’s New Museum on Jan. 27. Five of the other band members are visual artists as well, and the sixth, Leigh Ferguson, is a hair dresser by day. Ferguson explains that, while none of them could be called competent musicians, they’ve carved out their sound through collective writing and improvisation. They’ve been written into many genres, from art rock to tribal pop, but Ferguson believes folk is most accurate.

“I personally think of ourselves a folk musicians because we make it up as we go along,” she said. “Our skills have developed as we go along. You know my mom would go, ‘You’re not really a musicians because you can’t play a proper tune.”

The seven musicians rotate on instruments and they all sing. Ferguson plays percussion, melodica, keys and bass.

The band played in Calderwood Hall, the new wing’s acoustically inspired and odd, almost awkward looking concert hall, composed of a square stage on the ground floor, surrounded by 4 stories of seating stacked vertically on top of each other. It looks like a well-polished child of the Globe Theater and an elevator chute, but the sound is supposed to be amazing, especially for a rock band used to playing a crowded bar through a bad PA system.

“We’ll be able to properly hear ourselves for the first time ever,” Morton said. “We do a lot of singing and harmony and when you’re fighting the PA or architecture, talking in the back, it’s hard. The space is going to give us the best sound we’ve ever had.”

Having a rock band play for the public opener gives Calderwood Hall some serious indie cred. Given the competition, it’s “streets ahead” the running for Boston’s hippest classical music venue.

It also held Mayor Menino for the invocation ceremonies. And with Menino come the Hors d’oeuvres. If the Gardner did one thing right for this opening, it was the food – donuts, espresso, sausage rolls, mini pancakes, orange juice, and the kicker –

Yeah, that’s right. MINI EGGS BENEDICTS. 

Again, fivesies. I’ll be expecting your call, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

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