There’s a joke in Boston that if you were to throw a rock, it would land in the front yard of either a university or a museum. There’s no shortage of historic sites, art museums, or university galleries so it could be quite daunting when trying to find which ones to visit.
From colonial and Revolutionary War sites to modern art galleries with immersive experiences unlike any other, there’s a wide variety of things to see that speak to an array of cultural and historic tastes. Let this be your guide to Bean Town’s best exhibitions.
The Institute Of Contemporary Arts, Boston-Revival
Never shying away from the experimental (they even hosted the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series from their roof!) the Institute of Contemporary Arts, or the ICA always mounts stellar exhibitions of modern and contemporary artists. Their second property, the ICA Watershed, is actually a free ticket, though you must reserve a water shuttle from the wharf ahead of time, and it is seasonal (the water shuttle is free if you purchase a regular ICA ticket). The Watershed is the perfect little summer adventure while still being in the heart of art and industry.
This revitalized marina property features larger-than-life installations that rotate out every summer. This summer, through September, Revival: Materials and Monumental Forms is on view, featuring six international artists who have reclaimed and reused industrial materials to create massive sculptures that speak to the beauty of unexpected materials.
Open: Tuesday-Wednesday, Saturday-Sunday 10 am-5 pm; Thursday-Friday 10 am-9 pm
Cost: $20 for adults, $15-17 for students and seniors, free for children under 18
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum-Drawing the Curtain
For history buffs and true crime enthusiasts!
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum has an interesting history—housed in the home of a patroness of the arts, Isabella Stewart Gardner, she willed her extensive historical art collection and grand palazzo to become a museum. The caveat—everything in the palazzo had to remain how it was when she passed. The next blunder? The museum was the victim of one of history’s largest art heists, still unsolved to this day. Some frames remain empty in the rooms.
While the permanent collection is a fascinating cabinet of global curiosities, in recent years the museum has had a robust rotation of fascinating exhibits that bridge the historical with the contemporary. Currently, their exhibit Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet, originally organized for the Morgan Library and Museum in New York and re-imagined for the ISG, explores the intersection of Old Master’s works and popular children’s books.
Don’t miss the other two temporary exhibits at the Gardner, including Close Up: Bourdichon’s Painted Prayers and Univereses: Oliver Jeffers and be sure to stroll around the grand palazzo’s stunning Mediterranean courtyard.
Open: Wednesday-Monday, 11am-5pm (open late until 9pm on Thursdays)
Cost: $20 adults, $18 seniors, $13 student; advance tickets required
The New England Holocaust Memorial
Situated adjacent to the bustling Freedom Trail, the New England Holocaust Memorial is a powerful testament to memory and history. A series of luminous glass towers that are 50 feet high, the design is meant to “inspire remembrance, reflection, and hope.” Each spire has millions of numbers etched on to it, along with memories written by Holocaust survivors from various camps; some of these camps are open to the public and should be explored if you're traveling in that part of the world. In Boston, the Memorial's glass towers are connected by a walkable path; it is sobering to be enveloped by this quiet and dark environment and yet oddly peaceful. It is both a powerful reminder of history and a beautiful installation with interactives.
There’s signage along this short path, along with QR codes that provide a guided experience and additional materials to engage with while you’re there. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, there were guided tours, which will resume hopefully soon. Otherwise, this public memorial is an exhibition that should not be missed.
MIT List Visual Arts Center-Robota
When you think of MIT, you think of all the tech and engineering, and not so much the art. The List Visual Arts Center has mixed the two perfectly, with an art installation from Matthew Angelo Harrison called Robota. Robota explores the intersection between history/heritage, technology, and labor drawing on Detroit-based Harrison’s time working as a clay modeler for the Ford Motor Company. The sculptures in the exhibit speak to the robotification of labor and how it affects and devalues, particularly, Black labor and materiality. Be sure to visit this futuristic sculpture gallery; it’s only on view until July 24th.
While on campus, be sure to check out the other iconic parts of MIT’s campus, including the Great Dome, originally built in 1916 and restored in 2016. Sometimes, if you catch it just right, you might be able to witness one of Harvard’s great pranks against rival MIT, which often features something ending up on the top of the dome. If you miss it, the behemoth limestone and concrete dome is still worth the visit.
Open: Tuesday, Friday-Sunday 12 pm-6 pm; Wednesday-Thursday 12 pm-7 pm