UNPACKING THE BACKPACK – An artful trip to Boston

We went to Boston for a date with abstract ex­pressionist Cy Twombly, and we almost came home with early mod­ernist Marc Chagall. It all started when art critic Sebastian Smee profiled “Cy Twombly: Making Past Present,” an exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He grabbed my attention when he wrote, “I’ve been waiting half my life for this show. It’s magnificent.” I’d barely finished telling my wife how I wished I could just hop on a plane and fly cross country for an art exhibit before she was online checking ticket prices. Soon our spring break became a walking tour of Bos­ton’s art scene.

We stayed at The Seaport Hotel on the Waterfront, a perfect launching point for jaunts around Beantown, and we were thrilled to discover the Institute of Contemporary Art nearby. The Institute, housed in a modernist work of art, fea­tures a third floor sitting room with exquisite views of the harbor. Inside we lucked upon the Maria Berrio exhibit “Chil­dren’s Crusade,” and her work alone was worth the trip. Berrio crafts huge paintings through a collage of carefully torn Japa­nese paper and watercolor. Her current exhibit honoring the struggles of migrants, especial­ly women and children, evokes contemplation of spirituality and social justice.

Wandering through Boston Commons, we visited “The Embrace,” a sculpture unveiled early this year for Martin Lu­ther King Day. This incredible bronze piece, memorializing the hug between Dr. King and his wife after he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, raised some eyebrows when it was installed. In pictures, the sculpture of arms embracing can seem odd. But in person, it’s stunning work, a testament to the in­credible power of love. Later, crossing the Commons toward the North End, the afternoon became a fortuitous visit to a quaint yet elegant gallery on the famed Newbury Street.

The Galerie d’Orsay, housed in a classic brownstone, caught our eye with three Marc Cha­gall lithographs visible from the street. Upon entering the gallery, the stunning street art of Sen 1 drew us in. Hanging next to a Lichtenstein and a Warhol, the frenzied graffiti of a gritty urban backdrop reflects the rough vibrant life of the streets. A Chagall series on the circus ran across the opposite wall, strangely complement­ing the pop art in the room. Billed as a gallery offering art from five centuries, including several Rembrandt etchings, the d’Orsay consumed much of our afternoon. In fact, the d’Orsay was so captivating we could hardly walk away from the Chagall that caught our eye from the street.

Wednesday was reserved for Twombly. With more than one hundred galleries, Bos­ton’s Museum of Fine Arts is a premier destination, and its renowned collection of classi­cal art made it perfect for the Twombly retrospective. Curat­ed alongside the museum’s vast displays of Greek and Roman relics, the exhibit is a fascinat­ing connection of the old and new. Twombly lived many years in Rome, collecting stat­uary that, as it decayed, seemed to become a new form of art. Twombly explored that con­nection in his work believing, as Smee notes, “Modern art isn’t dislocated, but something with roots, tradition and continuity.” The curation is a masterful homage to an icon of abstract expres­sionism. From Twombly’s famous scribbles, reflect­ing his interest in ancient text he couldn’t read but found artistically beautiful, to his large scale explora­tions of color and text, the show honors Twombly’s lifelong exploration of abstrac­tion, decay, and deconstruction.

After the MFA, we mean­dered toward the North End, wandering the shops and gal­leries on Newbury Street, in­cluding DTR Modern Galleries with promises of pop art icons like Basquiat and Warhol. The staff was heading toward wine o’clock, but when I mentioned being a fan of Warhol contem­porary Hunt Slonem, the ladies intrigued me saying “We have a Bunnie Wall in back if you’d like to take a look.” Slonem’s bunnies are like Warhol’s Mar­ilyns to pop art fans, and we spent a while wondering which bunny might suit us. Coming out of DTR, we hadn’t taken five steps before the captivating colors across the street drew us to The Sitka Gallery. Sitka, a whimsical and gregarious Ox­ford-trained artist who worked for years as an illustrator for Ralph Lauren, opened his New­bury gallery five years ago and is always available to talk art and more.

Boston is a truly artful des­tination, and the Museum of Fine Arts is a location we might revisit soon, having just missed a show on the famed Hokusai waves. And on our next trip that Chagall print may still be calling to me from the window, and I might not have the disci­pline to walk away.

Michael P. Mazenko is a writer, educator, & school administrator in Greenwood Village. He blogs at A Teach­er’s View and can be found on Twitter @mmazenko. You can email him at mmazenko@gmail.com