Marking Its 150th Anniversary in 2020, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Focuses on Collecting Works by Living Artists During Covid-19 Closure

  • June 16, 2020 14:53

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Ramiro Gomez, Resting (detail), 2019. Acrylic and house paint on canvas. Courtesy Ramiro Gomez, PPOW, New York, and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), announced in May the launch of a series of new initiatives in support of contemporary artists in Boston and nationwide. The museum has committed to making new acquisitions as well as establishing a program that grants lifetime memberships for all living artists represented in the collection. Curators have identified works for purchase by 24 artists based in Boston, throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, nearly all of whose works are entering the MFA’s collection for the first time. The Museum, which remains temporarily closed due to the ongoing public health crisis, will also launch the Living Artist Membership—one of the key initiatives of its milestone 150th anniversary—this summer.

Jas Knight, Lumumba's Harp (detail), 2013. Oil on linen. Photo courtesy the artist.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

“Contemporary artists are part of the fabric of our community, and essential to who we are as an institution. Their commitment, innovation and engagement with the world inspires us in times of challenge,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “We need artists’ voices to enhance the stories we share in our galleries and the connections we make with our visitors. With lifetime memberships for artists in our collection, we underscore the importance of artists in the life of our Museum and our communities.”

The MFA has pledged to acquire works by the following artists over the coming months:

  • Brett Angell (born 1965, based in Boston)
  • LaKela Brown (born 1982, based in Brooklyn)
  • Katarina Burin (based in Boston)
  • Catarina Coelho (born 1978, based in Boston)
  • Caleb Cole (born 1981, based in Boston)
  • Ramiro Gomez (born 1986, based in Los Angeles)
  • Eben Haines (born 1990, based in Boston)
  • Stephen Hamilton (born 1988, based in Boston)
  • Ekua Holmes (born 1955, based in Boston)
  • Tomashi Jackson (born 1980, based in Cambridge, Mass. and New York City)
  • Lavaughan Jenkins (born 1976, based in Boston)
  • Lucy Kim (born 1978, based in Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Jas Knight (born 1977, based in Brooklyn)
  • Samantha Nye (born 1980, based between Philadelphia and New York)
  • Alison Croney Moses (born 1983, based in Boston)
  • Eamon Ore-Giron (born 1973, based in Los Angeles)
  • Judith Schaechter (born 1961, based in Philadelphia)
  • Tara Sellios (born 1987, based in Boston)
  • Lui Shtini (born 1978, based in New York City)
  • Becky Suss (born 1980, based in Philadelphia)
  • Jonathan Torres (born 1983, based in Brooklyn and San Juan, Puerto Rico)
  • Omar Velázquez (born 1984, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Chicago)
  • Amani Willett (born 1975, based in Boston)
  • Anthony Young (born 1993, based in Boston)

These emerging and mid-career artists demonstrate a wide range of energetic and compelling approaches to their respective practices, expanding the Museum’s growing collection of contemporary art and affirming its embrace of living artists.

“This series of initiatives offers crucial support for artists at an incredibly difficult time for them, while also strengthening and diversifying our collection for the future. We remain fully committed to integrating the works, voices and visions of contemporary artists into our thinking and programming—in this moment of crisis and beyond,” said Reto Thüring, Beal Family Chair, Department of Contemporary Art. “We look forward to adding these works to our holdings and to inaugurating our lifetime membership program, which we hope will serve as an open invitation for all artists in our collection to feel at home at the MFA.”

The acquisition process will begin immediately, starting in June with works by Ramiro Gomez and Jas Knight.

Gomez’s Resting (2019) demonstrates the central theme of his practice, informed by his personal and family history: highlighting typically unseen immigrant workers who support the upper classes. The painting depicts two men in a moment of temporary repose, their identity as lawn workers only indicated by the linear hedge and the handles sticking out of the nearby empty trashcan. Through the aesthetic choice of blurring their faces—a common trait of Gomez’s work—the artist offers only a partial view of these men, giving them ownership of their individuality rather than offering it for public consumption.

Knight’s Lumumba’s Harp (2012) pays homage to the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, whose parabolic tale of ascendancy from relative obscurity to prominence and subsequent assassination resonated with the artist. In this virtuosic still-life, Knight assembles historical objects from various cultures in Central and West Africa, alluding to Lumumba’s Pan-Africanist vision as well as the continuity of the story of colonization on the continent and worldwide. Shimmering sheets of plastic shrouding the mask and girding the titular harp assert the composition’s contemporaneity. The Brooklyn-based artist will participated in a virtual studio visit with Akili Tommasino, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, presented on the MFA’s Instagram and YouTube.

A portion of the acquisition funds for these works will be drawn from the James N. Krebs Purchase Fund for 21st Century Paintings, established in 2010 to support the purchase of works by emerging artists.

While the MFA is closed, final work is underway for the upcoming launch of the Living Artist Membership—one of a slate of initiatives marking the Museum’s 150th anniversary in 2020. In the spirit of open invitation, the program will allow collection artists even greater access to the Museum as a source of inspiration, community, and space for envisioning the many futures of contemporary art.


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