Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to open Art of the Americas Wing and Shapiro Family Courtyard, designed by Foster + Partners

Free Community Day on November 20 Welcomes Visitors to The New MFA

BOSTON, MA (May 19, 2010)—The highly anticipated wing for the Art of the Americas and Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), will open to the public on Saturday, November 20. In celebration, the Museum is hosting a free Community Day to welcome visitors to see The New MFA. The wing and enclosed courtyard are the focal points of the Museum’s transformational expansion and renovation project, designed by internationally renowned architects Foster + Partners (London). These additions elegantly incorporate a modernist aesthetic into the Museum’s 1909 Beaux Arts building. The MFA’s project represents the most expansive initiative focused on American art and culture happening in the world today. It allows for more than 5,000 works from the Museum’s Art of the Americas collections to be on view, which more than doubles the number previously displayed. Complementing the wing is a soaring glass courtyard—the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard—one of the most distinctive architectural spaces in Boston, which serves as a dynamic central meeting place within the MFA.

“With the opening of the new wing for the Art of the Americas and the Shapiro Family Courtyard, our vision for The New MFA will be realized. These beautifully designed spaces will enrich the visitor experience and set a dramatic stage for the Museum’s Art of the Americas collections in a unique setting—Boston—where much of this country’s history took shape,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the Museum. “The MFA chose to collaborate with Foster + Partners because of the firm’s unparalleled reputation for space planning and its deep understanding of how to best present the Museum’s great works of art. Foster + Partners has succeeded in not only designing a magnificent addition that is innovative and functional, but also in developing a comprehensive master site plan for the Museum for future generations.”

Foster + Partners, the Pritzker prize-winning international studio for architecture, planning, and design, is led by its founder and chairman, Lord Foster, who supervised the design of the MFA’s expansion and renovation with Spencer de Grey, Senior Partner and Head of Design, and Michael Jones, Partner.

“This has been one of the most fascinating projects—how to combine the constraints of history with a new intervention that will show off the Museum’s extraordinary collection of American Art in a way that will excite, entrance and educate the MFA’s public,” said Spencer de Grey. “Learning from the Museum’s original master plan we have re-addressed the balance of the Museum, creating contemporary spaces for the display of the collection and a new heart for the MFA encapsulated in glass.”

The MFA’s expansion and renovation project will provide additional space for the Museum’s encyclopedic collections, special exhibitions, and educational programs. It increases the building’s total square footage by 28 percent, from 483,447 to 616,937 square feet. The design by Foster + Partners reestablishes the MFA’s important north-south axis envisioned by Guy Lowell, the Museum’s original architect (1870–1927), which brings visitors to the heart of the MFA and improves navigation throughout the building. New landscaping surrounding the Museum’s campus, designed by landscape architects Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. (Seattle, WA), complements the building. The design, which includes more than 1,000 holly bushes and 50 trees, was inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted’s nearby Back Bay Fens, part of his famed Emerald Necklace.

The 121,307-square-foot wing for the Art of the Americas, located to the east of the Museum along Forsyth Way, features a central glass building flanked by two pavilions of glass and granite, one north and one south. Foster + Partners developed a bespoke, state-of-the-art glazing system for the glass with Seele in Germany and worked with Deer Isle granite from Maine—the same stone used in the MFA’s original building. This dialogue between the old and new is a signature element for which the architects are renowned. The wing’s transparent design makes the Museum more welcoming to the surrounding community, and from the top floors of the four-level building, visitors enjoy a sweeping vista of Boston—from Fenway Park to the Back Bay skyline.

The Art of the Americas Wing contains 53 galleries—totaling 51,338 square feet—which include nine period rooms and four Behind the Scenes galleries. Also featured is the 150-seat Barbara and Theodore Alfond Auditorium—measuring 2,128 square feet—for films, concerts, and lectures, located on the ground level. Adjacent to it are two studio arts classrooms and a seminar room. Additionally, the wing incorporates administrative offices and meeting rooms on the top two levels of the pavilions.

The MFA’s wing offers a broad context for American art, expanding the definition to include works from North, Central, and South America that span the course of three millennia, up to the late 20th century. For the first time since the Museum’s founding in 1870, magnificent works representing all of the Americas are presented together in a wide range of media, including paintings, sculpture, works on paper, furniture, decorative arts, and musical instruments, as well as textiles, fashions, and jewelry.

Galleries are arranged chronologically on the four floors, allowing visitors to travel through time as they rise vertically. They begin on Level LG, which is dedicated to ancient American, Native American, 17th Century, and Maritime Art; Level 1 features 18th-century art of the Colonial Americas and early 19th-century art; Level 2 examines 19th-century and early 20th-century art; and Level 3 presents 20th-century art through the mid 1970s. In the center of each level, large-scale core galleries run along a central spine where key works of art highlight thematic elements of each period. Adding depth and breadth to the broad narratives of these core galleries are additional galleries that run along each side on the north and south.

“The new galleries allow us to present our collections in a variety of ways that highlight different periods, cultures, styles, artists, makers, and themes,” said Elliot Bostwick Davis, the John Moors Cabot Chair of the Art of the Americas Department at the MFA, who led the department’s curatorial staff in the planning and installation of the Museum’s new wing. “We hope visitors will discover a range of objects—whether familiar or entirely new to them—that speak to the breadth, richness, and diversity of artistic expression emanating from the United States and, more broadly, from the Americas.”

The wing was designed specifically around the Museum’s Art of the Americas collections. Many galleries feature walls adorned in rich period colors, sumptuous silk brocades, and imported 18th- and 19th-century wallpapers. Light oak floors from the Pacific Northwest have been used in most of the galleries, and more than 200 climate-controlled display cases made by Goppion of Milan are located throughout the wing. Accommodations have been made for works large and small drawn from the MFA’s Art of the Americas collection. On Level 1, where the ceiling height is 15 feet, a special niche was created above one wall of the New Nation Gallery for The Passage of the Delaware (1819), Thomas Sully’s monumental painting and the first canvas to be hung in the new Art of the Americas Wing. Allowances had to be made for both the painting (measuring 12 feet high and 17 feet wide) and its massive frame. While most of the galleries are 15 feet high, on Level 3 the core galleries have a 21’ 5” glass ceiling (with louvered panels to filter light), which allows for the exhibition of large-scale works.

Many iconic works from the Art of the Americas collection are on view in the galleries, including:

  • Goldwork in the Ancient South America Gallery and patterned ceramics by the ancient Mimbres and Anasazi in the Native North American Art Gallery
  • Paul Revere’s historic silver Sons of Liberty Bowl (1768), paired with John Singleton Copley’s portrait (1768) of the silversmith and patriot in the Colonial Boston Gallery
  • Winslow Homer’s charming canvas, Boys in a Pasture (1874), in Homer and Eakins: The Civil War Gallery
  • More than 40 paintings, watercolors, and drawings by John Singer Sargent, including his masterpiece, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882), in the Sargent Gallery, paired with the two large Japanese vases pictured in the painting
  • A brilliant stained-glass window by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Parakeets and Gold Fish Bowl (about 1893), showcased in the Aesthetic Movement Gallery
  • A Folk Art Pictorial quilt (1895–98) sewn by former slave Harriet Powers
  • Joseph Stella’s spectacular painting Old Brooklyn Bridge (about 1941) in the American Art and Design: The 1920s and 1930s Gallery
  • Argentinean artist César Paternosto’s recently acquired bold and vibrant oil Staccato (1965), on view in the Abstraction: A Revolution Gallery

The wing’s nine period rooms (located on Levels LG, 1, and 2) offer full-scale settings illustrating the lifestyles of several prosperous New Englanders in the 17th through 19th centuries, such as two mid 19th-century rooms from the Roswell Gleason House in Dorchester, Massachusetts, installed within the Museum for the first time. The four Behind the Scenes education galleries give visitors a hands-on, insider’s view of the work done by Museum curators and conservators. Digital displays and interactive touch screens in many of the galleries enhance the appreciation of works of art and stylistic periods. In addition, three rotating galleries showcase light-sensitive works—photographs, prints, and textiles—such as images by Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz, prints by Mary Cassatt and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and Colonial Boston embroideries and samplers.

The Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard, a soaring glass structure enclosing one of the Museum’s two courtyards, is adjacent to the Art of the Americas Wing. The spectacular light-filled gathering place, where visitors can meet, relax, and dine in the café, affords year-round enjoyment of the outdoors and also serves as a venue for special events. Measuring 12,184-square feet and 63 feet high, the courtyard is almost entirely composed of double- and triple-glazed glass—504 large panels, totaling 29,550 square feet—supported by a steel frame. Inside the courtyard, ivory “crema luna” limestone from France lines the eastern wall where it meets the Art of the Americas Wing and frames the wing’s “floating” staircase. Kuru Grey granite from Finland is used for the floor. The courtyard offers a link between the Sharf Visitor Center in the heart of the Museum’s historic building, and the new wing for the Art of the Americas to the east. Because of its location within the Museum’s original building, the design for the courtyard incorporates landscaped areas along its north and south perimeters featuring sculpture and plantings.

A new Ann and Graham Gund Gallery for special exhibitions is located below the Shapiro Family Courtyard on Level LG, where it connects to the wing for the Art of Americas. The gallery measures 8,280 square feet and nearly 16 feet high. It incorporates a square, open plan and moveable walls, allowing maximum flexibility for the display of artwork, and features a state-of-the-art lighting system. Adjacent to the gallery is a Museum shop. A wide range of special exhibitions reflecting a variety of cultures and time periods will be presented in the new Gund Gallery. The first exhibition will be Fresh Ink: Ten Takes on Contemporary Chinese Tradition (on view November 20, 2010, through February 13, 2011), which offers a dynamic dialogue between masterpieces of the MFA’s collection and newly created works of contemporary Chinese art.

In addition to new construction, the MFA’s expansive building project incorporated significant renovations to the Museum’s historic building, including the State Street Corporation Fenway Entrance to the north and the Huntington Avenue Entrance on the Avenue of the Arts to the south, which reinforced the MFA’s original axis. This enhances the ways visitors encounter the Museum and its encyclopedic collections, and offers a coherent plan for navigation throughout the building. Also renovated were the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Visitor Center, numerous galleries, and conservation labs.

The MFA’s building team, in addition to Foster + Partners, included CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc., Boston, architect of record, and John Moriarty & Associates, General Contractor, Boston, construction manager. The project, which broke ground in 2005, was supported by a $504 million campaign, which included $345 million for new construction and renovations, and $159 million for endowment of programs and positions, and annual operations. More than 25,000 people contributed to the campaign, which concluded in 2008.

These ambitious expansion and renovation initiatives underscore the MFA’s mission, to make art more accessible and exciting for the more than one million families, school children, college students and adults who come to the Museum each year for inspiration and education, and who value it as a vital community resource. The MFA’s enhancements enrich the experience for visitors from Boston and around the world by offering vibrant new spaces and by showcasing works from all of the Americas in a comprehensive new context. In celebration of The New MFA, a number of special events are planned, beginning with the free Community Day on Saturday, November 20. Those individuals interested in a preview are encouraged to support the MFA by becoming a Member and attend special Members Week activities November 14–19.

In conjunction with the opening of the MFA’s new wing for the Art of the Americas, A New World Imagined: Art of the Americas (MFA Publications, 2010), will be published in November. The book offers a bold new look at the art of the Americas by viewing it through its intersections with the world at large. Taking the vast geography and cultural diversity of the North and South American continents as its starting point, it introduces the ways in which American art, broadly defined, has been shaped both by its encounters with cultures around the globe and by its own past—from the ancient and native populations who first inhabited these territories to the European, Asian, Scandinavian, and Latino émigrés who settled here. Edited by Elliot Bostwick Davis, the John Moors Cabot Chair of the Art of the Americas Department at the MFA, A New World Imagined presents essays by Museum curators who discuss more than 200 works of art from the MFA, including some of its most celebrated paintings, sculpture, and furniture. The 350-page book features approximately 300 color images. It will be available in hardcover for $60 at the MFA Bookstore and Shop or at /publications.

Additional Information

For more information about The New MFA, please visit /thenewmfa, or contact Kelly Gifford at or 617.369.3540.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), opened the doors of its red brick and terra-cotta building in Copley Square on July 4, 1876. Over time, the rapid growth of the collection made a new location necessary and the Museum hired architect Guy Lowell to develop a master plan for a grand, classical museum. In November 1909, the MFA opened the doors to its present Beaux Arts-designed granite structure on Huntington Avenue. Throughout the century, the Museum continued to expand with major additions such as its Evans Wing (designed by Lowell) in 1915, and its West Wing (designed by I.M. Pei) in 1981. In 1999, the MFA commissioned the architectural firm, Foster + Partners (London), to develop a master site plan that would reflect the strong north/south axis of Lowell’s original design while addressing the MFA’s growing collection as well as the visitor experience. “The New MFA” will enrich the ways in which visitors encounter the Museum’s great works of art, improve navigation through its galleries, as well as enhance and increase space for the MFA’s encyclopedic collection, educational programs, conservation facilities, and special exhibitions. At the conclusion of its fundraising campaign in 2008, the MFA had raised $504 million to support substantial building and renovation enhancements to the Museum, strengthen the endowment for programs and positions in perpetuity, and provide for critical annual operations. “The New MFA,” which has as its main components a wing for the Art of the Americas and the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Courtyard, will open to the public on November 20, 2010. In 2011, the MFA’s new Linde Family Wing for contemporary art will open.