MFA Boston Announces Major Renovation of Ancient Greek and Roman Galleries

Experiential Spaces and Renewed Interpretation to Provide Contemporary Perspectives

More than 500 Newly Conserved Objects Across Media to Bring the Ancient World to Life

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is undergoing a major renovation and reinstallation of four galleries at the heart of the George D. and Margo Behrakis Wing for Art of the Ancient World, which will display nearly 500 objects ranging from the beginnings of Greek art (about 1100 B.C.E.) through the fall of Constantinople in the 15th century and into the present day. Scheduled to open in spring 2021, this project will create a grand entry for visitors to the MFA’s renowned collection of Classical art—one of the finest and most comprehensive in the world. The galleries will showcase iconic highlights of the collection, including many objects that have not been on view, adding to a renovated suite of 11 Classical galleries completed since 2009—most recently Daily Life in Ancient Greece. The renovations are made possible by a broad coalition of 24 donors, led by George D. and Margo Behrakis, The Krupp Family Foundation, Richard and Nancy Lubin and an anonymous donor.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston logo

The MFA’s Greek, Roman and Byzantine collections are foundational to this Museum,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “These new galleries will bring to life the richness of Classical art, providing contemporary perspectives on the era’s profound legacy. Original interpretation will allow us to have conversations across time and geography, exploring themes that remain central to our society today, including democracy, religion, philosophy and literature.

The new galleries will align with the Museum’s long-standing mission to bring art and people together, and to encourage inquiry, understanding and appreciation of visual language. A popular destination for school groups, new interpretation will engage a wider range of students, many of whom have different learning styles, backgrounds and experiences—making the objects more accessible to the next generation of museumgoers. Narratives throughout the galleries will examine contemporary issues through the lens of the past, asking questions about what it means to be an enlightened citizen, what role religion plays within society, and why the mythical world is an enduring source of fascination—then and now. Additionally, every object will be documented, cleaned and conserved before going on view. Highlights of the four new spaces include:

The Museum’s beloved 13-foot Juno statue, a highlight of the renovation is a new gallery dedicated to “Gods and Goddesses”. (Image provided by MFA, Boston.)
  • Anchored by the Museum’s beloved 13-foot Juno statue, a highlight of the renovation is a new gallery dedicated to “Gods and Goddesses,” which will re-create the atmosphere of a temple. Featuring large-scale sculptures as well as more intimate objects ranging in date from the 5th century B.C.E. to the 3rd century C.E., the immersive space will introduce the personalities, feats and fates of the deities the Greeks and Romans worshiped, and explore ancient religious practices.
  • A Byzantine gallery, the first of its kind in New England, will cover a geographically diverse collection of works ranging in origin from the era of Emperor Constantine the Great in the 4th century to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. This includes the 15th-century Monopoli altar, which will be on view for the first time after undergoing major conservation. Evocative of an altar in an early Byzantine church, the space will feature a soundscape reflecting liturgical chants.
  • A gallery exploring Early Greek Art—a major strength of the MFA’s collection—from its beginnings in the wake of Mycenae (about 1100 B.C.E.) to the Persian Wars (480/479 B.C.E.) includes the Mantiklos Apollo, the most famous object in the MFA’s Greek collection.
  • A gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art will demonstrate connections between the art of the late 19th–early 21st centuries and the Classical world.

It is truly gratifying to activate our Greek and Roman collections through new scholarship and ideas,” said Christine Kondoleon, George D. and Margo Behrakis Chair, Art of Ancient Greece and Rome. “Many of these works are among the oldest in the collection, yet they will create connections between cultures past and present—reminding us that we are a global museum. As the ‘Athens of America,’ Boston deserves the best presentation of these renowned works of art.

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“Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI” To Open at the FAMSF’s de Young Museum

As technological innovation continues to shape our identities and societies, the question of what it means to be, or remain human has become the subject of fervent debate. Taking advantage of the de Young museum’s proximity to Silicon Valley, Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI arrives as the first major exhibition in the US to explore the relationship between humans and intelligent machines through an artistic lens. Organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, with San Francisco as its sole venue, Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI will be on view from February 22 to October 25, 2020.

Technology is changing our world, with artificial intelligence both a new frontier of possibility but also a development fraught with anxiety,” says Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI brings artistic exploration of this tension to the ground zero of emerging technology, raising challenging questions about the future interface of human and machine.

The exhibition, which extends through the first floor of the de Young and into the museum’s sculpture garden, will explore the current juncture through philosophical, political, and poetic questions and problems raised by AI. New and recent works by an intergenerational, international group of artists and activist collectives—including Zach Blas, Ian Cheng, Simon Denny, Stephanie Dinkins, Forensic Architecture, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Pierre Huyghe, Christopher Kulendran Thomas in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann, Agnieszka Kurant, Lawrence Lek, Trevor Paglen, Hito Steyerl, and Martine Syms—will be presented.

The Uncanny Valley

In 1970 Japanese engineer Masahiro Mori introduced the concept of the “uncanny valley” as a terrain of existential uncertainty that humans experience when confronted with autonomous machines that mimic their physical and mental properties. An enduring metaphor for the uneasy relationship between human beings and lifelike robots or thinking machines, the uncanny valley and its edges have captured the popular imagination ever since. Over time, the rapid growth and affordability of computers, cloud infrastructure, online search engines, and data sets have fueled developments in machine learning that fundamentally alter our modes of existence, giving rise to a newly expanded uncanny valley.

Photo Credit: Ian Cheng, Installation view: BOB, Central Pavilion, Giardini, Venice Biennale, Venice, 2019, Copyright Ian Cheng, Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels, Photography by: Andrea Rossetti

As our lives are increasingly organized and shaped by algorithms that track, collect, evaluate, and monetize our data, the uncanny valley has grown to encompass the invisible mechanisms of behavioral engineering and automation,” says Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “By paying close attention to the imminent and nuanced realities of AI’s possibilities and pitfalls, the artists in the exhibition seek to thicken the discourse around AI. Although fables like HBO’s sci-fi drama Westworld, or Spike Jonze’s feature film Her still populate the collective imagination with dystopian visions of a mechanized future, the artists in this exhibition treat such fictions as relics of a humanist tradition that has little relevance today.

Nestled within the museum’s garden, Pierre Huyghe presents Exomind (Deep Water), a sculpture of a crouched female nude with a live beehive as its head. With its buzzing colony pollinating the surrounding flora, it offers a poignant metaphor for the modeling of neural networks on the biological brain and an understanding of intelligence as grounded in natural forms and processes.

In the museum’s contemporary art galleries, Ian Cheng’s digitally simulated AI creature BOB (Bag of Beliefs) also reflects on the interdependency of carbon and silicon forms of intelligence. An algorithmic Tamagotchi, it is capable of evolution, but its growth, behavior, and personality are molded by online interaction with visitors who assume collective responsibility for its wellbeing. In A.A.I. (artificial artificial intelligence), an installation of multiple termite mounds of colored sand, gold, glitter and crystals, Agnieszka Kurant offers a vibrant critique of new AI economies, with online crowdsourcing marketplace platforms employing invisible armies of human labor at sub-minimum wages. Simon Denny also examines the intersection of labor, resources, and automation. Presenting 3-D prints and a cage-like sculpture based on an unrealized machine patent filed by Amazon, he literally casts human labor as the proverbial canary in the mine.

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