The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, reopened in September 2020 after a six-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although both 2020 and 2021 brought upheaval, change, and challenge, we were able to celebrate significant achievements in bringing art and people together. We drew on the ambitious interpretations of our extraordinary collections, the strength of our partnerships, and the scholarship and imaginations of our curators and colleagues across the Museum to speak to the needs of the moment.
We reopened with two major exhibitions. “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip-Hop Generation” explored an influential artist, his community, and an artistic movement from the recent past with many connections to our present. The exhibition and its catalogue resonated in Boston and beyond, bringing energy and excitement to the Museum at a crucial time and encouraging new audiences to engage with the MFA as a place of relevance and reflection.
“Monet and Boston: Lasting Impression” featured all 35 of the MFA’s paintings by Monet, framing beloved Impressionist masterworks with focused, innovative exhibition design and interpretation. It was a joyous moment to see these old favorites in a new context and with new meaning.
In a nearby gallery, “Cézanne: In and Out of Time” rewarded close looking at the trailblazing artist’s work and that of his peers, presenting an opportunity to understand artistic influence across generations. Visitors gained additional access to these artists, as well as to their contemporaries Millet and Rodin, in the subsequent “Monet and Boston: Legacy Illuminated” and “Paul Cézanne: Influence.”
In 2021, we opened our first new gallery for ancient Egyptian art in more than a decade. “Masterpieces of Egyptian Sculpture of the Pyramid Age” unlocks the richness of histories while activating a spirit of learning and engagement, and it enhances our galleries of ancient art, which are among the most visited by students.
In the Art of the Americas Wing, “Translating American Stories,” a collaboration among curators, colleagues across the MFA, and community members, celebrates the many voices that have contributed to this country’s rich, complicated history. Visitors can read interpretive texts and listen to audio in Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and English—the languages most commonly spoken today in Boston—as well as in Wabanaki, a Native language of the region.
We actively and intentionally engaged with local artists and cultural workers. In spring and summer 2021, Ekua Holmes, an artist, activist, and lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, and Elizabeth James-Perry, an artist and marine scientist who is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Martha’s Vineyard, created “Garden for Boston,” living installations on the Huntington Avenue lawn about the land on which the Museum stands. In “Paper Stories, Layered Dreams: The Art of Ekua Holmes,” young visitors found connection with radiant collages and constructions created by Holmes, an award-winning children’s book illustrator with a distinctive vision and commitment to Black imagery and representation. And with “New Light: Encounters and Connections,” we presented the recently acquired work of 25 contemporary artists, many local, alongside works from the collection, featuring Dana Chandler’s Fred Hampton’s Door 2.
To bring art from the past into our present, we opened major new galleries in late 2021 that showcase the depth of the MFA’s world-class holdings, augmented by transformational gifts, meticulous conservation, bold designs, displays installed with care, and cutting-edge scholarship and interpretation.
Seven newly conceived galleries foreground the visual culture of the Dutch Republic and Flanders through nearly 100 paintings by its greatest artists—including Rembrandt, Rubens, Dou, Hals, and Van Dyck—plus works on paper and decorative arts. New interpretation highlights the roles of women and the emerging globalization of art and culture in the 17th century.
Concurrently we launched the Center for Netherlandish Art (CNA), an international center for scholarship established with funds from Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie. With an expansive library, a residency fellowship program, and a range of public talks and online presentations, the CNA will inspire a new generation of scholars and curators, broaden the understanding of Dutch and Flemish art, and create new audiences.
In December 2021 we opened five new galleries devoted to the art of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Byzantine Empire. Representing the vision and care of many supporters and colleagues, the second-floor galleries of the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing are filled with reflections and fresh perspectives on the founding ideas of democracy, civic leadership, and religious community, making direct connections between the art of the past and a range of vibrant concerns today. In these wondrous spaces of discovery, ancient objects and concepts come to life for visitors and students.
The MFA strives to be a museum for all of Boston, committed to the fundamental values of inclusion, equity, access, and diversity to create an organizational culture that fosters belonging. These values drive decisions about programming, mentoring, affinity groups, internships, and partnerships. September 2020 marked the appointment of extraordinary leadership from dedicated supporters of the MFA: Cathy E. Minehan, a business, academic, and philanthropic leader, was named chair of the Board of Trustees, and Edward E. Greene, a leading global human resources executive, became the Board’s first African American president. Azi Djazani, a committed leader of the MFA’s educational and philanthropic programs, was elected chair of the Board of Advisors. This historic partnership underscores our dedication to cultivating lasting systemic change through continued diversity in governance and workforce representation. For more on our ongoing work in this area, visit Inclusion at the MFA.
It is with great hope that we present the accomplishments of the last year. Despite the challenges we faced, I am deeply encouraged by the work we achieved, with discipline and focus, inspired by generosity, collaboration, and imagination. Together we continue on our path toward a stable, innovative, and sustainable museum of the future embedded in our community.