The newly renovated Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is an elaborate statement about openness. More than the vaulting Art of the Americas Wing, which thrusts dizzyingly upward and allows a bird’s-eye view of the most social spot in the museum – the Shapiro Family Courtyard – the Linde space celebrates the transparency of our times. Windows, mirrors, reflections and a zippy mood infuse its spirit. The easy chatter, primary colors, oak floors, the unconventional placement of art and the constant push to engage may, at times, suggest you’re in someone’s uber-rec room. Or even on Facebook. And maybe you are. Sort of.
The Linde wing emphasizes a friendlier and noisier moment in Boston’s museum history. Even as some of the decor is industrial, the Linde is decidedly a place for human activity – intellectual, and otherwise. Sculptures soar toward you (Jonathan Borofsky’s “I Dreamed I Could Fly”), stand guard (Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled, 1996, Redwood”) or tease you to see art in the everyday (Rachel Whiteread’s “Double – Doors II (A + B)”). Oh wait, what’s Roni Horn’s stainless steel ball (“Asphere X”) doing in the middle of the floor? And was I supposed to bump into Tony Smith’s optically confusing bench (“For V.T.”)?
Curiosity may grow – and gnaw – as you travel through the wing’s 80,000 square feet: Should I touch this piece? Sit on that one? Can I really put my finger through the hole in that painting? Walk through those beads? And if I watch a mash-up clock video, am I wasting my time? The answers may not be clear. But what matters, the MFA contemporary art team of Jen Mergel and Edward Saywell seem to be positing is that you ask the questions, have the impulse, work the playground.
The overarching effect of the triply expanded Linde wing (originally designed by I.M. Pei, whose photograph is tucked into the mix like a religious icon giving a blessing) is invitational and community based: Look. Discover. Kibitz.
This feeling lasts even after your visit: Like a ballet that enlivens your muscles or theater that draws your eye to drama in the real world, the art you experienced in the galleries here might ambush you once you’ve left the building and nudge you to see your own wallpaper or coffee cup for artistic value.
The MFA contemporary collection has been given an infusion of air. Some may push it into the realm of the emperor’s new clothes while others may take advantage of the space to reconsider the work of Cindy Sherman or Kara Walker or Frida Kahlo (by way of Yasumasa Morimura’s quotational print “Dialogue with Myself 1”) – or to encounter a handful of lesser known contemporary artists. In the end, acceptance of the Linde wing may be a matter of vocabulary. Most of us do not receive foundational training in viewing art, especially contemporary art. And art isn’t like a candy bar – an indulgence. It takes work, a sense of history or at the very least the willingness to push an impression, to think harder, to wonder at what might be going on with a baby carriage that looks as if it has been through the apocalypse or a tapestry made from bottle caps. As part of its mission, the Linde wing addresses a gap in our education system and offers entry points for those denied art class. For veterans of the arts scene, explanatory placards and notecards with game-like activities may strike a facile note. LOL, as we might say on Facebook: Then don’t read them.
My own favorite entry point to the Linde wing is from the Charlotte F. and Irving Rabb Gallery into the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery featuring the sleek perception-bending wood carvings in “Ellsworth Kelly: Wood Sculpture” on exhibition through March 4, 2012. The Rabb room is dark, with charcoal tones and a quiet profundity. It houses works by artists once on the cutting edge of their own “contemporary” worlds: Kollwitz, Arp, Miró Rouault, Beckmann, Mondrian. Passing through the archway into the Foster room is like stepping into a sunny day after being at church. I stood for several minutes watching visitors pass from hushed shadows into glimmering brightness, and the imagery was unmistakable: Within these walls, let there be light.
Also see: ArtSceNE Spotlight: Expanding Contemporary Art at the MFA
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