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The Boston MFA’s new Art of the Americas wing (image from mfa.org)

If you’re been anywhere near the Green Line or Museum Street in Boston, you’ve seen the hulking glass structure perched to the side of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ old Beaux-Arts building. Finally, we get a peak inside the new structure thanks to a media preview this past week. Designed by eminent architect Sir Norman Foster, the museum’s new wing provides a dedicated home for the MFA’s strongest collection: American art, from pre-colonial to modern. Plus, the expansion provides a special home for one of the masterpieces of American colonial painting: a seventeen by fifteen foot canvas depicting George Washington, by Thomas Sully (seen in the photo at left).

Moving through the galleries of the new Art of the Americas wing will tell the story of American art, but not just from the perspective of the United States’ colonial history. This is South American and North American art, Western and indigenous. Mayan and Aztec art features in early galleries, contextualized with examples of the growing Spanish influence in those areas. Galleries progress into the heart of the colonial United States, with artifacts like Paul Revere’s silversmithed bowl inscribed with the names of the “Sons of Liberty,” the early American revolutionary group. The MFA’s staggering collection of John Singer-Sargent portraits are also on display.

Level 2 of the wing proceeds through 19th and early 20th century work, and then level 3 collects 20th century art through the 1980s. Contemporary art exhibitions now have an expanded presence in the museum’s older I.M. Pei expansion, occupying the area where American colonial art was previously exhibited.

The public opening of the Wing is scheduled for this Saturday; over 20,000 visitors are expected. I also hope they’ll be giving out turkey dinners. Early American art and Thanksgiving weekend, what a colonial holiday!

WGBH’s Jess Bidgood reports that “the new wing was built around the work it holds.” “The 17-by-14 ft. ‘Passage of the Delaware,’  painted in 1819 by Thomas Sully, was literally too big to hang in its original frame in any other part of the museum. Now, it’s the centerpiece of the first floor gallery.”

Andrew Phelps at Boston radio station WBUR has a photo essay on the opening, with some unfortunately white-balanced pictures of in-situ Frank Stella paintings.

Gregory Lamb at the Boston Globe tells us that the new building cost $504 million to build, and “adds 121,307 square feet to the museum, bumping up its size from 483,447 square feet to 616,937.”

This coming Sunday, the Boston Globe in collaboration with the New York Times will publish a magazine focused on the new opening, with Globe critic Sebastian Smee analyzing the successes and failures of the museum’s new exhibition space. The magazine will be called “The MFA Takes Wing,” proving that neither arts coverage nor puns are dead.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

2 replies on “Boston MFA Builds New Wing For 17-Foot Painting”

  1. Passage of the Delaware looks great judging by that photo. I watched some of the restoration work at the MFA, and it now looks amazing since its been cleaned.

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