Its timeworn marble facade is decorated with a parade of mostly nude maenads, satyrs and other followers of Dionysus — the god of love and wine. They’re all frolicking, touching, gathering grapes and celebrating life.
“It’s why Isabella collected these treasures.”
For the show, the mammoth 7,500-pound piece needed to move once again — this time, with the help from a team of experienced riggers.
“I’m holding my breath,” Nielsen whispered as she watched them wrap the coffin.
“We’ve all been waiting for this for a while,” Salmon added, “so it’s pretty exciting to have this moment.”
It was slow going — out the palazzo’s front entrance, onto the sidewalk, then for a flatbed truck ride around the block to the new wing’s loading dock, and finally, up to a gallery. (It’s too big and heavy to get to the other building any other way.
It had been sitting on the ground — wedged between two columns in the courtyard — for more than 100 years.
“A bit risky,” she said, because, “you didn’t know how it would go, what it would be.
The curator did know that it would reflect the present time and speak to modern audiences.
Discovering ‘Different Kinds Of Secrets’ With 3D
Marc Downie and Paul Kaiser collaborate together under the name OpenEndedGroup.
Paul Kaiser, left, and Marc Downie, right. (Andrea Shea/WBUR)
“Although these are frozen figures, they’re frozen in motion.
I mean, it has this astonishing sexual power to it.”
Downie and Kaiser are no strangers to working with lithe bodies and movement.
In the past they’ve executed projects with choreographers Bill T. Jones and the late Merce Cunningham.
At the Gardner, Kaiser and Downie said they took thousands of photos of the sarcophagus’ characters from all angles, often late at night. They captured every facial feature, fold of skin, graceful limb, pockmark and shadowy crevice.
“I think the camera just slid into the right spot and suddenly all of the faces were staring at me,” he said.
“That’s when I knew we had to make the piece.”
The technology translated the images into hard-to-describe, extremely close-up, seemingly fleshy spatial renditions now projected across three tall screens hanging in the gallery.
“So you sense how close they are to each other since they’re all touching each other and exchanging really intimate glances,” Kaiser pointed out as we watched the video.
“There is a kind of intimacy to the experience that’s distinctly odd, really.”
The stone seemed to breathe along with the cello soundtrack performed by soloist Yeesun Kim.
“All of those things that might be paint, or might be sculpture, or might be flesh are floating in three-dimension,” Downie said. “So it becomes a very uncanny and strange experience.