The MFA Dutch show

Slava & I are going to The Netherlands in the spring to see the Jheronimus Bosch show. Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts had a Dutch painting show we kept meaning to see. Suddenly, it was the last weekend of the show, so we headed over (after a trip to the ICA’s Black Mountain School exhibit).

Blockbuster art show! It was a madhouse!  A MADHOUSE!  Unsurprisingly, we weren’t the only ones to have waited until the last weekend to amble over. Fortunately, our friend who works at the MFA hooked us up with some VIP tickets, which allowed us to skip the line into the museum (it was shitty & cold out!) and the line into the gallery (they were long lines!).  I don’t know how you get those in real life, but we were pretty pleased, especially since the exhibit was called Class Distinctions, and grouped paintings according to the social standing/ wealth of the subjects.  In your face, proletariat!

But before we even went into the gallery, we shored ourselves up with some lunch and a glass of wine at the overpriced & mediocre Taste Café and Wine Bar. Still, we needed the sustenance to face the insanity, and we didn’t think the cafeteria had alcohol.

The show was, indeed, packed.  One had to push past others to get close to the paintings. Not that I have any trouble with that, but there were several people in wheelchairs and other such motorized thingeys who had trouble getting close.  We chatted with one lady in a motorized gizmo.  We suggested bypassing everyone, but she said that didn’t work.  She was funny, though, and no newcomer to Dutch art.  She wasn’t angry about not being able to get close, and when we parted ways, I said, “Don’t run anyone over,” and she responded, conspiratorily, “I hope I do!”

There were a few paintings I was sure the MFA owned, but was wrong about. They just seemed so familiar….I guess that’s how it is with famous pictures!

I was glad we went, but the crowds were impossible.  There weren’t timed tickets. A guard let people in 5 at a time or so, but there were way too many people in the gallery. The crowd, large as it was, had its charms, though. Blockbuster art shows have the tendency to attract people who you don’t usually see at museums. I heard a lot of great Massachusetts accents, and according to some conversations I overheard, it was clear there were a lot of people there who were not museum regulars. I could have done without the teens and their phones and the oblivious people blocking the way, but that’s par for the course for me. I’ll do my very best not to go on closing day again!

Some old favorites were there: Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch. Among my faves was this one of bleaching grounds, from a private collection. Reminded me of the opening sequence of Lars von Trier’s THE KINGDOM, but less creepy.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 5.08.38 PM.pngThe grouping was interesting, and there were some gems in there, but the crowd situation was terrible, and the MFA has THE WORST wall copy of any museum I’ve ever been to. I always feel like a teenager who is being talked down to every time I forget myself and read one of the wall texts.  Dear Liz, just read the first few lines & find out who, when, and how, but skip all the nonsense. It will only make you angry.

There was an unexpected section of tablewares, complete with 17th century linens (I overheard an aghast patron say, “They ironed these!  They are from the 1600s and someone ironed them!!”) and glassware that was pretty cool. They were exhibited in large glass cubes, which added an oddly modern aspect to the arrangement, but it was nice because one could get close and walk all the way around the tables.  Ancient glass always impresses me because I’m so good at breaking glass.

It was good to see the show, and I’ll have to remember to go back and look at the permanent collection of Dutch paintings before we go to Holland to see them in their native habitat.

It’s important to be able to drop in on one’s local art museum regularly.  The MFA is certainly too much to take in on one day, and it’s nice to focus on one theme at a time. Parts of it I always love (ancient Egyptian kitten mummy!), other parts are pretty lame (wall text, for instance….) There was a “Curators choice” show up in some of the hallways, but if the entire museum isn’t a curator’s choice, what the hell is it?  The “Curator’s choice” was a quirky little exhibit (dear readers, I always use these terms derisively) of a recently acquired collection of vernacular photography.  “Snapshots,” if you will.  I put up an exhibit of my own collection of vintage snaps at the Coolidge a hundred years ago when we showed a documentary called Other People’s Pictures. It just seems so OVER, and in the usual MFA way, the text made it seem like a totally stupid collection. DON’T READ THE WALL TEXT JUST ENJOY THE PICTURES, LIZ!   We breezed through so we wouldn’t get all art-ed out, but we did see some classic examples of “the photographer’s shadow” and “cool bicycles of days past.” May be worth a look if you aren’t like me and feel like you’ve seen it all before.


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