After my art-driven adventures in the Azores this summer, I returned to Boston with a new sense of appreciation for the arts, and with a curiosity about what the art scene in Boston is like. I did some exploring around town with a new set of eyes, I asked way too many questions of the random gallery curators I could get a hold of, and I learned that there is a whole lot of art here in Boston. From the traditional displays of art in the museums, to the galleries featuring new contemporary artists, to the public displays of art that bring this lens of culture to the masses, there’s a bit of it all in Boston. So I wanted to write a bit of an art guide for you, a guide to Boston for Art Lovers. Or even just the art-curious. These destinations are open to all!
Boston has something for everyone, from history buffs to sports fans, to students and foodies and more. I’ve always done more to highlight the historic side of Boston, but I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about all the great artistic endeavors happening around Boston. Here are all the best places to go in Boston for art lovers!
Boston for Art Lovers
The Massachusetts College of Art and Design is the breeding ground for the city’s emerging artists. It’s where thousands of students hone their artistic talent. There is always some exhibition on display or performance to be seen, and the public is encouraged to visit and view the art. For instance, the Bakalar & Pain Galleries are right on campus and they are the largest free contemporary art space in all of New England.
Newbury Street Galleries
You’ve no doubt heard of the shopping mecca that is Newbury Street, but what many shoppers don’t realize is the treasure trove of art galleries housed on the same street. There are a lot of art galleries you can visit on Newbury Street, but here are a few of the best. Try to visit at least a couple when you’re in town:
If you’ve marveled at the great artists in museums, like Picasso and Degas, then you’ll be thrilled to know that at Galerie d’Orsay you can actually shop for pieces from these famous artists! Their exclusive selection spans mediums and styles, and brings to Boston’s art enthusiasts a special collection of art for purchase. As if that wasn’t enough, this Newbury Street gallery is also female-owned and -operated!
Housed in a brownstone on Newbury that would be a home to envy, the Vose Galleries are a family-owned gallery of mostly American Impressionist art. This gallery could pass for a historic home in fact, because the art is on display on the walls of various sitting rooms and living rooms over the four floors of the brownstone. Visitors get a sense of how this art could fit right into their home, by seeing it displayed as such here.
Krakow Witkin Gallery
You’ll find this little contemporary art gallery on the top floor of a retail building. And when you make your way up there, you’ll see a constantly evolving collection of fascinating works. In the short time I spent up there, I saw two separate transactions take place. If you have your eye on one of the pieces on display, I suggest you move on it quickly!
The contemporary art displays featured in Gallery Naga are in stark contrast to the neo-Gothic church in which they are housed. The back room of the Church of the Covenant has been transformed into a high-end art gallery, and it’s worth exploring both. Gallery Naga was named in the Best of Boston 2017 awards, and it features a rotating display, so check back often for the newest collection.
Childs Gallery on Newbury encompasses two floors of a brownstone. On the street-level, there is a collection of art from a select artist, which changes every few months. And in the garden-level, there is a permanent collection of drawings and sketches to choose from. As you walk through the building, you get the sense that art is truly created here, from the unpolished edges of the rooms to the supplies storied in the stairway. It’s really an authentic art gallery experience.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is undoubtedly one of our greatest treasure troves of art. Featuring an impressive and wide variety of art, you’ll find everything from Monet to Picasso to Chihuly at the MFA. Given the enormity of the collection here, including over 450,000 works of art, I would recommend choosing just a couple of exhibits to view and focusing on those areas of the museum, rather than tiring yourself out trying to see it all. If you’re in town for the first Friday of the month, you should check out the First Friday event at the MFA, a chance to explore the museum and also enjoy a drink and dance to live music.
Harvard Art Museums
Another of the city’s traditional art museums, the Harvard Art Museums are definitely worth visiting. The facility encompasses three museums: The Fogg Museum, the Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Arthur M Sackler Museum. It includes a massive collection of art from across time and around the world, a collection befitting the name of its host, Harvard.
Museum of Bad Art
In contrast to our world famous collection of impressive and “good” art at the MFA, you can see some ironically unimpressive pieces at the Museum of Bad Art. This small display is housed on the third floor of a school building in Brookline. It’s a sort-of funny experience to visit this museum, but the idea behind the museum is to make a home for art that would otherwise be discarded. They focus on pieces that had genuine artistic intention, but which had gone awry sometime during the execution. Entry is free, so check it out when you’re in the area.
Copley Society of Art
With a rotating collection of artists, the Copley Society of Art is a space to feature Boston’s talented artists. And they have been doing so longer than anyone else, as they hold the title of America’s Oldest Non-Profit Art Association, founded in 1879. The Society supports artists at a variety of experience-levels, offering them exhibition space, awards, and a platform through which to sell their art. In doing so, they support the advancement of new and existing artists in Boston.
Institute of Contemporary Art
The Institute of Contemporary Art is Boston’s home to a collection of modern and contemporary art. Even though there is a section of the MFA dedicated to contemporary art, you’ll find a larger collection at the ICA. Featuring artists from Boston and the world over, the ICA exhibitions force visitors to consider new perspectives and rethink our preconceptions. The ICA is housed in a beautiful and sleek building that overlooks the harbor, and they host a number of events throughout the year.
Mural at the Greenway
A rotating exhibit sponsored by the ICA, the Mural at the Greenway brings to the center of the city the work of a selected artist. Every few months, the oddly-shaped Greenway Wall at Dewey Square Park is given a fresh coat of paint by an artist whose vision is brought to life on this very public stage. Some installations are more direct, while others confuse the mobs of suits walking by it on the way to their corporate offices. Either way, it’s a good source of conversation. And during the summers there is an after-work party on the Greenway right in front of the mural.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Similarly to the MFA, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a home to some of the city’s fine art collection. The ISG is notorious as the pet project of its namesake, a wealthy woman with a strong opinion on art. She curated this massive collection of art that reflected her personal style, including an impressive indoor courtyard with seasonal garden installations. Her directive was that nothing in the museum may change, so when two piece of art were stolen years ago, the frames were left in their place, empty. The art was never recovered and the empty frames continue now to represent that infamous part of the museum’s history.
Underground at Ink Block
The newly unveiled Underground at Ink Block is a beautiful urban park with tons of murals to admire. It’s located under the highway overpass, enter from Traveler Street, and then follow the rainbow paint on the ground. I love the repurposed space and the awesome collection of murals to enjoy. It’s among the most accessible displays of art the city has to offer.
Hidden Art Gallery
There’s a tiny little gallery in my neighborhood, Beacon Hill, which you would never know to visit. The Hidden Art Gallery, located on Myrtle Street, is a small space jam-packed with art. The collection here focuses on its surroundings, with art and artists from Beacon Hill. So naturally it’s one of my favorite galleries!
Nestled somewhere in Somerville, hardly noticeable to even the neighborhood’s residents, is the Tiny Museum. It claims to be the world’s smallest museum, and considering it’s the size of a theatre schedule box, they may be right. I visited the Mmuseumm when Mary in Manhattan showed me around NYC, and I thought that was small. But this outdoes it! Stop in for a tiny taste of art, and then round the block to Union Square Donuts for an artistic masterpiece in doughnut form!
Society of Arts & Crafts
The Society of Arts and Crafts features the works and creations of local artisans. This is as much a gathering place to admire local artists as it is a space for these artists to sell their crafts. The space is beautiful, spacious, and new, a fitting spot for the contemporary arts and crafts on display.
The SoWA Market is so called because it’s South of Washington Avenue in the South End neighborhood. This market includes an antiques market, farmers market, food trucks, and an artisans market, on the summer weekends. But available all year round is the indoor art galleries. The old mill building transformed into a row of art galleries features some of the city’s best artists. There are over thirty galleries to visit but here are a few I like include: Carroll & Sons, M Fine Arts, Fountain St Gallery, and Galatea Fine Arts.