- Sasha Frost
From grand public museums to eclectic artist guilds, Boston is establishing itself as the most important area for the arts in New England. The largest city and capital of Massachusetts provides a spectrum of art gallery experiences — from artists’ guilds to traditional family-owned old master spaces, we take a look at the top ten galleries to visit during your time in Boston.
Museum of Fine Arts
A visit to the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) collection can be an overwhelming experience, as the collection is quite simply vast. The MFA’s accumulation of approximately 450,000 objects ranges from renaissance and baroque masters to divine examples of Native American crafts. American decorative arts are liberally represented, especially those from New England in the years before the Civil War. The MFA is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of Asian art under one roof — its Japanese art collection is arguably the most sensational outside of Japan. The MFA emphasizes their focus on traditions outside of the Western canon, and three important galleries within the museum explore the art of Oceania, Africa, and the ancient Americas. However, it by no means ignores Europe, and there is a considerable amount of attention paid to the impressionist movement. Along with canvases by Renoir, Manet, Pissarro, and American painters Childe Hassam and Mary Cassatt; the museum contains the largest acquisition of works by Claude Monet (around 38) outside of France.
Robert Klein Gallery
Established in 1980, the Robert Klein Gallery ranks amongst the world’s most distinguished showrooms of fine art photography. The gallery maintains an incredibly extensive and alternating inventory of 19th century, 20th century and contemporary photographs. Early exhibitions at the space on Newbury Street, included those by renowned photographers such as Annie Liebowitz, Diane Arbus, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Sally Mann. The innovative gallery was one of the first places to showcase these burgeoning talents. The Robert Klein Gallery also has a strong international reputation, participating in art fairs such as Paris Photo, Art Miami, and the AIPAD Photography Show in New York. A diverse range of works can be found in the gallery, with photographic beginners and established masters of the art such as Helen Levitt, Irving Penn, and Ansel Adams. A small and intimate space, this fourth-floor boutique gallery is undoubtedly one of the major league players in the art of photography.
Institute of Contemporary Arts
Contemporary art lovers must take a trip to The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), located on the waterfront in Boston. This flourishing neighborhood is home to cultural and historic attractions including the Children’s Museum, Fort Point, and the Rafael Viñoly-designed Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The ICA is undoubtedly one of the gems along the Harborwalk — an inviting public walkway around the Boston Harbor with its parks, public art, seating areas, restaurants and more. The ICA is organized in sections — one large rotating exhibition, a few smaller rotating ones and their permanent collection. The larger section never fails to fascinate and changes every few months. Each exhibit aims to be different to the last, and are usually themed around the work of one artist or a particular topic. If the art doesn’t entice you, then visitors have claimed that the enjoyment of the space itself and the design of the architecture is worth the price of admission alone. A stunningly modern building designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects, it offers outstanding views of the Boston seaport and skyline.
The Iris Gallery of Fine Art Photography
One of the newest additions to the Boston art scene is the Iris Gallery of Fine Art Photography. With three locations and over forty artists represented, the gallery displays contemporary images produced within the last thirty years, from established and emerging international artists. Such artists include Andy Anderson, Brigitte Carnochan, and Sean Kernan amongst others. The space is the second from the Iris Gallery collections that opened on May 11th, 2013. Along with the perusal of artworks on display, customers can purchase limited edition and archival prints. Passionate about photography throughout her whole life, the owner Alison Collins majored in fine art photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of the Arts. For the best in cutting edge and contemporary photography, be sure to visit the Iris Gallery of Fine Art Photography during your time in Boston.
The SoWa Artists Guild
For a more grassroots experience in Boston, then head to the SoWa artist district. SoWa has developed into a significant community of artists including over fifteen galleries and over seventy artist studios. The members of SoWa Artist Guild are an eclectic bunch, all originating from different parts of the world and experimenting with different mediums. The SoWa Artists Guild at 450 Harrison Avenue is a non-profit association; its objective being to promote the individuality and diversity of the artists working within the flagship space at the center of the SoWa artist district. The beauty of this environment is that it gives the visitors access to artists in their own environment — a more personal approach to experiencing art first hand. The SOWA Artists Guild hopes to give people an avenue for viewing quality contemporary art that goes beyond the generic gallery visit. With over three hundred artists producing work in a wide array of media, it is recognized as one of New England’s largest artists’ communities. The historic warehouse buildings of Fort Point house every type of creative: from house painters to performance artists and digital media artists, every walk of creative life can be found at SOWA.
The Galerie d’Orsay sits in the heart of Boston’s Back Bay and is home to an extensive collection of artworks that span a total of six centuries. Featuring pieces by Rembrandt, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Matisse, Dali, Chagall and Miro, the gallery exhibits preeminent old master, impressionist, and modern artists while maintaining an internationally renowned stable of living artists. Established in the year 2000, the Galerie d’Orsay has been Boston’s premiere resource for the finest masterworks for over a decade. Priding itself on the strong relationships with major collections and institutions throughout the world whilst simultaneously collaborating directly with artists’ estates, the Galerie d’Orsay consistently provides prominent exhibitions for natives and visitors of Boston. Exhibitions have included Henri Matisse: The Jazz Suite and Picasso: Master Innovator.
Gallery NAGA has been exhibiting and selling contemporary art on Newbury Street since 1977. The primary focus is painting; however, visitors are still welcomed by a multi-disciplinary offering. The gallery represents many of the most highly regarded painters working in Boston and New England, along with remarkable contemporary photographers, printmakers, studio furniture designers, and sculptors. NAGA has a long history of showcasing the best studio furniture in America, highlighting the most notable practitioners in the field through their prolific exhibitions. A statement from Gallery NAGA states that studio furniture ‘transcends both art and design. It is beautiful and functional, and even more becomes something visceral’. A previous exhibition, Furniture with Soul II, was a celebration artisan furniture, each piece unique in function, style, material, and aesthetic.
Vose Galleries of Boston
Located in a brownstone on Newbury Street, Vose Galleries of Boston is the largest inventory of American realist paintings in New England. All five floors of this beautiful space are devoted to the display of fine art, including the living and dining rooms of the house furnished with antiques in order to provide a homely environment for viewing the works. Since the founding of Vose Galleries in 1841, the Vose family has amassed over 300 years of experience within the art world and handled more than 34,000 American paintings including over 25 artists’ estates. The gallery has helped to build numerous public and private collections with Vose paintings on display in over 150 museums nationwide. Specializing in the finest 18th, 19th and, early 20th-century American realist paintings, the gallery has been passed down through six generations of the Vose family. It is the oldest family-owned art gallery in America and has established a stellar reputation for the expertise in history, acquisition, and valuation of American art.
Barbara Krakow Gallery
The prestigious Barbara Krakow Gallery was founded in 1964 and is committed to displaying the best postmodern artworks. With a particular emphasis on art created after 1945, the wide-ranging collection features paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints. The gallery exhibits contemporary art across all mediums by emerging and established regional, national, and international artists, with a focus on minimal and conceptually driven works.From Josef Albers, Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, and Jasper Johns, the catalog of artists represented at the gallery is impressive. The gallery also has an annual AIDS benefit each November and December where all funds from works of art sold for $350 or more are donated to charity.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is located in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston and houses an art collection of world significance with important European, American, and Asian works. Well-known artworks in the museum’s collection include Titian’s The Rape of Europa and Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, amongst many others. The broad collection of archives contain over 7,000 letters from over 1,000 correspondents, including T.S. Eliot, Sarah Bernhardt, and Henry Adams, along with original Dante manuscripts. The Gardner Museum is as much admired for its contents as to the building that houses them. The intimate atmosphere in which the works of art are displayed is akin to a private house rather than a public art museum. The Gardner’s interior courtyard is also an astonishing work of art in itself. Ever changing horticultural displays with architectural and sculptural elements creates a strong interplay between the courtyard and museum gallery offerings — establishing tangible connections of synergy between art and landscape. Along with scholarly exhibitions, the Gardner Museum regularly produces lectures, family programs, and symposia, which offer intriguing insights into the historic collection. Artists-in-residence are also invited to live at the museum and host contemporary performances and exhibitions.
By Helen Brady