Yet, when I read that the Art of the
Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine
Arts, Boston, had just been unveiled,
after more than a decade and a $504 million expansion of the 1909 Beaux-Arts
building, I thought it might be a good
time to take a second look. Boston has
been undergoing an art boom of late,
with the 2006 opening of the new Institute of Contemporary Art building on the
waterfront and a Renzo Piano-designed
addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner
Museum scheduled to debut in 2012.
Joining me was my wife, Lisa, an art
historian firmly rooted in the local art
world (opposites attract, no?), who has
worked at both the MFA and the Danforth
Museum of Art, in nearby Framingham.
The problem for most people, says Lisa, is
that they venture to an art museum from
out of town and feel forced to view the
entire collection in an exhausting blur. To
rekindle my love for art, she would focus
on just one work in the entire museum.
“After writing in the morning, novelist Somerset Maugham would stroll over
to the Louvre almost on a daily basis to
see just one or two paintings,” she adds.
When I learned that the Art of Amer-
icas Wing displays a mind-numbing
collection of more than 5,000 works of
art spread across 53 galleries, I consid-
ered my wife’s idea to be brilliant. We
walked into the soaring, glass-enclosed
courtyard, up two flights of stairs, into
the Sargent Gallery, and were soon
peering at the four young girls in John
Singer Sargent’s famous painting The
Daughters of Edward Darley Boit.
Lisa guided me to Botticelli’s Virgin
and Child with an Angel, from the 1470s,
to point out not the cherubic faces for
which the artist was known but the
little patch of rolling hillside visible
outside the window. It is one of the
first paintings to depict any form of
I’m uninspired, but we make our
final stop at the Institute of Contemporary Art. Built on the shores of Boston
Harbor in the burgeoning Fan Pier
section of the city, the glass-enclosed
fourth-floor galleries extend over the
Atlantic, offering views of sailboats
gliding by and the city skyline on the
opposite shores. I follow Lisa to a pair
of wooden block towers titled
Down, created by Manhattan artists Ivan
Navarro and Courtney Smith.
“Look down,” she says, and I stare
through the glass top at a series of light
bulbs and mirrors that form an infinite
chain of reflections, as if one were free-falling down the tower.
“Fantastic,” I shout to Lisa, thinking that this is exactly the work of art I
was looking for—one that speaks to a
contemporary audience and its never-ending, frenetic pace.
for most people,
says Lisa, is that
they venture to
an art museum
from out of town
and feel forced to
view the entire
collection in an
Left: The Daughters of Edward
Darley Boit by John Singer Sargent
at the Art of the Americas Wing at
the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.