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MFA's new wing celebrates The Art of the Americas

Susan Saccoccia | 11/16/2010, 7:30 p.m.
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) will open its newest wing to the public this Saturday with...
The Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) will open its newest wing to the public this Saturday with a free community day. The Art of the Americas wing almost doubles the size of the MFA. (

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The Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) will open its newest wing to the public this Saturday with a free community day. The Art of the Americas wing almost doubles the size of the MFA. (

On Saturday, Nov. 20, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA) opens its new wing for the Art of the Americas to the public with a free community day. From 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m., visitors can enjoy music, festivities and guided tours of the dazzling $345 million structure.

The new wing equips the MFA to do what no other major museum has attempted: To bring together the arts of all the Americas — North, South and Central — and explore the continent’s rich cultural and artistic diversity.

Designed by the London architects Foster and Partners in collaboration with MFA curators, the 121,307-square-foot wing will enable the museum to capitalize on its collection and interweave multiple artistic threads from the tip of Greenland down to Cape Horn.   

“Visitors will be able to appreciate the MFA’s extraordinary collections in new and exciting ways,” says Ann and Graham Gund Director Malcolm Rogers. “These beautifully designed spaces enrich the visitor experience and set a dramatic stage for the Museum’s Art of the Americas collections in a unique setting — Boston — where much of this country’s history took shape.”

Concluding five years of construction and 11 years of planning, preparation and fundraising, the new, east-facing wing is faithful to the original design of Guy Lowell, the architect of the MFA’s 1909 Beaux Arts building. He envisioned the museum’s north-south axis between its Fenway and Huntington Avenue entrances as a way to connect the museum to Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace and the heart of the city.

Like the façade of the 1909 building that surrounds it on two sides, the new wing is clad in granite from Deer Isle, Maine. Its interior is grand and inviting at the same time. Sunlight streams into its 63-foot-high, 12,000-square-foot courtyard, which is walled by glass on two sides.  

The courtyard leads to the above-ground galleries, housed in a stack of three pavilions fronted with ivory limestone, a glass central core and a staircase.

Increasing gallery space for the Art of Americas by 42 percent, the new wing enables the department to display more than 5,000 objects, about 30 percent of the collection — twice the number previously on view.

Built to accommodate works of all sizes, the galleries are about 16 feet high.  Designed to encourage discovery and reflection, the exhibition areas include four “behind-the-scenes” study centers and seating areas with commanding views of the Boston skyline and Fens parkland.

Elliot Bostwick Davis, chair of the Art of the Americas department, led the curators in planning and installing the new wing. Many of the 53 galleries mingle objects from traditionally separate disciplines — painting, sculpture, works on paper, furniture (including nine fully furnished period rooms), musical instruments, decorative arts and textiles.

The wing displays the collections on four levels that ascend in chronological order from prehistory to the third quarter of the 20th century. On each level, a central gallery displays iconic works, and adjacent galleries explore artists, preoccupations and styles of the period.