Museum of Fine Arts
465 Huntington Ave., 617-267-9300
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: Simply stated, the MFA is one of the most comprehensive arts museums in the world, and the crown jewel in Boston’s museum community. The MFA first opened its doors in 1876 in Copley Square with a modest collection of approximately 5,600 works, moved to its current Huntington Ave. location in 1909, and today has built up a collection of more than 450,000 works in virtually every discipline from all over the world.
WHAT’S NEW?: The MFA always has a slew of temporary exhibits, but the newest development at the museum is an expansion project that will ultimately result in a new wing for the Art of the Americas, including four levels of galleries and a 150-seat auditorium, as well as a new glass courtyard facing the Fenway neighborhood.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: MFA Public Relations Representative Amelia Carignan offers a few suggestions to please fans of all disciplines and cultures: “For American art, highlights include John Singer Sargent’s famed murals and our collection of paintings by John Singleton Copley. For Egyptian art, you’d want to make sure you saw King Menkaure and Queen, as well as the vibrantly decorated coffin of Nes-mut-Att-neru. And the MFA’s French Impressionist paintings collection is world-renowned, including works by Monet, Cezanne, Gaughin, van Gogh and Pissaro.”
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and
Columbia Point, 866-535-1960
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: Still Massachusetts’ favorite son more than four decades after his untimely death, President John F. Kennedy’s life, political career and societal and historical impact are chronicled within this I.M. Pei-designed library opened in 1979.
WHAT’S NEW?: In addition to the permanent collections dedicated to the Kennedy family legacy and JFK’s presidency, the JFK Library features rotating temporary exhibits throughout the year. Currently, visitors can learn about the early life of the Kennedy family matriarch from Rose Kennedy: In Her Own Words; explore the Irish heritage JFK was so proud of, with a detailed look at his one visit to the Emerald Isle in A Journey Home: JFK in Ireland; and marvel at the diverse assortment of hand-crafted folk art sent to Kennedy from ordinary people all around the world in Handmade and Heartfelt.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: Unlike many of the historical figures from the distant past memorialized in museums, JFK had the advantage of being a public figure during the age of television and motion pictures. As such, the JFK Library is home to a great deal of archival video footage of this charismatic leader—press conferences, debates and classic speeches—that allow those who missed out on seeing Kennedy to still get a firsthand sense of what an exciting and passionate leader this young president was.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
280 The Fenway, 617-566-1401
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: It’s a rare individual who can continue to influence the art scene in Boston 80 years after her death. But Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840–1924) was no ordinary woman. One of the last true art patrons, Gardner dedicated her life to the arts, purchasing foreign artwork during her travels, supporting the Boston Symphony Orchestra and befriending the leading artists of her time. The museum she established in 1903 displays her eclectic 4,000 piece art collection just as she arranged it—displaying masterpieces from separate cultures, eras and styles together, unlike other museums—and has remained virtually unchanged ever since.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: The vibrant indoor garden courtyard that sits at the center of the Gardner Museum is a beautiful sight in any season, and gives the museum a vibe that Curator of the Collection Alan Chong calls “much more personal and direct than larger institutions.” Any art aficionado will want to make sure they catch the pieces by all-time masters like Michelangelo, Degas and Manet.
MUSEUM OF SCIENCE
Science Park, 617-723-2500
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: Opened in 1951, the Museum of Science houses 700 interactive exhibits that cover every subject from space exploration to engineering, and the museum has always remained on the cutting edge of science and technology education. “We’re situated right at the hub [between top hospitals and universities] of all the research activity and medical breakthroughs in Boston,” says Carole McFall of the museum’s media relations department. “This allows us to constantly host lectures and forums and showcase breakthrough technology, making us a real partner in the community.”
WHAT NOT TO MISS: Just like the world of science itself, the possibilities are endless. Those fascinated by the natural world should check out the Butterfly Garden, an enclosure overlooking the Charles River that gets visitors up close with a variety of brilliantly colored specimens. Meanwhile, those seeking a larger-than-life experience should check out films like Alaska: Spirit of the Wild on the Mugar Omni Theatre’s five-story-tall IMAX screen or gaze into outer space or enjoy a cosmic laser light show at the Hayden Planetarium.
DECORDOVA MUSEUM & SCULPTURE PARK
51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: When art-loving Bostonians feel that the hustle and bustle of city life is too much to take, they have a ready-made artistic oasis to escape to—the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, where the grounds on which the museum is situated perfectly complement the breathtaking abstract art inside. Located 15 miles west of the city in Lincoln, on the former estate of tea merchant/inventor Julian DeCordova, this art museum exhibits modern 20th and 21st-century art, with a special emphasis on New England artists.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: The 40,000 square foot gallery houses contemporary paintings and photography, but what truly sets DeCordova apart from other museums can be found outside—surrounding the castle-like building is New England’s only Sculpture Park, where you can view 75 sculptures by nationally and internationally acclaimed artists (including Nina Levy’s popular and striking oversized sculpture Big Baby) while strolling 35 acres of grassy woodlands. “It’s a wonderful place to bring the family,” says Corey Cronin, DeCordova’s director of public relations. “Children love the Sculpture Park because it’s a museum they can run around in.”
Museum of African American History
46 Joy St., 617-725-0022
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: Not to be forgotten amidst Boston’s overt celebration of its role as “the cradle of liberty” is Boston’s rich African-American history. This museum celebrates the role Boston’s heroic black community played in shaping the abolitionist movement of the 19th century, and includes The Abiel Smith School—the nation’s oldest public school for black children which now contains galleries exhibiting significant African-American artifacts—and the adjacent African Meeting House, built in 1806, which is the nation’s oldest standing black church structure.
WHAT’S NEW?: The newest exhibit A Gathering Place for Freedom—commemorating the Meeting House’s bicentennial celebration—displays more than a hundred 19th-century African-American books, portraits, government documents and other artifacts that document and celebrate the astounding feats of the abolitionist movement’s monumental figures.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: More than merely the sum of its historical artifacts, the Museum of African American History is most impressive simply for the history that happened on the premises. Visitors can stand in the spot where William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, where Frederick Douglass’ powerful voice spoke about abolition, and where Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw recruited the North’s first black regiment, immortalized in the feature film Glory.
Meanwhile, the Franklin Park Zoo is the Hub’s top spot to see those marvelous mammals, birds and reptiles that live on the land. Founded in 1913, the zoo sits in the center of picturesque Franklin Park, and houses (on its 72 acres) everything from tigers and zebras, to ostriches, wallabies and kangaroos, to a family of Masai giraffes (Beau, Jana and their calf, Autumn), all under the auspices of Franklin Park’s resident King of the Jungle, Christopher the Lion (pictured above). New at the zoo is an expanded exhibit area for Franklin Park’s collection of western lowland gorillas, which allows visitors to get right up close to these amazing creatures. Combining a message of conservation with an opportunity to marvel at our amazing animal brethren, Franklin Park Zoo is so much fun your little ones won’t even realize they’re learning while they’re laughing. —Josh Wardrop
Institute of Contemporary Art
100 Northern Ave., 617-478-3100
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: To be the first art museum built in Boston in close to a century, it’s obvious you have to bring something new to the table. And that’s always been precisely the mission of the Institute of Contemporary Art since it was founded in 1936 as the Boston Museum of Modern Art. Though humble in size and financial endowment, this upstart museum quickly built a reputation for identifying the most important new artists—exhibiting works from such visionaries as Georges Braque, Edvard Munch and Andy Warhol at the beginning of their careers—and was renamed the Institute of Contemporary Art in 1948. Housed in a small converted firehouse in the Back Bay for decades, the ICA moved into a new state-of-the-art 65,000-square-foot building in the emerging Seaport District in December.
WHAT’S NEW?: What isn’t? The new ICA features galleries with movable walls, adjustable skylights, and 15 1/2 ft. ceilings, showcasing all types of media from paintings and drawings to animation, video, and sculpture, as well as a 325-seat theater, which has already hosted cutting-edge dance performances and spoken-word presentations by punk poet Patti Smith and choreographer Mark Morris.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: For the first time in its history, the ICA has space for a permanent collection, featuring artists envisioned to be among the next generation’s defining talents. Among the collection of over two dozen works are pieces of “street” photography of Philip-Lorca diCorcia and thought-provoking video installations by Christian Jankowski.
10½ Beacon St., 617-227-0270
WHAT’S THE DEAL?: The Boston Athenaeum doesn’t draw nearly the crowds that bigger museums throughout the city do—which is as should be, frankly, for the Athenaeum is not only a library (shhhh!), but a membership library. Since 1807, men and women of letters have paid a yearly membership fee to have access to take out books from this startlingly diverse library, and to make use of the top four levels for private reading, reflection and writing. However, the bottom floor is always open to the public, and that’s where a smattering of one-of-a-kind items from all over the world can be found and enjoyed.
WHAT’S NEW?: This year, the Athenaeum celebrates its bicentennial, and it’s rolled out a new “best-of” exhibit titled Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenaeum. It’s the largest exhibit the library has mounted in the past 150 years, and includes samplings of every facet of the Athenaeum’s collections—from maps and manuscripts to paintings, sculpture and rare books.
WHAT NOT TO MISS: Since the Athenaeum’s collections are so diverse, it’s hard to pick one or two unifying attractions, but Acquired Tastes does include books straight from the personal library of the Father of our Country, George Washington, as well as Los Caprichos, an engraving by legendary artist Francisco Jose de Goya. Additionally, fans of American art will be intrigued by the sketchbook from 1863 containing work by the great Winslow Homer.
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For special exhibits and events, refer to Museums listings.