Boston Gets First Glimpse Of New MFA

By Jess Bidgood

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.

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