As soon as you step foot in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston it’s as if you’re entering a cultural time machine that takes you all over the world. You’ll find yourself in a rotunda with multiple different hallways to go down, each one leading into the next, so you won’t miss a single room. My boyfriend and I decided we’d get there as early as possible, and we ended up spending hours immersed in the art.
We started in the Art of Africa and Oceania collection, where we found eccentric masks made with resourceful materials like feathers, leaves, and bark cloth; some of which were said to be used in funerary rites. Of course, we each decided which mask we’d want people to be wearing at our funeral.
There were quite a few sculptural pieces to look at, especially on the lower floors, and I realized just how important sculpture was in the ancient world. Not only sculpture for the sake of it, but sculpture within things like weapons, furniture, silverware, vases, and drinking flasks. It’s amazing the amount of intricate detail people would pour into these everyday items that today would have such a simple design, if any. It’s this kind of careful attention that made these pieces valuable heirlooms in their time.
There were a significant amount of Buddhist sculptures mostly of his slimmer depiction, Siddhartha. I found this refreshing, because most of the Buddhist art and merchandise you’d find today is of the cheerful, fat Hotei, the god of happiness and contentment, and a semi-historical monk of Japanese Buddhism which came way later than original Indian Buddhism.
As you move up the floors, you step into your time machine and fast forward through the eras and across the globe. One rotunda that sent our eyes to the sky was particularly captivating, with murals that span across curved ceilings. A central skylight window brings a nice natural light into the room. Scenes between gods and goddesses play out on the panels, bringing in contrasting themes of both lusty, Romantic Art and more restrained Classic Art. Hints of astrological zodiac signs can be found, and I got to see my signs character, the centaur teaching Achilles how to shoot an arrow. That one hit the bullseye for me.
I very much enjoyed the amount of Impressionist paintings there are in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. To me the loose blending of texture and harmonious colors are scrumptious to the eye. That said, for every Impressionist painting, there is one extremely finely painted, photographic quality piece (as in you will probably have to stare at it very closely for a while just to make sure it really is a painting and not a photo). From art of the ancient world to contemporary art, there really is something for everyone’s taste.
The museum made me want to jump inside the art and become part of its time. One dimly lit room with Buddhists sculptures took a shot at maintaining the environment they originally came from, with remarks that without the surrounding temple, you simply don’t get the full effect of the art. The American Period rooms included the complete setup of American neoclassical interiors, everything from the architecture to the furniture had me feeling like a queen in her parlor. When we found the musical instrument room, everything was so beautifully designed with the same intricate detail we found all over the museum. It was almost impossible not to touch the old instruments and give them a try.
Not only did I stuff my eyes with wonder, I also learned a lot at this museum. For one, I’m almost embarrassed to say I had no idea that Frida Kahlo, an artist I admire, had polio and got hit by a bus! I quickly found this out after seeing actual photographs of the braces she had to wear hanging in her bathroom. It’s always good to feel educated on the lives of the artists you look up to. Another exhibition I learned from was the propaganda postcards, featuring propagandist images from the era of world wars. I really got to know what other countries thought of each other! It goes to show the influential nature art can have to persuade people to think a certain way or hold a very specific opinion. It made me realize the amount of propaganda out there in a less obvious way today that’s been normalized in the rhetoric of the news and in society.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston gave me the most cultural immersion I could possibly ask for for $25. Not only did I learn about history in a fun way, I also gained an unexpected insight on our culture today. The next time I go, I’ll probably try and get there on a Friday, when I don’t have to worry about them closing until 10pm– there’s really that much to see. I also highly recommend the big gift store with the library full of books and other fun artsy souvenirs.