BOSTON (Reuters) - Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts opens a large new contemporary art wing this weekend in what curators say reflects a more forward-looking tilt to the city’s arts scene.
Anchoring the launch is the temporary exhibit, “Ellsworth Kelly: Wood Sculpture,” surveying four decades of works by the famous American minimalist painter and sculptor.
The Linde Family Wing of Contemporary Art, which includes more than 21,000 square feet of gallery space, is housed in the MFA’s 1981 I.M. Pei expansion.
More than 200 pieces from the permanent collection are on show, arranged in seven galleries that range from paintings to decorative arts to video and new media.
“Contemporary collectors in Boston have been fired up for a long time, and they’ve been waiting for this,” said Al Miner, an assistant curator at the MFA.
Economic jitters notwithstanding, interest in buying contemporary art is “through the roof,” Miner said.
Kelly, who attended a pre-opening event on Thursday, has been feted with retrospectives at New York’s Guggenheim Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others, and has worked with wood sporadically over a six-decade career.
Nineteen of his more than 30 sculptures in wood, made from 1958 to 1996, are on display in Boston.
Many of the spare, free-standing sculptures take on commanding totemic forms, up to 15 feet (4.5 meter) tall. Kelly has worked with woodcutter Peter Carlson since 1970, and the woods used range from humble oak to exotic African sapele to California redwood.
“The sculptures show the intersection of the natural and the man-made world, distilled to an absolute essence,” said Edward Saywell, chair of the museum’s contemporary art programs. “He just relishes the beauty of the wood.”
Some of the sculptures feature subtle, almost sensuous curves that hint at male and female forms.
“I don’t like circles. I think they are too finished. But a fragment of a circle is fantastic,” Kelly said.
Kelly, 88, continues to work at his home and studio in Spencertown, New York.
“I wait for a message. They just happen. I’ll think I’ve run out of ideas, but then I’ll get a flash,” he said.
The expansion ratchets up the rivalry between the MFA and the Institute of Contemporary Art, located on Boston’s harbor front, which has showcased modern works for decades.
The new wing at the MFA is grafted onto a massive art assemblage that ranges from prehistoric tombs to Pablo Picasso, something Miner said adds context to the modern collections.
“This town can easily handle two excellent collections of contemporary art.”
One of Kelly’s paintings, 1968’s “Blue Green Yellow Orange Red,” is part of the MFA’s contemporary collection.
Another highlight is Maurizio Nannucci’s 1999 neon anthem, “All Art Has Been Contemporary.”
Kelly, who listed Picasso and Henri Matisse among his influences, embodied that spirit as he walked among his sculptures.
“I am nourished by the past, I am questioning the present, and I am stepping into the future,” he said.
Reporting by Ros Krasny; editing by Patricia Reaney