Epsisode Three


Ken and Angela visited the sprawling Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

There were so many things to look at here, this episode turned out quite long. The MFA opened in 1870, and their permanent collection has half a million pieces in it. At 617,000 square feet, it’s more than 14 acres of artsiness. The most recent wing opened in 2011 after a huge all-out reconstruction campaign that took 7 years and was so expensive the museum had to sell several high-priced old paintings to finish hanging new stuff. The museum holds classes of various kinds, shows movies, has a whole college attached next door (The SMFA), and of course offers several different kinds of tours and memberships.

Even the back door is impressive.

Here’s the simplest layout of the inside I could come up with. The museum employs roughly 1000 people and has 5 different cafeterias. 

The Art of the English Regency is an exhibition on display in the Susan Morse Hilles gallery, part of the Art of Europe wing, that mimics the ceiling drapes, furniture, and all that was trendy in London the early 1800s.

The Carlton House desk in the center of this picture is named after the place where desks like this were known to hang out, namely the residence of George IV. George ran the UK while his father the king suffered from mental illness from 1811-1820, and was then king himself from 1820-1830. It was probably made by the royals favorite cabinet maker at the time, George Oakley.

Above the Carlton House desk hangs Eruption of Vesuvius with Destruction of a Roman City, by Sebastian Pether. Sebastian was the son of a slightly more famous painter, Abraham, who also painted Vesuvius. Son Sebastian really socks it to his dad with the different kinds of light he lets loose here. Abraham was known for getting moonlight on water just right, so much so that his nickname was ‘moonlight’. Abraham was exhibited by the Royal Academy 61 different times, while Sebastian was rejected from it. Abraham invented a type of lead pencil and built his own telescopes, while poor Sebastian was broke his whole life because he sired 9 children, and didn’t even get credit when he suggested the invention of a stomach pump to a doctor. Sebastian died at age 54 of inflammation, but not before seeing 4 of his children die from consumption and lockjaw. He completed this painting in 1824. 

There are no pictures of Sebastian, but here’s one of his dad Abraham.

French Pastels, Treasures From the Vault, is an exhibition in the Rabb Gallery. Ken noticed this dandy fella named Rene Maizeroy, painted by Edouard Manet in 1882. Manet is well known as the father of impressionism specifically and modern painting in general.

In the late 1800s, his paintings were considered a little sketchy and messy, and even superficial, as he eschewed the traditional techniques that were meant to create visual depth. Manet also liked painting rich people having a nice time in Paris (like Rene, who was a recently retired novelist). At the time of this painting, Manet was confined to a wheelchair because of leg pain & paralysis. He thought it was from a circulatory problem, but historians now think he had severe complications of syphillis.

Mary Stevenson Cassatt was born in Pennsylvania, but spent most of her life in France. She was a suffragette and a colleague of Edgar Degas and showed both at the Paris Salon and in independent Impressionist exhibitions. She directed her own education and made a living as an artist at a time when women were not admitted to most higher education facilities, and many thought that women were incapable of pursuing art as an intellectual practice. You might recognize her Little Girl in a Blue Armchair or The Child’s Bath.

This 1903 painting, Simone in Plumed Hat is one of a couple of Simone, and also one of several of little girls in portrait formalwear. Cassatt’s most famous paintings show intimate moments between mothers and children, and they’re quite different than her slightly miffed little girls sitting stock still in ruffles. Counterproof is a technique in engraving that Cassatt learned from Degas. It’s basically the 1800s version of a xerox.

This Untitled work from 2003 was made with dixie cups and hot glue, and sits at the top of one of the main hallway ceilings.

Artist Tara Donovan lives in Brooklyn, and her art generally uses repeating, manufactured items that are pliable. She creates huge, undulating sculptures that are specifically made in and for each building they sit in.

The dixie cup design.

A 1970s style cup holder.

All Art Has Been Contemporary was made in 2011 by Maurizio Nannucci.

Maurizio makes neon works in all caps, mostly, but sometimes neon sculptures. He lives in Florence.

Jeppe Hein’s Please was made in 2008.

Jeppe splits his time between Copenhagen and Berlin, where he makes minimal, but interactive sculptures, mostly of something other than neon.

Here is an article about Icelandic reggae bands. Antonio Fargas played Huggy Bear on Starsky & Hutch from 1975-79. Fargas was and is very frequently mistaken for Sammy Davis Jr. 

I was also reminded of some benches by Jenny Holzer in the Albright-Knox gallery in Buffalo.

The MFA is currently exhibiting 11 Mark Rothko pieces, some from even before he began painting in his signature style. Rothko moved from Russia (a part that’s currently in Latvia) to Portland, Oregon when he was 13. He went to anarchist meetings as a high school age kid, dropped out of Yale, and took art classes in his 20s. He had his first solo show in New York by the mid 1930s. He went through a bunch of little phases, disliking the Whitney Museum, getting a couple of divorces, getting really into mythological symbols or Freud or Nietzsche, etc.

But then in 1946, he started painting blobs, and then thick stripes (like Untitled, 1949, above), and then, suddenly, big rectangular blurry blocks of colors.

Here’s Untitled from 1955.

No. 1 from 1961.

No. 7 and No. 8, from 1964, are almost impossible to take pictures of in a way that shows what you see when you look at them in person. 


Here’s a 1950s ad agency, namely McCann Erickson, photographed by Henri Cartier Bresson.

The cover of Count Basie’s The Atomic Mr. Basie.

Zhang Wang is from Beijing and he makes chrome-covered sculptures that almost always look like rocks.

Artificial Rock #85 is from 2005, and it’s part of the Nature exhibition. Many of Wang’s rocks are intentionally located in front of buildings in China, where he says they best highlight a nice juxtaposition of natural/traditional (that is to say, rock) and contemporary (chrome).

John Wayne took his nickname ‘Duke’ from the name of his parents’ dog.

Utah’s national parks are so well known for their cool looking rocks that they are nicknamed the Mighty Five. The five parks are Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion, Canyonlands, and Arches.

Joan Jonas grew up in New York City, and went to school in Holyoke and next door to this museum at the SMFA. She makes lots of video pieces that use mirrors. Some of them are cool, like Mirror Piece I from 1969.

But Ken & I weren’t fond of Reanimation from 2013. Ice Drawing from 2012 was a little better. Both of them are found in the Seeking Stillness exhibit.

Philip Corner is best known for music pieces with gongs, but he also likes field recordings.

He recorded a beach in 1994 for the album Italian Air, issued in 2012.

Corner also happened to perform on Ben Patterson’s 1960 “Paper Piece” that appears on Ben’s 1999 cd Early Works. 

But the star piece of that particular cd is one written in 1995, “A Simple Opera”. It’s one of my all time faves.

Here’s a picture of Nicole Cherubini with her daughter Roma where she’s clearly a fantastic person to get to know.

Melba was made in 2012, and it’s part of the exhibit called Studio Craft and Beyond.

The last thing you see before you get a dental mold.

A romper.

There’s a video piece right next to the bathroom by Eugenia Calvo, of a woman throwing mattresses out a window. It’s called Caida Libre (Freefall). It’s from 2010.

This Agnes Martin piece is part of an exhibit called Process. Its Untitled #15, from 1988.

Karen LaMonte’s Maiko is part of the Studio Craft and Beyond exhibit and was made in 2011.

I Dreamed I Could Fly, made in 2000 by Jonathan Borofsky hangs across the whole museum ceiling. The MFA closes at 5pm Sunday through Tuesday, but 10pm Wednesday through Friday. If you read this far, you’ve done a lot. So thank you & see you next time.