Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hats off to the new MFA

During these shaky economic times it is gratifying to have something to cheer about in the Boston art scene. Today I spent a few hours at the new Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, and it is a thrilling place in many respects - modern and cohesive in its architecture, curation and display. A special supplement in today's Boston Globe and The New York Times rightly praises the museum’s bold expansion.

What pleased me most perhaps was the civic pride I felt while strolling through the 50 new light-filled galleries. And I wasn't alone. Cameras were going off, museum staffers were all smiles, and folks were generally in awe of one thing or another… or both simultaneously. Surrounded by historic objects – Paul Revere silver and whatnot - I felt like a modern-day Victorian gentleman at the Crystal Exhibition. There I was in my long black coat and watch chain, holding my top hat behind me, marveling at this and that in a what-will-we-think-of-next sort of way. My reverie deepened as I tipped my head to a hipster with an enormous handlebar moustache.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone in my inability to focus on any one piece of art: finding one’s bearings and familiar faces in the crowd was sometimes overwhelming. (I saw a distracted woman bonk into a brilliantly designed yet nearly invisible, glass display case.) There were the old showstoppers, for sure - Sargent's The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit with its enormous blue and white porcelain vases from the painting flanking it, and Copley’s iconic Watson and the Shark. I was especially glad to see one of my favorite Stuart Davis oil paintings in a place of prominence.

But with around 500 recent acquisitions, there is plenty of new work to knock your socks off. Stella’s
Hiraqla, visible from the impressive new courtyard, stands out. Other highlights: the 20th Century People room dominated by the 40-foot bronze angel in Walker Hancock’s Pennsylvania War Memorial, some great new Native American art, and a jovial South American warrior figurine. As our practice focuses on both fine and applied arts, I was especially gratified to see a display of Saturday Evening Girls pottery highlighted. I even saw some colorful plastic retro telephones next to an Eames chair.

I was invited to a spirited lecture led by MFA Director Malcolm Rogers titled The Museum as Good
Citizen, which was geared toward gallery owners and museum members. His enthusiasm for the new wing was evident and shared by guest panelists Elliot Bostwick Davis, chair of the MFA’s Art of the Americas Department; Spencer de Grey, head of design for architects Foster + Partners; and Andrew McClellan, a dean and professor of art history at Tufts. All four speakers emphasized the importance of the new wing’s physical accessibility and the diversification of its collection to include a greater number of people in American history. Bravo (and it’s about time) for that!

Looking at the new interior, the range of visitors and much of the art on display, I believed the
lecture’s message was sincere. This Friday evening the MFA will again demonstrate openness to new voices when it presents America Remixed, another in a series of public parties to celebrate the new American wing. A dear friend, a great photographer and my first gallery business partner, Lisa Tang Liu will be one of twelve featured artists at the event. It should be a great time as large-scale images from Lisa’s American Families series are projected for all to see.

And bravo for that, too!