One fact says volumes about the MFA’s philosophy: In 2014, the museum staged its first crowdsourced exhibit. Far from being stuffy or exclusive, the institution strives to make itself as user-friendly as possible—even if it that means running an online popularity contest that ends with the winners featured on both a museum wall and Pinterest. (In something of an upset, van Gogh beat out Monet for the top spot.)
Renovated galleries housing French Impressionist and post-Impressionist works and the arts of the Pacific also opened in 2014, but they were somewhat overshadowed by the debut of the Kunstkammer Gallery. Translated as “collector’s cabinet,” a Kunstkammer is more like a treasure chest. Trendy 17th-century aristocrats showed off their collections of natural and manufactured objects in these rooms; this gallery’s displays include intricate clocks, automata (think Hugo Cabret), and even some 21st-century artifacts: iPads.
The museum is still refining its sprawling Art of the Americas Wing ★★★, which transformed the institution when it opened in 2010. Considering the scope of the collections, it’s no surprise that some visitors park themselves here, among some of the MFA’s best-known and best-loved works (by Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, and Childe Hassam, among many, many others). Others prefer to concentrate on the Impressionist ★★★ holdings (including works by Gaugin, Degas, and Renoir, and dozens of Monets), Asian and Old Kingdom Egyptian collections, classical art, American furniture and silver, prints, photographs, and decorative arts. Still others, traveling with their kids, concentrate on the numerous family-friendly displays and programs.
If you can’t decide, do yourself a favor and don’t try to see everything on your own. Take a free guided tour (daily except Mon holidays) that concentrates on a particular topic or focuses on the highlights of the collections (daily 10:30am and 1:30pm, Wed 6:15pm). The expensive-but-worth-it admission fee (which covers two visits within 10 days) is an investment, and you’ll want to make the most of it. A Boston CityPass or Go Boston Card can give you a break on the ticket price.
Visitors enter the museum from Huntington Avenue or the Fenway; leave the Green Line and backtrack about a half-block, pausing to admire the sculpture on the lawns. The Sharf Information Center distributes floor plans and is the meeting place for guided tours . The museum has a cafeteria, two cafes, and a fine-dining restaurant, two excellent gift shops (plus satellites when large traveling exhibitions are in town), and two auditoriums.
The interactive website is invaluable as you organize your visit. Check the website ahead to locate pieces and galleries that interest you, and note the schedules of tours and special exhibitions. During the lifespan of this book, they will include “Gold and the Gods: Jewels of Ancient Nubia” (through 2017) and “Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott” (Jan 17–Sept 13, 2015).