MFA Unveils $500 M Expansion

By Jared Bowen

(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.

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