Annual Report 2023 June 30, 2023

Director’s Message

Dear Friends,

This fiscal year brought the launch of a new brand identity and an open invitation for all to engage with the MFA and its treasures. Our new identity is dynamic, forward-leaning, and representative of our part in Boston’s cultural life as a place where art and people come together. Inspired by our welcoming spirit, it was designed for the vibrant future that lies ahead of us, signaling our ongoing commitment to make the MFA a space where all visitors feel welcome. We embrace diverse perspectives, challenge conventional narratives, reveal connections, and explore difference. The MFA is a place for everyone, as embodied by our promise: here all belong.

Opening in tandem with the brand launch was our display of the acclaimed portraits by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald of President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama on the final stop of their national tour, ensuring that New Englanders got to see the celebrated works at the MFA before they returned to Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. An accompanying exhibition curated by high school students from our Curatorial Study Hall program, “Portraits of Leadership: Responses to the Obama Portraits,” featured submissions from artists of all ages—from Dorchester to Seoul— answering the prompt “What does leadership look like?” From the involvement of local leaders Mayor Michelle Wu and the Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, the exhibitions and related interpretation, talks, tours, events, and free admission days held inclusiveness and public-facing energy at their center.

These exhibitions also heralded the return of guided school groups to our galleries. Working in close partnership with Boston Public Schools’ Office for the Arts, we welcomed 1,260 ninth-grade students from 22 Boston Public Schools to “The Obama Portraits Tour,” along with many college students and access partner participants. Field trips and group tours of the MFA’s collections stepped up in early 2023 and by the end of the fiscal year, visits from 633 K–12 groups numbered 12,636 attendees, a strong new beginning for our respected, decades-old school groups program. It is a joy to see and hear children enthusiastically round the corner from the Linde Family Wing Entrance to enter our galleries, many for the first time. Our staff gives thoughtful attention to each group’s journey from beginning to end of their visit, working to make each visitor’s engagement with art—and with us—memorable and welcoming.

Fall 2022 brought the public opening of our innovative Conservation Center, a 22,000-square-foot facility at the Museum with six new state-of-the-art labs and studios. Generous support of the new facility and related investments in equipment and programs allowed us to design spaces for collaboration and scholarship aided by advanced technologies. On public guided tours visitors can observe and hear from conservators as they research and care for the MFA’s global collection and gain a greater understanding of this vital work at the intersection of art and science. The MFA’s Conservation Center is a dynamic place, preserving the work of artists and makers of the past, as well as—through training and mentorship with us—preparing the next generation of conservation and collections care specialists.

Our exhibition program this year featured new perspectives and strong partnerships incorporating dialogues with colleagues within the Museum and our communities, as well as arts institutions throughout the country and abroad. Our Fall 2022 Gund Gallery exhibition Life Magazine and the Power of Photography,” co-organized with Princeton University Art Museum, was a revelatory look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life’s most recognizable, beloved, and challenging images, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their reflections on photojournalism. “Making Past Present: Cy Twombly,” developed in partnership with the Getty Museum and supported by the Cy Twombly Foundation, illuminated connections between modern and contemporary art and the classical world and invited us to see the work of this 20th-century American artist with a greater understanding of history and influence.

“Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Edgefield, South Carolina,” which opened in March in the Torf Gallery, was an equally stirring new narrative, conceived in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The MFA’s dramatic installation included voices and responses from our communities of artists, activists, and staff, as well as descendants of David Drake, the enslaved potter whose majestic ceramics inscribed with his words in his hand, were at the heart of the presentation. Accompanied by the work and reflections of contemporary artists Simone Leigh, Adebunmi Gbadebo, Woody De Othello, Robert Pruitt, and Theaster Gates, the exhibition resonated far beyond our walls. As Boston Globe critic Murray Whyte wrote in his round-up of memorable 2023 exhibitions, “‘Hear Me Now’ stays with me in its clear-eyed intent to craft lineage across generations broken by bondage, and to make that shattered story whole.”

New scholarship by the MFA’s Center for Netherlandish Art in conjunction with Brown University illuminated the all-but-forgotten work of 17th-century Flemish artist Michaelina Wautier, whose series of paintings The Five Senses was on view in the CNA’s Gallery for Innovative Scholarship for a full year. Reaffirming our commitment to Dutch art, we received this year a remarkable collection of 34 works by Piet Mondrian from Maria and Conrad Janis, by and through the Janis Living Trust, and through the advocacy of gallerist Arne Glimcher. With this gift, the MFA is now one of the leading institutions outside of the Netherlands to be able to comprehensively showcase Mondrian’s work, encouraging us to see our own historical collection of Dutch art in a new context.

We rounded out the year with “Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence,” our highest attended Gund Gallery exhibition since “Toulouse-Lautrec and the Stars of Paris” (2019), with many visitors new to the MFA. “Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence” presented the extraordinary scope of Katsushika Hokusai’s influence on artists and audiences from the late 19th century to today. Related programs—from courses and films to an energetic MFA Late Nites sponsored by Uniqlo—curated by local performers and artists and featuring a Great Wave constructed from Lego bricks, connected us with our many audiences and encouraged new ones. After the late-night event, one of our programming partners remarked, “There is a desire for community building and celebrations across lines of differences and intersectionality. We are so thankful for…the MFA staff for their support in making [it] such a successful, welcoming, and inclusive event for the city of Boston.”

This tells me that, together, we are getting it right. We welcomed 849,041 visitors to the MFA this year, with 1,647,346 attending exhibitions traveling in the US and abroad that originated here. We are on a powerful trajectory, sharing our collection and knowledge with global partners and their visitors as well as bringing new experiences to our audiences in Boston. I am deeply grateful to the MFA’s staff, governance, donors, members, volunteers, and supporters for helping us achieve these results and responses, for living and believing the message that here all belong. We will redouble our efforts to become a museum for all of Boston, to be open and welcoming to visitors from across the city and around the world, as we share our love of art and build an MFA our communities need and want.

Matthew Teitelbaum
Ann and Graham Gund Director