I’ve posted many photos from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, so for a change of pace here’s a sampling of the art I saw in just a teeny portion of the massive Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I continued my ongoing quest to visit every gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts by visiting the Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa wings. It’s unfortunate that the art of the two most populous continents and some diverse island cultures are all clumped together like that, especially since the MFA boasts having a large collection of Asian arts dating back to the earliest days of the museum. Nevertheless there was quite a delightful collection of works that had me hopping around geographically as well as through time. One gallery deliberately mixed contemporary and classical Japanese art in a provocative way.
I also took a 3 masterpieces in 30 minutes tour and got to learn about three family portraits from three different artistic styles – Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, a folk art portrait from the 1830s, and Steen’s Twelfth-Night Feast.
After these eight visits, I believe I’ve been to every permanent gallery in the museum. Of course, art on exhibit is changing all the time, so I’ll have to go back and do it again. Maybe next time I’ll have a theme like art with families or bridges or pets or something like that.
To celebrate my birthday on Wednesday, I played hooky from work and paid another visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. This time I was accompanied by my lovely wife Susan!
As aficionados of Dutch Golden Age art, we made our way first to the special exhibit Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer. The name is misleading as there is only one work by Vermeer and a handful by Rembrandt. This is not a bad thing as a number of their contemporaries painted some excellent scenes of of 17th-century Dutch life. Jan Steen stood out as a favorite of mine. Art was unusually popular among all income levels in the Netherlands of that era, although not usually art as fine as that on exhibit. The exhibit is arranged to show art depicting the upper, middle, and lower classes each within their own gallery, with a fourth gallery collecting works that show the different classes interacting. Sebastian Smee has a great review of the exhibit in today’s Boston Globe that focuses on the social effect of the exhibit.
Photography was not allowed in the exhibit, so below is a list of my favorite works in the exhibit:
- Jan Steen – Portrait of Jacoba Maria van Wassenaer (1654-1683), known as ‘The Poultry Yard’ (1660).
- Frans Hals – Regents of the St Elizabeth Hospital of Haarlem (1641)
- Pieter de Hooch- The Courtyard of a House in Delft (1658)
- Rembrandt van Rijn – The Shipbuilder and his Wife (1633)
- Quiringh Gerritsz van Brekelenkam – The Tailor’s Workshop (1661)
- Jan Steen – Peasants Merrymaking Outside an Inn (1645-50)
- Jacob Ochtervelt – Street Musicians at the Door (1665)
If you look at these paintings on your computer, make sure to zoom in on all the tiny details. The curators on the audio guide were particularly ecstatic about the brushwork.
After finishing that exhibit, Susan picked out a small but spiffy exhibit of American ceramics from the 20th century and then we wondered among the Art of the Americas gallery where we stumbled on a few surprises.
I made my third visit to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to slowly explore the art collections, gallery by gallery, piece by piece. You can see my first and second trips on this blog. On this visit I decided to focus on the Art of Europe galleries. I started out on level 1, which turned out not to always be European, nor even “art,” but the was fine. In fact I saw several wonderful exhibitions. The Kunstkammer Gallery honors the “cabinets of curiosity” that flourished in 17th century Europe and were the root of modern museums. The collections included hand-crafted automatons with videos that showed them working! Pastoral to Pop shows the rapid change in British prints and drawings over the course of the 20th century. And my favorite of all, Unfinished Stories is an absolutely delightful collection of found photographs grouped together by themes. You’ll never look at your family snapshots the same way.
On the second level, I explored the Italian Renaissance art gallery and learned about Maiolica, the brightly colored Italian tin-glazed pottery. I then joined a highlights tour of the Art of Europe which took us from a 12th-century Catalan chapel through the works of the Impressionists. It was an informative hour. I was able to return to the medieval and Renaissance galleries on my own for a more in-depth exploration, but then my time ran out, so the rest of the Art of Europe galleries on the second level await my return.
On my second visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, I began a slow and studious exploration of the Art of the Ancient World. I had trouble making a connection with the art at first as there seemed to be no story linking them together. Galleries adjacent to one another held Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, and Roman art. Thousands of years, and thousands of miles, and thousands of cultures side by side. But I did make a connection looking at the sculptures of ancient people and gazing into their eyes. When face to face with a person it is hard to maintain eye contact, but here I could look into the eyes of humans who lived millennia ago and they had so much to say. One Greek sculpture, Woman from a funerary monument, almost looked alive in her expression of grief.
To mix things up, I moved on to the Contemporary Art collections. Ancient art memorialized people and honored gods, but contemporary art asks you questions. The descriptions, the writing on the wall, even the art itself ask questions. Art here is more a reflection of the viewer, literally in the case of Untitled (Shu-red). I spent more time that I should be willing to admit trying to take a selfie in its lacquered surface and finding myself delightfully disoriented. Art also asks the tough questions, like “Why?” and “How can we let this happen?” A sobering gallery collects artists’ responses to the 2011 earthquake in Japan. The photographs and film here capture more pain and poignancy than any other news report.
There’s still much more to see and experience at the MFA, so I hope I return soon.
For the first time in several years, I have a membership to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I’m working on putting it to use by visiting the Museum and methodically but casually working my way through the galleries absorbing the art on display and sharing what I learn.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I explored the third floor, home to the Museum’s collection of 20th-century art. It is a quiet place in the museum even on a busy weekend. A man pushing his sleeping child in a stroller along a window-lined corridor told me “This is the best part of the museum!”
I was impressed particularly by the MFA’s strong collections of 20th Century Art but African-American artists, Boston-area artists, and some who are both. Some artists I learned about for the first time that I’m really drawn to are Eldzier Cortor, Allan Rohan Crite, and Charles Sheeler. In addition to a variety of modern paintings, sculpture and decorative arts, the third floor hosts an excellent exhibit of photography of Gordon Parks, who returned to his home town of Fort Scott, Kansas for a photo essay in 1950.