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New wing celebrating American art open to MFA members

Posted By Michael Fuchs On November 2, 2010 @ 4:10 am In Arts and Entertainment | Comments Disabled

On November 14, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston opened its new wing Art of the Americas, which chronicled American forms of art from the first millennium BC to the late 20th century. 
Being a member, I was fortunate enough to attend.  
The exhibit was divided into floors, each one defined by a specific period or style of art.  At the entrance of each level was a gallery, intended “to give a general overview and a dramatic visual introduction to the period and the MFA’s collections.  A sign says, “If your time is limited, you can travel from floor to floor and enjoy ‘Ëœa broad brush’ introduction to the wing and the Art of the Americans, by visiting just these central galleries. 
I first entered the exhibit through the lower level, which housed Ancient American, Native American, 17th century, and maritime art.
It was, perhaps, the least familiar portion of the exhibit, though certainly engaging.
And, while I wasn’t fond of the transition from Ancient American art to the more austere Puritan works of the 17th century, I was nevertheless taken aback the art on this floor. 
There were some really intricate models of ships, followed by some breathtaking metal pieces from Peru.
The craftsmanship in ancient American art was truly incredible.        
I then traveled up a set of stairs to the next portion of the exhibit of the Museum, technically on the first floor.  Here, I was met with art from colonial America to the early 19th-century. As I walked through this portion of the exhibit, I happened to overhear a small lecture on “The Passage of the Delaware, a piece done by Thomas Sully.  This piece was, frankly, enormous, nearly seven feet tall and twelve feet wide, not including the frame, which I imagine added another foot going all the way around the piece. 
Despite its size, Sully’s attention to light and dark was stunning, bringing to the front the subjects of his piece, George Washington and his horse. As it happens, North Carolina intended to put Sully’s painting in its state house.
Alas, the building could not accommodate the piece, and it was never hung.
“The Passage of the Delaware was the first piece to be hung in the new wing of the MFA.
After the exhilarating visual experience on the exhibit’s first and ground floor, I then traveled upward to view 19th century and early 20th century art.  Having studied American History last year, I was probably most familiar with the portion of the exhibit.  I immediately recognized a piece done by Thomas Cole, whose work I have studied extensively.
Much of the work on this floor was in an impressionistic style, which brought together the traditional elements of previous artistic approaches with loose, visible brushwork.  
What also drew my attention was the way in which some of the artwork was hung on this floor of the art show.  In the 19th century, curators were apt to fill every square inch of wall space with work, endowing their galleries with a sort of cluttered effect. 
This style of gallery, however, is no longer popular, since it confuses the viewer’s eye. 
Curators today are careful not to overcrowd the walls of their shows. Still, this part of the exhibit was certainly entertaining, as it transported the viewer into a 19th century gallery 
Finally, after climbing up three flights of stairs, I reached the last portion of the exhibit, which displayed 20th century art through the mid-1970s.
Of course, there were some works, particularly Georgia O’Keefe’s desert inspired paintings, that were fairly recognizable, at least in my eyes. 
But, there were, perhaps, more artists with whom I was not familiar on this floor. 
Some of the art was abstract; some work relied on the human image. The range of artwork on this floor alone was incredible and made the visual experience of walking through the gallery all the more exhilarating.
Take, for example, the modern, clean furniture from the 1940s displayed in the back room of the exhibit.
Furniture from mid 20th century America was largely composed of bold shapes and forwent the traditional, ornate elements of furniture from previous decades. 
Here, on this floor of the exhibit, was an absolutely fabulous chair, accompanied by other really sleek, intricate household items.  What was more interesting, however, was the history behind this furniture.  After World War II, manufacturing infrastructure used to support the military was repurposed for the assembly of furniture. 
As veterans and their growing families moved into the suburbs, there was a heightened need for household equipment.  
Overall, I’d say this exhibit was pretty stellar. The work was diverse, ranging from ancient metal pieces to modern abstract paintings. This wing, without a doubt, left me with a renewed appreciation of the American culture.
Needless to say, I definitely plan on going back.

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[3] Art Focus: Stephanie Fong: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/02/10/art-focus-stephanie-fong/

[4] Bringing sexy Bach: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2008/02/13/bringing-sexy-bach/

[5] Art Focus: Jacob Gilbert: http://www.denebolaonline.net/2010/10/28/art-focus-jacob-gilbert/

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