Boston loves impressionism: The MFA creates an exhibit curated by you


Staff Writer

by Alexa J. Williams '14 Arts Editor

Vincent Van Gogh (1890)

It seems the buzz around the exhibition “Boston Loves Impressionism,” which opened on Feb. 14, has not dwindled in the least as Bostonians and art enthusiasts of all ages flock to the Lois and Michael Torf Gallery. This installation showcases 30 impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces that were chosen by the public from a list of 50 works that are part of the Museum of Fine Arts’ permanent collection. Although not exactly the first of its kind, the crowd-sourced exhibition  certainly leaves an impression on the minds of those who have visited.

The exhibition, which engaged more than 10,000 individuals in the initial voting process, is a real reflection of local taste. In fact, Boston art collectors were the first supporters of impressionism during the late 1900s, before the movement was ever considered cool. One of the gallery headings reads: “While critics and collectors in Paris laughed at Monet, Degas, Cezanne, and Renoir, Bostonians began buying works by the members of the Impressionist avant-garde.”

Vincent van Gogh’s painting “Houses at Auvers” (1890) came in first place with 4,364 votes, Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” (1907) in second with 3,543 votes and Edgar Degas’ sculpture “Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer” (1878-1881) in third with 2,869 votes. In addition to featuring the three top-voted masterpieces at the entrance, the exhibition also pays tribute to the movement as a whole. Incorporating a short lesson in art history, the exhibit takes the viewers on a journey through impressionism, from van Gogh’s impasto, Monet’s en plein air, and Paul Signac’s pointillism, to the more vivid, bold and geometric style of the post-impressionism movement.

Also displayed are some of the lesser-seen masterpieces that resonated with New Englanders, including the snowy scenes of Boulevard Saint-Denis, “Argenteuil, in Winter” (1875) and “Entrance to the Village of Vetheuil in Winter” (1879), both by Monet. Meanwhile, Mary Cassatt, best known for her painting “The Boating Party,” is the only American and female artist represented.

Though the exhibit lacks some of my favorite impressionist paintings, including Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” (September 1889) and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (1884-1886), the surprise of discovery which pieces and artists was great fun.

As MFA Director Malcolm Rogers stated in a recent Boston Globe article, there is something fresh about this democratic process. “The thing that interests me is it’s getting people to express affection, their love for objects,” he said. “But I really appreciated how it made you think differently when viewing the art and how you viewed the art. It made everyone who voted a curator for a little bit of time.”

In the way that artworks’ captions illustrate the opinions of both present-day voters and critics of the time, the exhibit is truly a dialogue between the ever-evolving tastes of Bostonians past and present. “Though the collection continues to grow and change, it remains marked by the many individuals who have shaped and loved it through the decades,” Rogers said.

While the Chicago History Museum is considered to be the first to use crowdsourcing, many museums around the country are beginning to adopt this process as a means of engaging the public and capturing the attention of younger generations.  With the emergence of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, there are now so many ways for museums to connect with their audiences.

Yet, according to the Huffington Post, curators and art directors have yet to harness the full potential that social media and the World Wide Web have to offer. “We’ve got plenty of ideas, but you spend a fortune hiring people to help you figure out what people want,” CHM President Gary Johnson said. “[But] we live in a world where we can find out directly what they want.”

The exhibit runs until May 26.

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