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By Olivia Kiers / October 10, 12:00 AM
Boston Accent: Words and Pictures

Director of the Boston Athenæum Elizabeth Barker discusses the library’s connection to this year’s Boston International Fine Art Show


Every year, the Boston International Fine Art Show (BIFAS) at the Cyclorama in Boston’s South End draws a crowd of dedicated collectors as well as the art-curious, including Elizabeth Barker, director of the Boston Athenæum and herself an art historian and former curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I make an effort to visit every single booth,” says Barker, describing her past experiences exploring BIFAS. This year, Barker is especially excited since the Boston Athenæum is BIFAS’ 2016 Gala Preview Benefit beneficiary (Thursday, October 20, 5:30–8:30 p.m.). “We were so surprised and so honored!” she exclaimed. “It’s quite exciting for us to be associated with an art show that’s part of our ecosystem of collecting that keeps art healthy in New England.”

The Boston Athenæum itself has a long history of supporting the arts in New England. An athenæum, Barker explains, is an institution (named after Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom) built as a “gathering place for thinkers to share ideas and the written word, too.” Since 1849, Boston’s athenæum has functioned as a dual repository for books and fine art. Part library, part art museum, it is also an architectural gem on Beacon Street, in the heart of the city near Boston Common and the State House. “Our building itself is a great treasure,” says Barker. “It is a kind of living organism….It’s been very carefully tended for almost two centuries with gentle improvements and large, bold changes that have given it a really distinctive character. No one could invent a building like this now that reflects ideas of the 1840s, the 1910s and the 1990s that fit so harmoniously together.” 

The exhibition gallery and works of art on the first floor are open to the public seven days a week. Both self-guided and docent-led tours are available, including special tours in French and Spanish. In the gallery this fall, visitors will be able to view Daniel Chester French: The Female Form Revealed, which highlights works by New England sculptor Daniel Chester French, whose famous Minute Man statue can be found in nearby Concord, Mass. 

And, if you’re in Boston during the weekend of October 20–23, spend some time in the South End, enjoying lunch in one of Tremont Street’s many restaurants and walking through the Boston International Fine Art Show. “It’s a wonderful way to lose track of time!” Barker exclaims.

10 1/2 Beacon St., Boston, MA
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