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Arts + Lifestyle

Where To Go For A Contemporary Art Fix In Boston

Boston will always be best known for its revolutionary history, well-trodden Freedom Trail and Harvard University walking tours, but beyond its big-hitting historical sites, there’s an exciting contemporary art scene to discover.

These are the locations and galleries to explore for contemporary art in Boston this autumn:

SoWa Art and Design District

In the shadow of Highway 93 in Boston’s South End, a former industrial area of abandoned warehouses has been reimagined into this hip creative hub. Over 100 artists have studios here, and every month for SoWa First Fridays, they open their studio doors, chat with visitors and sell their work. Don’t miss a peek inside Boston artist Kim Stockwell’s studio to check out her enchanting Boston scenes. Other buildings in the district are home to little galleries showcasing everything from fine art to furniture. It’s fun to visit on Sundays to experience the indoor SoWa Vintage Market and the SoWa Open Market, the largest open-air artist and farmers’ market in Boston.


Boston Sculptors Gallery

Also in the SoWa Art + Design District, this gleaming space is one of the leading venues in the city to get your fix of contemporary three-dimensional art. It was originally founded by 18 local sculptors in 1992 and has since grown to host 37 members. Work by the best Boston-based emerging and established artistic and creative talent is on show here, across two exhibitions a month. These kick off with evening receptions that all are welcome to join and artists also open their studio doors to curious visitors during the SoWa First Fridays, too. 


Institute of Contemporary Arts

Exhibition: I'm Yours by Mel Taing

Exhibition: I’m Yours by Mel Taing

You can’t miss the glassy modernist ICA building in the Seaport District. It’s at the heart of Boston’s modern art scene and a pioneer in the transformation of the area. Its boxy first-floor gallery bursts with works by contemporary greats. Permanent collections featuring photography, paintings, and sculpture mingle around the temporary installations from big names such as African American artist, Simone Leigh, who is known for her monumental, curvaceous bronze figures of African female forms, and Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, famous for her larger-than-life painted pumpkins. 


Fort Point Arts Community

Also in the Seaport, as well as the big-hitting ICA, this district across from Downtown is also home to an exciting and energetic community of over 300 artists scattered in various waterfront buildings and studios. The Four Points Arts Community is often described as one of the largest and most diverse artistic collectives in New England. A good place to start is at The Artist Building at 300 Summer, an interesting artist-owned live-work cooperative for visual artists. It hosts all kinds of exhibits from guest-curated to mixed-media shows. Check out the Open Studios event, too, when the public can meet the artists at work.


ICA Watershed

Installation view, Guadalupe Maravilla: Mariposa Relámpago , the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2023. Photo by Mel Taing.

Installation view, Guadalupe Maravilla: Mariposa Relámpago, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 2023. Photo by Mel Taing.

A brisk 10-minute ride across Boston Harbour on the ICA water shuttle is ICA Watershed, the ICA’s museum’s second outpost. It’s located in East Boston, the city’s oldest neighbourhood, inside a giant once-abandoned copper pipe factory at the Boston Harbour Shipyard and Marina. For an interesting introduction to the space and area, settle into a sofa near the entrance to watch the short film documenting the area’s history. As it’s huge and only open to the public in the summer, it tends to host one exhibition a year, which is usually a giant installation.


Rose Kennedy Greenway

Rob 'Problak' Gibbs, Breathe Life Together, 2022

Rob ‘Problak’ Gibbs, Breathe Life Together, 2022

Just south of the Seaport District is the Greenway, a 1.5-mile ribbon of park set on a part of a highway, abandoned in the 1990s when the traffic was diverted underground. A tranquil place to sit, and the setting for a wild garden, it also doubles as an open-air art gallery, displaying installations, sculptures and murals. Free events are also staged here year-round, from film screenings to exercise classes. Sitting on your deckchair on the soft grass, it’s hard to imagine the area was once a chaotic tangle of freeways and flyovers.


Museum of Fine Arts

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) John Singer Sargent (American, 1856Ð1925) *Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mary Louisa Boit, Julia Overing Boit, Jane Hubbard Boit, and Florence D. Boit in memory of their father, Edward Darley Boit *Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882) John Singer Sargent (American, 1856Ð1925) *Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mary Louisa Boit, Julia Overing Boit, Jane Hubbard Boit, and Florence D. Boit in memory of their father, Edward Darley Boit *Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

It’s a treasure hunt to find the smattering of contemporary pieces by modern heavyweights amid the 450,000-piece strong collection of the USA’s fifth-largest museum. Those with patience will reap rich rewards. Find the narrow Studio Gallery – more like a corridor – and you’ll spy Picasso’s Standing Figure, Portrait of a Woman by Jean Helicon, and Matisse’s Reclining Nude. Head a few floors up to Art of the Americas, for some lovely Georgia O’Keeffes: Calla Lily on Grey, White Rose on Larkspur, and Shell and Old Shingle No.II , alongside Frida Kahlo’s Dos Mujeres: Two Women.


The Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum

Carla Fernández (Mexican, b. 1973), Tradition Is Not Static, 2023. Tecuán Bag made in collaboration with Santos and Claudio Nájera, San Francisco Ozomatlán, Guerrero. Hand painted Cowhide, waxed thread, recycled mirror, metal fittings, 2019; Blouse Manifesto of Fashion as Resistance made in collaboration with painter Isaías Salgado, Mexico CIty. Hand painted linen, 2019

A 10-minute walk from the Museum of Fine Arts is this modern art-world curiosity named after the eccentric, 19th-century art collector who once lived here. It’s set in a stunning Venetian-style palazzo with galleries arranged around a central courtyard decorated in seasonal floral displays. Isabella Gardner was an American art collector, best known for her collection of Old Master paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, but who also took inspiration from contemporary artists whom she also enjoyed supporting. Her legacy lives on within the museum’s new wing, home to a bright gallery space which hosts a schedule of exhibitions of contemporary art and sculpture. The Gardner is also a keen supporter of public art, using its facade as the canvas for an artwork that changes every six months easily admired on a walk past.

Ellie Seymour travelled as a guest of Meet Boston

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