I went to the new Art of the Americas wing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts this past week. I went with my friends Skinner and this fella, both of whom are no slouches in the style department. With the three of us trooping around it had the feel of a school field trip, with all the attendant ennui and obsession with lunch. It almost made me nostalgic for school, and those days of mandated Culture, when lingering too long at an informational placard was a sort of social suicide. And by the way, lunch was great. I had sausage fennel pizza with goat cheese at the modular yet luxurious New American Café in the center of the cavernous atrium. It felt kind of exciting, like eating at a mirage that popped up in this super modernist desert of glass and limestone with only a Dale Chihuly sculpture to provide shade and an extensive and self-conscious list of alcohol to keep thirst at bay. I kept having the sensation that someone could come along at any moment and wheel me away while I was munching on my pizza. Which was an actual, if outlandish, possibility as everything in this restaurant is on wheels (with the exception of the servers), as the whole thing is designed to be mantled and dismantled on an event planner’s whim, and the need to pack a few more violinists and deep-pocketed donors into the atrium for a fundraiser.
After such a great lunch (with a cookie plate! and coffee!), the museum itself seemed almost an afterthought. The new wing provided a less depressing experience than that of a lot of museums, with a whole bunch of utiliarian stuff — highly-intellectualized versions of teapots and dishware and so forth. A brief nod in the direction of portraits, lots of decorative arts (with some amazingly beautiful wallcoverings and wall colors to pull you out of your white-wall museum stupor), lots of furniture. Not too many oil paintings, relatively-speaking, as the United States was born into the era of post-painting, which is why all those primitive portraits of colonialists — the ones where the baby is sitting on the mother’s lap, both of them one-dimensional and both of them looking like bald old men — seem strangely modern. Like works from Balthus, only not as obviously subversive.
The new wing held much more, but, as I was in school field trip mode, it was hard to have a thorough view of things. I plan on going back, and not an empty stomach this time, so that I can give it all a proper going-over, after which I’ll have that uniquely adult feeling of self-righteous self-satisfaction (is that redundant?), having actually learned something. Which I’ll be sure to share with you, lucky you.