Where Sadness and Beauty can Coexist

If you have some unscheduled time in the near future, consider a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It is for sure one of the nation’s great museums. On a recent Sunday, Brian and I ventured forth to see three important current exhibits. I will warn you that taking on three major exhibits in one day is not easy. Art fatigue and general fatigue will ensue. I think my brain can probably only really take in about 15 works before I can no longer appreciate them appropriately. Nonetheless, I look back on this as day well spent. The experience was enhanced by a beautiful Boston day, free admission thanks to Bank of America and a rendezvous with our lovely daughter and her amiable boyfriend who has the added benefit of being very tall and easy to spot in a crowd.
Our primary goal was to see Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photos by Henryk Ross. This photographer surreptitiously photographed the realities of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland during WWII. He buried the negatives, and he survived the war to unearth them. The photos are stunning, shocking and uncomfortable to view. However, they are important documentation of what people can do to people. A third of the Jews in Lodz starved to death in the ghetto, the remainder were deported to Auschwitz. The deportation photos are among the most moving as these families did not know they were on their way to extermination. My husband is a first generation American and lost much of his family to Hitler’s “final solution.” As much as one can never understand it, he has deliberately sought to learn as much as he can about the Holocaust. My tag-along education has been important to me as well. I often tear up in museums, but usually due to the sheer power of seeing a work of art I have long admired in reproduction. This exhibition will bring tears as well.

My recommendation – see this one first and then proceed to the next two to be reminded that, in spite of unspeakable horror, our history also offers us great beauty.

The banner exhibition is Matisse in his Studio. Matisse was prolific and in my experience, is relatively easy to encounter his efforts. This is a different take with a focus on his personal possessions, the objects he loved and featured in his works. There are lots of paintings and sculptures in this exhibit, many from private collections (who are these people who casually hang a Matisse in their foyer?) I liked seeing his possessions on display adjacent to paintings featuring those possessions. And, the works are full of color and shapes! Here are a couple that would look nice in any home.

Ah, Botticelli. When you need a dose of calm and just want to be surrounded in beauty, he’s your man. Wrap your head around the fact that he painted between 1480-1500. How did this stuff even survive? It is mesmerizing. I am generally not one for religious themes, but his depiction of serene faces makes them worth the close look. Plus, I am one for mythological themes and here’s a good one.

Minerva and the Centaur, about 1482

And there’s this.

Venus 1484-90. (Excuse my terrible photograph skills and just accept that this is way better in person. Way better.

The Botticelli and Matisse exhibits run through July 9th. The Lodz photographs is there through July 30th.

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