Art of the Americas at Boston’s MFA

Yesterday I spent three hours at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, all in the new wing, devoted to the Art of the Americas.  When visiting my daughters in Boston (I live in the Twin Cities), we always take a trip to the MFA–and as this year, the Pops Christmas Program.  Because of the recent reviews and my love for that museum, I’d anticipated the new wing by Sir Norman Foster to be a masterpiece, not a neoclassical work of beauty, but a museum that shows off its art.  I’ve often told my friends that when in California what you want to see, far more than the Getty, is the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena.  The interior of that museum was renovated by Frank Gehry ten years ago, and the interior, very much unlike Gehry’s exteriors, showcases the art.  One of my daughters is an artist and gave me an impromptu lesson on the hall.  It is what she called “pure.”  In other words, the interior, walls, floor and ceiling, though very different materials, are all the same color.  A light, sandy off-white.  It is among the most seductive exhibition halls in the world.  I’d argue that their holdings are more significant than those in the Getty.  I understand that the Getty tried to buy the museum, but that the Norton Simon thumbed their noses at the Getty.  Great move, if it’s true.  Because the Pasadena Museum shows off it great art famously.The new MBA wing reminds me in many ways of the Norton Simon.  It’s completely focused on exhibition.  A bland exterior, but marvelous exhibition halls.  You walk into a 63 foot high entry area, with informal dining, and from there to the four floors of exhibition.  There’s a new openness here.  The galleries are large and open to the exterior.  They’re also of many different sizes, unlike, say the Met or the older wings of the MFA.And what an exhibit of American art!  I expected the works of John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent–and they were all there.  But this time, I found myself intrigued by the works of America’s silversmiths–and especially our carpenters and cabinemakers.  The furniture was a wonderful surprise.  One beautiful piece dated from 1620.  I was curious as to why Americans did so much furniture, and toward the end of our tour I found my answer.  By 1700, Britain was completely deforested, and when carpenters and cabinet makers came to America they must have thought they were in paradise.  The entire land was forested.  In one instance there is a frame of an early colonial residence, and one log is more than 50 feet long, an impossibility in the Britain of that world.  What you’ll see is magnificent furniture, still being duplicated in today’s world.Well, when you’re next in Boston, take time at the MFA.  The new wing will introduce you to pieces from our history that will give you a new appreciation for our founders. 
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