Shen Wei features across all of Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s exhibition space

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum showcases a Museum-wide exhibition, Painting in Motion, featuring new and recent work, along with a world premiere film commission, from multidisciplinary Chinese-American artist Shen Wei.

Shen Wei’s artistic practice draws upon both Chinese and western culture, encompassing not only dance—for which he became world famous after choreographing the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics—but also painting, drawing, and filmmaking. Known for his interconnected artistic approach, Shen Wei blends various disciplines to explore aspects of spirituality, perception, and movement, while defying traditional boundaries between disciplines, geographies and cultures.

Painting in Motion, features never-before-shown paintings and film, is the first North American exhibition to unite Shen Wei’s work across these various media, and to include original commissions.  It is also the first time that the work of a single artist occupies all of the Museum’s rotating exhibition spaces in both the historic and new buildings.

“From the moment Shen Wei and the Gardner began collaborating, we realized that his approach to art and nature was mirrored by Isabella’s Palace itself, with its intermixing of various media and its centering of natural elements in the Courtyard,” observed Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Museum and co-curator of the exhibition. “At a time when the global pandemic has made us all hunger for connection and healing, Shen Wei’s art speaks to both the body and the spirit.  We are thrilled to present the full range of this boundary-breaking contemporary artist and to engage our communities with the spiritual journey represented by his work.”

“Shen Wei’s art focuses on discovery—the unfolding of a surprise, a new way of thinking about the forms of energy in the body and in nature that brings with it the understanding that everything is connected,” said Pieranna Cavalchini, co-curator of Shen Wei Painting in Motion and Tom & Lisa Blumenthal Curator of Contemporary Art. “We’re so delighted to share his work here at the Gardner Museum with this exhibition.

Shen Wei, ‘Untitled Number 8.’ 2013-2014. B60. Main gallery. Oil and acrylic on linen canvas. 165 ⅜  x  218 ⅛ in.  (420 x 554 cm). Private Collection, Spain (Courtesy of Shen Wei). © Shen Wei

Painting in Motion will unfold across all three of the Museum’s special exhibition spaces through June 20, 2021. The Hostetter Gallery will feature Shen Wei’s recent paintings, including two works created at the Gardner Museum during his first stay as an Artist-in-Residence in 2018, as well as a new series of paintings just completed this year. It will also feature his notebooks, sketches, and documentation of his choreography to provide insight into his working process.

Calderwood Hall, and the Fenway Gallery in the historic Palace will serve as screening rooms for Shen Wei’s films, including April (1998), Inner Shadow of Movement (2016), and a new commission for the Gardner Museum, Passion Spirit (2020). Films will be on view from December 3, 2020 -June 28, 2021.

Finally, the Museum’s Anne H. Fitzpatrick Façade on the front of the building will feature Red Marker Number 1 (2020)a reimagined still image from Passion Spirit (on view November 24, 2020-June 28, 2021).

The exhibition is accompanied by the catalogue Painting in Motion, authored by the show’s co-curators Pieranna Cavalchini and Peggy Fogelman, along with Barbara London and Yiling Mao. The publication is available for purchase through the Museum beginning December 2020.

Full details on exhibition-related programming will be announced in the coming weeks, with related programming centering themes of mindfulness, healing, and spirituality.

The artist in his New York studio, 2014. Photo © Jeffrey Sturges.


Born in Hunan in 1968, Shen Wei grew up during the Cultural Revolution in China (1966–76). He began formal opera training in 1978 at age nine. Involving dance, acrobatics, voice, and acting, Chinese opera was Shen Wei’s earliest experience in multidisciplinary approaches.

Shen Wei moved to Brooklyn in 1995, where he immersed himself in the cultural life of New York City and soon turned his attention to film, while continuing to pursue innovations in dance theory, commissioned choreography, and painting throughout the 1990s.

Shen Wei founded Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2000 and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2007. In 2008, Shen Wei gained world fame with his choreography for the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games. He has been awarded multiple residencies and commissions from a range of organizations, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., Lincoln Center, and the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. In 2018, a solo exhibition of Shen Wei’s work was presented at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, offering viewers one of the first comprehensive looks at Shen Wei’s interconnected approach and work from the 1990s to the present day.

Over the past decade, Shen Wei has continued to move fluidly between painting, design, film, and dance with performative installations, abstract paintings, and multimedia dance productions.  He explored these practices as an Artist-in-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum during the summer months of 2018 and 2019.

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