The art stolen in the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist of 1990 is coming to a wall near you — well at least part of it is. Artist Sophy Tuttle is creating a series of public art installations featuring the likeness of the missing pieces — pieces that haven’t been spotted since they were taken from the museum in 1990. Her installation features images of the missing paintings, which are partly obscured to symbolize their absence from their rightful home.
The Gardner Heist obviously goes beyond Boston lore — it’s the largest successful art heist in the world to date. WBUR’s newest podcast “Last Seen,” explores the history of the heist and unpacks how two men posing as police officers got away with $500 million worth of art.
“A lot of Bostonians are aware of the heist” Tuttle points out. “But we don’t necessarily know the details, like which pieces were stolen and who created them or even what they look like.” Included in the 13 missing pieces are “The Concert” by Vermeer and “Christ In The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Rembrandt’s only seascape painting.
Tuttle’s art installations, commissioned by WBUR, encourage people to directly engage with a story that often feels more myth than reality. “When putting them in public spaces, it’s really interesting to see people go ‘What’s that?’ before going to the “Last Seen” website to learn more”.
Tuttle drew inspiration for the art installations from the original artist who created the website for “Last Seen.” “They had created this cool image of one of the paintings with this old looking wallpaper in the background and it was really mysterious,” she said.
Using stencils and paint, Tuttle recreates the wallpaper feel on various mediums, including brick and glass. On top, she wheat-pastes enlarged prints of the missing artwork with the title of the podcast.
The two side by side conjure feelings of mystery and intrigue, much like a “MISSING PERSON” poster. The installations can be viewed at seven different locations, including Bromfield St. at Downtown Crossing and Bow Market in Somerville and future sites at HubWeek and WBUR’s City Space. Sam Adams Brewery in Jamaica Plain is the most recent home to five of these installations, including recreations of “Three Mounted Jockeys” by Degas and “The Concert” by Vermeer.
Tuttle’s creations won’t be permanent installations in Boston. “Boston isn’t a traditionally receptive city to public art,” Tuttle told WBUR. “In general, the city doesn’t have a lot of public art. So these pieces are temporary and are on privately owned property.” The installations will be available for viewing over the next 10 weeks. However, the brevity of the installs won’t diminish the impact. The true beauty lies in taking the likeness of these artworks to places where everyone can interact with them, whether or not they are museum-goers, said Tuttle. This is the mission of her public art. “There’s something transformative about a person going to work, seeing public art and taking time from their day to look at it. That connection is really what makes art impactful.”