MFA Boston Gives Local Teens a Curating Role in Its 150th Anniversary Centerpiece Exhibition

  • BOSTON, Massachusetts
  • /
  • January 02, 2020

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Richard Yarde (after Gjon Mili) Savoy: Leon and Willa Mae. 1989. Watercolor on paper. © Richard Yarde

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, launches into its 150th anniversary year in 2020 with a number of exhibitions that highlight a diverse range of creators: artists of color, women artists, lesser knowns and modern icons. One show is curated by local teens; other exhibitions focus on 20th-century heavyweights like Jean-Michel Basquiat (April 5-Aug. 2), Cy Twombly (July 18-Oct. 24) and Lucian Freud (March 1-May 25); and the inventive, personal Polaroids of Cambridge, Mass., photographer Elsa Dorfman get a spotlight (Feb. 8-June 21).

Continuing through 2020, the massive exhibition Women Take the Floor features about 200 artworks by more than 100 women drawn primarily from the MFA's permanent collection. The installation coincides with the centennial of the women’s suffrage in the U.S.

Curated by young scholars as part of the MFA Boston’s new partnership with local youth empowerment organizations, the exhibition Black Histories, Black Futures (January 20, 2020–June 20, 2021) features 20th-century paintings and works on paper by artists of color and is a centerpiece of the museum’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2020.

In the summer of 2019, six fellows from Becoming a Man (BAM), The BASE, and the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program managed by EdVestors participated in a series of workshops designed to build curatorial skills such as close looking, research methods, label writing, and gallery installation.

The teen curators were mentored by Layla Bermeo, the MFA’s Kristin and Roger Servison Associate Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, and supported by peers from the MFA's Teen Arts Council (TAC), who contributed to the exhibition's interpretation and programming. The culminating project features approximately 50 works, organized into four thematic sections that explore and celebrate Black histories, experiences and self-representations.

"Ubuntu: I Am Because You Are" presents images of community life and leisure activities, while "Welcome to the City" focuses on paintings of urban scenes in both figurative and abstract styles. Presented on two sides of the Lower Hemicycle, “Normality Facing Adversity” and “Smile in the Dark” examine photographs and works on paper showing dignified Black people and families, from before and after the Civil Rights Movement.

Bacchus #46, 1982, by Elaine de Kooning (American, 1918–1989). Acrylic on canvas. Gift of Gerald M. McCue in memory of Barbara W. McCue. Elaine de Kooning Trust. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The exhibition features well-known artists including Archibald Motley, Norman Lewis, James Van Der Zee and Dawoud Bey, in addition to highlighting painters with connections to Boston, such as Loïs Mailou Jones and Allan Rohan Crite, and bringing fresh attention to rarely shown works by artists such as Eldzier Cortor, Maria Auxiliadora de Silva and Richard Yarde.

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