Lynching Tree by Steve McQueen

At the Gardner Museum

By: - Jan 10, 2024

“Museums are not simply repositories of art. They humanize the landscape of human events. They connect us to life’s most enduring themes. I have long felt this way about the Gardner, and feel it particularly keenly about a work that will be specially presented at the Museum January 20–February 4, 2024.”

So begins Lee Pelton’s guest post on the Gardner Museum’s blog discussing the special, limited-run exhibition that will soon open at the Museum, co-curated by Pelton, President of the Boston Foundation, and Peggy Fogelman, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 


For two weeks, the chapel-like Fenway Gallery will exhibit a single photograph: British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree. The photograph was taken by the artist while scouting locations for his film 12 Years a Slave; 2024 marks the ten year anniversary of McQueen becoming the first Black director to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. The single photograph has only been exhibited in the United States once before: at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven in 2022, where Lee Pelton first encountered it. 


In his blog post, Lee Pelton shares his personal, deeply emotional response to seeing the photograph and what it means to have this exhibition in Boston. While McQueen’s piece serves as a memorial to lives brutally stolen in the past, it remains urgently relevant. As Pelton writes, “Lynching Tree is a truth-teller. It is emblematic. It calls on us to look history square in the face and not turn away—but rather see a thing as it truly is in itself—so that we might, if we have the courage to do so, first acknowledge and then, seek to repair the harm that has been done.”


You can read the entirety of Lee Pelton’s powerful post on Lynching Tree here.  


At the start of the new year, co-curators Lee Pelton and Peggy Fogelman spoke with GBH’s Boston Public Radio about Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree and bringing the piece to the Gardner. You can listen to the full episode and the segment here. You can also read a write-up from GBH here


On Thursday, January 25 at 7 pm, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will be hosting a conversation in conjunction with this exhibit. Reckoning with History: Art, Landscape, and Memory will explore questions of memory, history, and the role of art as a tool in reckoning with America’s legacy of racial violence with leading scholars and artists Steve Locke, Karilyn Crockett, Sara Zewde, Margaret Burnham, and Lee Pelton of the Boston Foundation.

Lynching Tree will be on view from January 20–February 4. This exhibition offers an opportunity to show Steve McQueen's important photograph and host critical conversations about slavery in the United States. The Museum uses a timed ticketing system during our regular business hours. We have been experiencing sell-out days over the weekend and encourage you to get your tickets early to ensure you have the chance to see this special, limited-run exhibition while it is at the Gardner Museum.