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Field Trip: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Last year, on the day after Thanksgiving, my husband and I started what we hope will become a new tradition. Instead of getting caught up in all of the Black Friday hoopla, we spent the afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts. It’s somewhat ironic. On recent trips to L.A. and Chicago, we made it a point to check out the local art scenes, architecture, museums, and other important tourist attractions. But, here we are, living in one of the most historic cities in the country, and we fail to investigate what’s literally right outside our door (I’ve yet to do the Freedom Trail!). There wasn’t any idealistic reason as to why we chose to hit up the MFA last year instead of one of the dozens of other places of interest in Boston. The choice was simple, because the new Art of the Americas Wing had literally just opened two weeks earlier and we wanted to check it out.

View of the Art of Americas Wing from the Sharf Visitor Center. On the left, an amazing lime green glass sculpture by Chihuly greets you.

The new Art of the Americas Wing is separated into four different levels:

  • Ground Level: Ancient American, Native American, 17th-Century, and Maritime Art
  • Level 1: 18th-Century Art of the Colonial Americas and Early 19th-Century Art
  • Level 2: 19th-Century and Early 20th-Century Art
  • Level 3: 20th-Century Art through the mid-1970s

Each floor showcases distinct collections of art from various time periods in American history. If you start on the ground level, as you proceed to the subsequent floors you are also moving forward through time, until you reach level three, where the 20th century collection is exhibited.

Entrance to the Art of Americas Wing.

The MFA has an astounding assortment of important American art/artifacts. There are familiar and classic paintings by John Singleton Copley and John Singer Sargent, as well as works by modern masters such as Jackson Pollack and Andrew Wyeth. The curators were very smart in organizing the collection. Instead of setting up a boring and flat display of paintings hanging on a wall, they’ve created an experience where the artwork mingles with the furniture, architecture, and culture of its time. Throughout the exhibit, particular attention is paid to how the artwork is displayed, and there are countless vignettes set up to show the relationship between the art, the furniture, and how people lived.

The mid-century modern furniture and home furnishings that are part of the 20th century exhibit on the third level were of particular interest to me. I am a huge fan of Charles and Ray Eames, and I was intrigued by the fact that such an historic museum as the MFA was going to be showcasing modern designers of pieces that inspire us at Ampersand Vintage Modern everyday.

There is a stark contrast between the way the third floor is set up and the previous levels. When you first enter the 20th century collection, you are stepping into a large space flooded with natural light, high ceilings, and neutral colored walls.. Your eye is immediate drawn to the far wall where a large and vibrant geometric piece by Frank Stella is hung. Next, your gaze travels upward, where mobiles by Alexander Calder dangle above your head.

Main hall of level three of Art of Americas Wing.

Turn to the right, and you’re struck by the imposing presence of the World War II memorial sculpture by Walker Hancock.

The other gallery rooms on level three are just as impressive as the two I just described. They feature more modernist paintings, works on paper, and photography from the likes of Georgia O’Keefe and Edward Weston, among others.

Your natural trajectory leads you to one of my favorite galleries in the new wing. In the back, left corner of the 20th century collection is the room which houses the mid-century modern art and design of the 1940s and 50s.

In one vignette, bubble lamps by George Nelson hang beside a “womb chair” by Eero Saarinen. Opposite that display is the homage to Charles and Ray Eames, which is cleverly shown in a Mondrian-esque display case that was built to resemble their classic storage unit.

Here we see the classic and iconic chairs that are still being manufactured and in high demand today: the molded plywood, fiberglass shells, wire, and lounge chairs. On the back side of that grouping, is an impressive collection of sculptural pottery pieces by masters such as Russel Wright and Eva Zeisel.

Who knew you could satisfy your MCM obsession at a fine art museum in Boston? I hope that you enjoyed my mini-tour of the new-ish Art of the Americas Wing. You should definitely try to swing by sometime soon. The MFA’s new Wing for Contemporary Art opened to the public a few months ago and is also worth the trip. So, go get your art on and start a new tradition of your own!

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