By Nick Wilson, MPP ’14, Staff Writer
It may already be February, but it’s not too late to resolve to make art a bigger priority in 2013. After a semester of hearing that “grades don’t matter,” first-years are finally starting to believe this oft-repeated mantra and can afford to skip a few readings. Second-year students, time is running out to take advantage of the city’s diverse cultural offerings. Here are a few ideas for enriching your 2013 with free museums around town.
As you embark on your journey to explore Boston’s eclectic cultural offerings, The MFA Boston will serve as your home base. We are fortunate to have the fifth most visited museum in the United States right across the river. If you’ve never explored the expansive museum, it’s worth reserving a full day just to see the permanent collection. As you’d expect from one of the largest museums in the US, the permanent collection of 450,000 objects covers everything from the ancient to contemporary, textiles to musical instruments; and offers a comprehensive look at artistic achievements from every corner of the globe.
If your heart is set on seeing many of the MFA’s most iconic masterpieces, however, you may leave disappointed. As is common practice, the museum has lent several works to other museums to flesh out special exhibitions. That’s not all that is missing, however. Joining other exalted museums including the Phillips Collection in D.C. and most recently the Baltimore Museum of Art, the MFA Boston is engaging in what is shamefully becoming too common place: renting paintings to private companies and institutions for large sums of cash. Select works are already back on the walls, but between the loans to other museums and the revenue-raising leases to private companies, don’t expect to see all of your favorites.
Fortunately, the MFA Boston has several worthwhile special exhibitions to keep you busy. From 1900 until the widespread adoption of radio and the telephone, Americans and Europeans went crazy for postcards. For The Postcard Age, curators selected 400 of the 100,000 postcards in the Leonard A. Lauder collection to illustrate why so many people became obsessed with collecting these tiny canvases.
While many famous artists at the time produced postcards, the exhibit’s charm comes from seeing how many uses were found for postcards. From the commercial (advertising Dutch railway schedules and trying to sell home electronics to women) to the political (one work depicts a little girl sitting on her father’s lap asking, “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” others compel patriots to buy war bonds), the exhibit attempts to shine a spotlight on the forgotten postcard craze.
Also worth your time is “Art in the Streets,” a look at the original street art. At the same time Europe experienced the postcard craze, it went through “poster mania” with colorful posters advertising consumer products at the turn of the century. Be sure to take advantage of the rare opportunity to see Cezanne’s The Large Bathers, on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
If you missed the electrifying fashion photography exhibit “Mario Testino: In Your Face,” which I’m assuming most of you did since attendance was disappointingly low until the very last weekend, his portrait series of the British Royal family is still on view. It may not be quite the same experience as seeing larger-than-life prints of nude celebrities like Demi Moore and Naomi Campbell (full disclosure: this was the first time I’ve ever been aroused at a museum), but it will serve as a useful introduction to one of today’s most important photographers.
Even if you have an allergy to paintings and sculptures, the MFA can offer you a month-long retrospective of the films of legendary director Stanley Kubrick including “Dr. Strangelove” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Finally, I’m tempted to remind you not to miss the Dale Chihuly sculpture in the lobby, but considering the icicle tower is 40 feet tall, weighs 10,000 pounds, and is lime green, you won’t have a choice but to pass by it. The MFA Boston is free for Harvard students.
465 Huntington Avenue, Boston
Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
While the MFA requires several full days to do every gallery justice, the ICA asks for just an hour or two of your time. This Seaport District contemporary art museum has produced exciting shows such as the first solo museum exhibitions of street artists Shepard Fairey and Os Gemeos, but only a small fraction of the building is dedicated to displaying art.
In addition to offering one of the best views of Boston’s Seaport, visitors will be treated to the first major US museum retrospective exploring the art of the 1980s. This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics doesn’t shy away from hot button political issues such as the HIV/AIDs crisis, globalism, and the dominance of mass media. Among the 90 artists on display are Robert Maplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, Keith Harring and Jeff Koons.
You’ll get the most out of your ICA visit if you attend First Fridays on Mar. 1, two days before the 80’s exhibit closes. For $15, you’ll be treated to a screening of Oscar-nominated short films, invited to roam the galleries, and be rewarded with pizza and popcorn in the café. Advanced reservations are recommended. The ICA is free to Harvard students at all other times.
100 Northern Avenue, Boston
SoWa Artist Guild
If you prefer to peruse contemporary art while juggling a glass of wine in one hand and a cheese plate in the other, then make your way to the South End on the first Friday of each month. Over 60 artists in the SoWa Artist Guild open their doors monthly from 5-9 pm to bring the art-loving community together. During February’s event, not only was I impressed by the breadth of local talent, but delighted by the extensive opportunities for people watching. Impromptu tango classes anyone? Best of all, the affordable and essential Boston restaurant Myers + Chang is a mere two blocks away if you didn’t fill up on free cheese.
450 Harrison Ave, Boston
Rose Art Museum
Asking students to leave Cambridge’s comforting bosom to make the quick jaunt into Boston is a tough enough sell, but students willing to make the 45 minute journey by train to Brandeis University will be rewarded with a stellar retrospective of Ed Ruscha. This comprehensive survey spanning the 60-year career celebrates one the most prominent living artists with 70-plus paintings, photographs, prints, and films drawn from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). You are guaranteed to leave with a better understanding of how this artist closely associated with Pop Art and Los Angeles continues to influence architecture, graphic design and modern art. Admission is free for the general public.
415 South Street, Waltham
Nick Wilson is an MPP1 who writes about food, drink and culture at TreasureMA.com.