WGBHArts Spotlight: Expanding Contemporary Art at the MFA

By Alicia Anstead

The $12.5 million renovation of the Linde Family Wing of Contemporary Art, and the dedication of its seven new galleries with approximately 240 works, mark a refocused community-driven imperative for the MFA. The morphing museum is not just about art, but about arts, says Jen Mergel, Beal Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the MFA.

The space joins the ranks of many hybrid arts centers in Boston and across the country. The central purpose is visual art, with an emphasis is on community, education, performance and dining as part of the overall museum experience.

“The timing couldn't be better for Boston,” Mergel wrote in an email. “Since 2010, we have seen a great boost in contemporary efforts at a number of institutions along with the MFA: Dennis Kois joining the deCordova, MIT hiring Joao Ribas and now Paul Ha to take the List Center in new directions, the ICA celebrating its 75th anniversary with new shows by Helen Molesworth, the Gardner Museum about to open new contemporary space in the Renzo Piano building, and Mass Art about to open new galleries, with Harvard renovations underway. So much is building here, and the MFA is now very much a key part of fostering conversations around contemporary culture in a unique way.“

Designed to expand expectations around contemporary art and increase audiences, the Linde is the showcase for the museum’s contemporary collection and visiting works.  While museums have long been presenters of the performing arts in their own right (the concert series at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a good example), the MFA has been building its range as a one-stop arts hub.

“We embrace the Museum’s role as a center for ‘fine arts’ in all of its forms,” Mergel added – alluding to the wing’s varied media. “We want to bring to the table conversations around contemporary culture that extend beyond painting, sculpture and installation to include discussions of design, new media, craft, fashion, film and the many forms of visual culture that define our moment.”

Mergel’s own scholarship continues to evolve as she dives into the art that surrounds her at work. She’s particularly excited about Félix González-Torres’ green, silver and crystalline beaded curtain “Untitled (Beginning), 1994,” which spans a doorway visitors pass through. The work is one of five curtains González-Torres made in his short lifetime before he died of AIDS. Eventually, each of the five pieces will be presented at the MFA, one at a time, as the very first museum survey of these important works. “His curtains choreograph our movement from one side to the other, inviting us to shift its still pattern into a fluid, softly clattering interaction between the beads and our bodies as we might consider the meaning of a body’s passage through water, through chemotherapy or into a new beginning,” explained Mergel. “It’s a powerful experience, and one I’m grateful visitors can now have at the MFA.”

Also see:  New Doors Opening At the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


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Alicia Anstead Alicia Anstead


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