Mosaic with personifications of Pleasure and Wealth, 6th century AD, stone and glass tesserae, Gift of George D. and Margo Behrakis. (Photo: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
BOSTON – The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is unveiling an ambitious transformation in the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World: five reimagined galleries for the art of ancient Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire that tell new stories about some of the oldest works in the MFA’s collection.
Filled with natural light, the newly renovated spaces feature innovative displays, interactive and digital experiences created in partnership with local and international collaborators, and immersive evocations of an ancient Greek temple and a Byzantine church. Each of the nearly 550 featured objects— ranging from the beginnings of Greek art (about 950 BC) through the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century and into the present day— was researched, cleaned and conserved prior to going on view. Many are on view for the first time or after a long period off view, including the recently conserved Monopoli Altarpiece and a colossal seated marble sculpture of a goddess.
Narratives throughout the galleries provide fresh perspectives on an era that provided inspiration for our own modern society and examine contemporary issues through the art of the past— posing questions about community, the role of religion, and why the mythical world is an enduring source of fascination, then and now.
The galleries will debut to the public on Saturday, December 18, a day of free general admission for all.
“We are pleased to open our galleries after a period of almost two years, and share new perspectives on many objects, some on view for the first time in a generation. Our challenge was to take one of the great collections of ancient art in the world, and create a context for understanding and appreciation amongst audiences today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “From colossal to miniature, and realized in a range of materials by artists and artisans from many countries and cultures, the galleries are filled with reflections on the founding concepts of democracy, civic leadership, and religious community. They make direct connections between the art of the past and a range of vibrant concerns today. It is exciting to create narratives that respect the past while anticipating the ways ideas connect to the future.”
The MFA’s collection of Greek and Roman art is one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world. The major renovation and reinstallation project has created a grand entry to these holdings, with three galleries exploring Greek and Roman mythology, early Greek art and Roman portraiture. The suite also includes a new gallery devoted to art of the Byzantine Empire— the first of its kind in New England— and a gallery for rotating installations that explore how modern and contemporary artists interacted with art of the past. The inaugural installation features sculptural works by American abstractionist Cy Twombly (1928-2011), on loan from the Cy Twombly Foundation, and an important painting by the artist that is a promised gift to the Museum.
The new installations were curated by Christine Kondoleon, George D. and Margo Behrakis Chair, Art of Ancient Greece and Rome; Phoebe Segal, Mary Bryce Comstock Curator of Greek and Roman Art; and Laure Marest, Cornelius and Emily Vermeule Assistant Curator of Greek and Roman Art. The extensive conservation work was carried out by objects conservators Abigail Hykin, LeeAnn Gordon, Mei-An Tsu, Marie Stewart, Emilie Tréhu, and Christie Pohl. The new galleries were designed by Keith Crippen, Director of Design.
The five new galleries build on the transformative renovation of seven additional Classical galleries since 2009— most recently, “Daily Life in Ancient Greece” in 2017; “Homer and the Epics,” “Dionysus and the Symposium” and “Theater and Performance” in 2014; and “Ancient Coins” in 2012.
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