Sunday, August 1, 2010


Sunday May 13, 2007—The Museum of Fine Arts

I awoke the next morning to find that Jennifer had dried up into a pulverized pile of dry, crinkly tissue, akin to pork rinds, in our room’s feeble non-conditioned air.

Oskar Kokoschka's Self-Portrait as Warrior, 1909, is part of the MFA's collection that well-illustrates how Jennifer felt after her first night sleeping in the swampy heat of the room at the Milner.

After I added some tepid water to her dilapidated self and hydrated her back to normal, we went downstairs and partook of courtesy breakfast fare that was about on par with the Econo Lodge. They did offer us the chance to make our own waffles if we so desired, but we didn’t really want the mess or the hassle. We stopped at the front desk, made what would turn out to be a useless request to have the air conditioner fixed, then plotted a course for the day’s main attraction: Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Many of you already know by now that Jennifer and I have visited several art museums, six to be exact. Our goal on this trip was to make the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) our lucky number seven.

Unlike our museum experience in St. Louis (July 2005), during which we melted off our legs in the moist heat and the eternal walk, or the cooler walk in Atlanta (October 2006), when we got hopelessly lost on the way to the High Museum and went the wrong direction out of the train station, this time was painless. We found the MFA with no difficulties and even a particular sculpture I had hoped to photograph. Yes, I had spotted it on the museum’s Web page months earlier and hoped to have Jennifer get a picture of me in front of it, if we could locate it. We were fortunate that it was the one they posted right on their front lawn! That part of the mission was accomplished. You can see it if you scroll back up to the top of this entry.

Like the High Museum, the MFA was very sophisticated, with staff who were discrete, respectful and informative. Having been sat on by museum employees of much more neaderthalic disposition, Jennifer and I were quite impressed and relieved at the difference with this team.

We were glad to confirm what I had researched online shortly before leaving; that the museum was hosting a collection of works by Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 - May 15, 1967). Jennifer and I had both long regretted that we missed his most famous piece,
Nighthawks (1942), when we visited its home, the Art Institute of Chicago, in July 2005. Here at last, for only $5 more on the museum admission fee, we could rectify that star-crossed omission. The Hopper exhibit was just as crowded as we had come to expect from such attractions, and it wasn’t long before Jennifer and I were inhaling the foul breath and bumping the jiggling cellulite of way too many other people. But this was perhaps the most extensive and rewarding exhibit in our considerable experience. So at first, I just accepted the disruption as a cost of seeing so many of Hopper’s stark scenes of middle-class alienation in the early 20th century. After awhile, I realized that other people were just going to have to accept the same cost in return. I stopped trying to get out of the way of the ambling “cows’” when I realized I was blocking their view of a piece, and instead, took my time enjoying it. I had waited on my turn; they could wait on theirs.

Ultimately, the collection was impressive, simply because so many of the pieces were from museums across the country and also across the Atlantic. At least one of them was from a collection in Spain, while another was on loan from what we assumed was actor Steve Martin. Jennifer and I stood for a long time before Nighthawks, which we saved until almost the very end. Both of us just kind of stared at it, reveling at the chance to bathe in the experience of the original piece. Take a look at it in the image next to this paragraph. There’s something palpably sad, yet riveting about it. We never cease to be amazed by how talented artists render not only radiant light and motion using only paint, but how they also capture mood, attitude and hints of the human spirit. Edward Hopper was a master of it all.

We’ll spare you a detailed accounting of every piece we saw in the museum’s regular collection after we cleared the exhibit. Suffice it to say that being a large museum and a school, the Museum of Fine Arts was on par with the Art Institute of Chicago in the size and notoriety of its pieces. The scope and size of some of them was absolutely skull-busting.

Teeny li'l Thomas illustrates just how huge some of the MFA's canvas paintings could be.

Its Hall of the Old Masters alone was worth the trip, as it boasted pieces from such recognizable names as El Greco and Francisco Zurbaran.

For all its opulence, however, one feature was missing, and it was through no fault of the museum. Novelty. Yes, now that we were seven museums into our experience of art and beauty, Jennifer and I found ourselves being “wowed” by fewer of the pieces. We saw a greater proportion of items this time that we’d seen before or that we felt we could live without. Our home collection of museum photographs is already quite extensive…by conservative estimate, at least a thousand images. We considered that perhaps we’ve become temporarily saturated by art, and after a two-year hiatus from history and science museums, it might be time to revert back to those for awhile.

"No more!" a saturated Jennifer cries, as she beholds our hundredth Monet image of haystacks.

But make no mistake, we were still dazzled by the pieces we hadn’t seen before, and we loved the experience immensely. Our new pictures will add a substantial amount of beauty to our collection.

We finished our tour of the MFA and prepared to depart. Before doing so, I spotted a huge abstract sculpture that looked like it was made of liquid metal, a la Terminator II (1991). I’m not normally a fan of abstract art, preferring sculpture that captures the elegance and balanced poise of the human form, especially the female form. But this one had “bling,” and I thought it would be a nice one to finish off our tour. Since it was sculpture and not a painting, I turned on the camera flash. Jennifer and I certainly understand why museums don’t want patrons using flash on those priceless and irreplaceable paintings, and we almost never flout the rules (sometimes, it happens by accident if the camera has been turned off for awhile).

But this was a sculpture, and I’ve never heard of one of them being worn down by light. Especially not one with a metallic surface specifically designed to reflect light. Ergo, my small moment of defiance. Not surprisingly, an employee pounced on me immediately, telling me to turn off the flash and that I was “standing too close.” Yeah. We wouldn’t want me accidentally toppling a 15-foot, two-thousand-pound hunk of metal and shattering it. But we remain dedicated fans of art, and I obeyed his directions without argument. At any rate, the highest punishment the guy could have really meted out was to ask us to leave, and we were leaving anyway. And I still have my forbidden picture! Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

That aside, the MFA was a good haul.

The rest of the evening was low-key, so we'll skip ahead and say we got some food and returned to our sauna,, I mean our room. Since that sweaty arm-pit of a location was still stupid hot, we had to prop open the window with a toilet paper roll (again). Then it was sit and wait for the atmosphere to cool down a modicum before we could finally sleep.

NEXT: A day of Bostonian culture.

Click for Part V

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