Arts & Entertainment

Boston Gets First Glimpse Of New MFA

By Jess Bidgood   |   Friday, November 12, 2010
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Nov. 12, 2010
Kristin and Roger Servison Gallery / Arts of the New Nation: 1800-1830 (Courtesy MFA)

BOSTON — On Friday morning, the MFA’s Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard was brimming with light and people. It was a first for the soaring indoor atrium, which serves at the gateway to the MFA’s new Art of the America’s wing – which opened it doors for the first time that day.

Sen. Scott Brown, Rep. Michael Capuano and Mayor Menino were among those in attendance as $500 million wing was dedicated and opened to its first public viewings.

Elliot Bostwick Davis, the chair of the MFA’s Art of the America’s department, said the wing brings an unparalleled collection of American art to Boston.

“This whole new wing for the Art of the Americas places us at the forefront,” Bostwick Davis said. “There is no other institution of our scale, any other of our peers, attempting something so ambitious.”

Four stories tall, the new wing, which was funded by donations from over 25,000 individual donors, contains 53 galleries with 5,000 works on art on view. The bottom floor holds the wing’s earliest art, which varies from Mesoamerican art to early American ship models. As you move up, “you move along time, along the history of art,” Bostwick Davis explained.

The wing seems to be at once inside the museum and sitting free of it. Architect Michael Jones explained the wing’s many glass walls and huge windows are meant to connect the MFA to the city around it. “We’re sitting in a building that is in landscape,” Jones said, explaining he wanted to pull the scenery of the fens into the building – and allow people to see the historic section of the MFA from its new sister.

In some cases, the new wing was literally built around the work it holds. The 17-by-14 ft. Passage of the Delaware, painted in 1819 by Thomas Sully, was literally too big to hang in its original frame in any other part of the museum. Now, it’s the centerpiece of the first floor gallery.

“The whole thing was restored specifically for installation in this location,” said Rhona MacBeth, the head of Paintings Conservation for the MFA.

After spending a year restoring the work in the lobby of the MFA, they brought the work into the new wing before it was complete. “We had to get it in here before they put the casework in because there wouldn’t be room!” MacBeth said.

She remembers how her team unrolled the painting on the floor, and brought its frame in, piece by piece. “We’d actually never seen the painting and the frame come together until the moment in here, so that was quite dramatic,” MacBeth said.

The MFA’s Art of the America’s wing will be open to the general public for the first time on Nov. 20.

MFA Unveils $500 M Expansion

By Jared Bowen   |   Friday, November 12, 2010
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(Courtesy MFA)

Nov. 12, 2010

BOSTON -- The Museum of Fine Arts, already one of the largest museums in the country, is growing in a very big way. On Friday, it unveils its new Art of the America’s wing – a sizeable expansion which is actually bigger than the Guggenheim in New York City.

Greater Boston’s Jared Bowen joined Morning Edition’s Bob Seay to talk about the new expansion.

Bob Seay: The expansion cost upwards of $500 million. How did the museum raise this money, especially with the economy the way it is?

Jared Bowen: This was an effort at least 10 years in the making, and I know that over the course of their capital campaign they actually increased their fund raising goal because the money was pouring in. The MFA has tremendous support in this town. This was a collaboration of corporate sponsorship — a lot of the banks have been involved – and a lot of private donors in this city stepped up to give money for this massive endeavor. And I should mention, there are 53 galleries in this new wing alone.

The theme is the Art of the Americas, and Malcom Rogers, the director of the MFA, says he wants to show visitors what a rich, robust story that kind of art can tell.

“Well, I wanted to people to leave here being in love with American art and wanting to come back because there’s so much of it. We found more treasures in our storerooms than we realized, and I never expected the brilliance of the design, both from the architect but also from the design team,” Rogers said.

Rogers added that this wing represents a new, complex vision. “This is Art of the Americas so North, Central, South America. And our intentions are really to show all of these complicated, cultural ethnic strengths which make up the continent and which make America what it is today,” Rogers said. “I think we’ve made a good start, but we still have more to do.”

Malcom refers to the incredible number of treasures that they discovered in the basement as they put this exhibit together. It does cover many different cultures and eras. Do you think it all works aesthetically?

It absolutely all works aesthetically. They have organized it chronologically. You go into the lower levels, and you start with the pre-Col art, and you work your way up, literally, to more contemporary, modern art. So you have the full range of the Art of the Americas. And it also includes some of the pieces we are already so familiar with in Boston, like the Copley portraits.  There’s a  whole gallery dedicated to just all of the John Singer Sargent portraits that the museum has in its holding, which is significant. And to see them all in this one space is nearly overwhelming.

Eliot Bostwick Davis, the chair of the Art of the Americas, says this new wing represents a new beginning for American art.

“Creating a wing for the Art of the Americas is a bold new step for a museum of the scale of Boston’s and I think for any museum in the United States. So I think we have a lot of work ahead, we would love to represent more work,” Davis said.

“We just hope the opportunity to share this wing with everyone, and to see what we’re doing with artists of diverse backgrounds, more artists of color, more women artists, all kinds of artists, folk artists, that we hope will be excited and attracted to our project.”

So this is something that we’ll see more of in the future?

Absolutely. I think that the museum has recognized that there’s sort of a vacuum in terms of the contemporary art that it has, and it’s hired a contemporary art curator. As I mentioned earlier, it leaves off on the top floor with modern art, but the new Gund gallery, which previously held major exhibitions, will now be a contemporary art gallery.

Now there is going to be openings for members this week, and a major open house on the 20th.

They’re expecting 20,000 people to attend. They have worked so long on this, so hard. They want the Art Of The Americas wing to be the “people’s museum,” to help see the MFA in a new way.

A New Season For The BSO

Friday, September 24, 2010
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The Artists' Mind

By Alicia Anstead   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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"It would be naïve to think that a game like Bananagrams—or any game for that matter—couldn’t have an artist’s brain behind it"

When you think of the great contributions to American visual art, you may think of Winslow Homer and his watercolors of the civil war. Or Georgia O’Keeffe and her ubiquitous flowers. Or Maya Lin and her Vietnam Memorial.

I’d like to add one more name to that list: Abraham Nathanson, creator of the board game Bananagrams. I’m not suggesting that a board game is like a painting. But I am suggesting that the imaginations of artists may be broader and more useful to us than we sometimes give them credit for.

Nathanson attended Pratt Institute of Design in Brooklyn, NY in the 1950s after the war. He went on to become an industrial designer. But he was also a jewelry designer, a fine-art photographer and children’s book illustrator.

Although he may have been an artist his whole life, Nathanson’s game fame was rather brief. But it was an auspicious and swift rise to glory. He was in his middle 70s when he invented Bananagrams for his grandchildren who visited him during summers in Pawtucket RI. And he was 80 when he died on June 6th. In 2009, the Toy Industry Association named Bananagrams “Game of the Year.” Millions of the little yellow crescent purses holding letter tiles have been sold in this country.

I had never heard of Nathanson before I read his obituary in the Boston Globe this week. The story caught my eye because it had the words “artist” and “Bananagrams” in the headline. You don’t often see that combination. I suspect Nathanson thought of himself as an artist in relationship to his photography and to his jewelry. But it would be naïve to think that a game like Bananagrams – or any game for that matter – couldn’t have an artist’s brain behind it.

One of the major benefits of art is that it makes us think more creatively. It helps us become better synthesizers, cross-discipline thinkers and problem solvers, even if the problem is: What should I do with my grandchildren when they get bored this summer? I wonder what would happen if we asked artists like Nathanson to help us solve some of our bigger problems such as health care or the devastating gusher down in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not saying there’s a direct line from Bananagrams to world peace. But there is a connection between imagination and solutions to both the trivial and the tragic. Just ask an artist.

Awoken by Sleep No More

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, August 6, 2010
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"My friend and I recently had a conversation about a show we saw last year – the wildly popular “Sleep No More,” which American Repertory Theater produced with the English group Punchdrunk. “Sleep No More” combined the tragedy of “Macbeth” with the creepiness of Hitchcock. Actors performed on several floors of an abandoned Brookline high school. Classrooms were converted into medieval chambers, or a Scottish heath or a 1940s noir hotel lobby. Scrums of audience members raced to follow actors in character or stumbled upon the ghostly Banquo dinner scene. And sometimes you felt like you were walking into someone’s bedroom. Because you were. The Macbeths, for instance.

My friend and I argue passionately about shows but mostly we argue to argue because in the end we seem to agree on nearly everything. But in this particular instance, we disagreed about the take-away you get from a work of art. He liked the show when he saw it. I admired the imagination of “Sleep No More,” but I get the jolt my friend did. I’m not really into audience participation. I like the fourth wall, and “Sleep No More” didn’t have it for me. It was fine, but I wasn’t powerfully moved standing there in Burnham Wood.

I did have to admit that while “Sleep No More” didn’t shake me in the moment, it forever changed the way I perceive not theater but real life. I saw the show alone on a spooky rainy night, and when I left the old school, I suddenly had a heightened awareness about the world on the street. “Sleep No More” had awakened in me a voyeurism for human activity, and everything I saw that night on the way home seemed like the stuff of drama: the couple making out on the subway, the mother screaming at her baby, even a machine shop eerily lit after hours. “Sleep No More” gave me permission to stand in the middle of humanity and see it as a love story, as a family saga, as a set waiting for its actors.

When does art happen? In the theater? Or later: out in the real world? My friend and I could argue that one endlessly, but I suspect we’d finally agree on this point: Art happens on its own schedule. That may not be when you’re in the museum, or in the theater, or when you finish a poem. It may be later, when art sees that you’re ready for it. But watch out: Art can sneak up on you months later, ambush you like an argumentative friend, and change you from a regular person walking down the street to an audience member in the middle of life."

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Friday, August 6, 2010
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About the Authors
Jess Bidgood Jess Bidgood
Jess Bidgood is's news editor and producer.
Jared Bowen Jared Bowen
Jared Bowen is WGBH’s Emmy Award-winning Executive Editor and Host for Arts. 
Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead


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