scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Critic’s picks for fall museum exhibitions around New England

“Plastic Fantastic” installation by Lee Boroson at Mass MoCA. Andreas Engel

In the fall, many New England museums mount exhibitions with great enterprise and depth. Here are some state-by-state highlights.


HARVARD ART MUSEUMS “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals.” When the new Harvard Art Museums complex opens this fall after a $350 million Renzo Piano-designed renovation and expansion, it will do so with a splash. This show returns to view works that were originally commissioned for a Harvard dining room. The murals hung there, fading, in the 1960s and 1970s, and went into storage in 1979. Digital projection re-creates the original tones of these multimillion-dollar Abstract Expressionist pieces. Nov. 16-July 26. Cambridge. 617-495-9400,


ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM “Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptors’ Drawings From Renaissance Italy” delves into the exquisite drafting techniques of Renaissance sculptors at a time when drawing took on prestige as an art form. Many works are making their first appearance in the United States. Oct. 23-Jan. 19. 617-566-1401,

ROSE ART MUSEUM “Mark Bradford: Sea Monsters.” Intensely physical, textured, immense paintings and sculptures by this formidable Los Angeles abstract artist weave together themes of social injustice, the mysteries of the oceans, and cartography. Through Dec. 21. Waltham. 781-736-3434,

CLARK ART INSTITUTE “Monet/Kelly.” More than 60 years ago, Ellsworth Kelly’s visits to Giverny and to Belle-Île, another favorite Monet setting, sparked his first monochrome work. He continues to draw from that well. This show sets nine Monets alongside Kelly’s paintings and drawings. Nov. 23-Feb. 15. Williamstown. 413-458-2303,

INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART “Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present.” Maverick textile artists such as Sheila Hicks and Lenore Tawney banged through the doors of modernism with bold three-dimensional work in the 1960s, setting the stage for today’s contemporary fiber artists. Through
Jan. 4. 617-478-3100,

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS “Goya: Order and Disorder.” A sweeping exhibition of 170 paintings, prints, and drawings, the largest Goya show in North America in 25 years examines the Spanish master’s humane but critical eye in themes ranging from bullfighting to child-rearing. Through Jan. 19. 617-267-9300,


DECORDOVA SCULPTURE PARK AND MUSEUM “Walden, revisited.” Fifteen contemporary artists revisit Henry David Thoreau’s recipe for a simple life lived in tune with nature, and consider it in today’s context. Some visit the pond, too. Oct. 31-April 26. Lincoln. 781-259-8355,

PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM “In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould.” A few years back, historians determined that ledgers in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society since 1835 were Gould’s, revealing a previously obscure Salem cabinetmaker to be prolific and gifted. Nov. 15-March 1. Salem. 978-745-9500,

Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art “Lee Boroson: Plastic Fantastic.” In this massive installation, Boroson deploys plastics, inflatables, fabric, and glass to create an immersive, changing exploration of nature that includes fog, a waterfall, lava, and the underworld. Through Sept. 7, 2015. North Adams. 413-662-2111,

WORCESTER ART MUSEUM “Polly Apfelbaum – Nevermind: Work From the ’90s.” Apfelbaum moved painting to the floor in what she calls “fallen paintings,” abstract works made of synthetic velvet and dyes, packed with metaphors about class and gender. Through March 1. Worcester. 508-799-4406,


SHELBURNE MUSEUM “Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War.” The wider story of the Civil War conveyed in intimate narratives, such as that of a wounded soldier who made a quilt from hospital blankets and Union and Confederate uniforms. Through Jan. 4. Shelburne, Vt. 802-985-3346,


New Hampshire

CURRIER MUSEUM OF ART “M.C. Escher: Reality and Illusion.” An in-depth look into the mind of the master printmaker and passionate lay mathematician, who specialized in depicting scenarios that tease viewers about the nature of space. Through Jan. 5. Manchester, N.H. 603-669-6144,

HOOD MUSEUM OF ART “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties.” Artists across the board, from pop to abstract, responded to the cultural ferment of the 1960s and the moral imperative of the Civil Rights movement. Through Dec. 14. Hanover, N.H. 603-646-1110,

Rhode Island

RISD MUSEUM “What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present.” The funky, fizzy, sometimes absurd, often off-the-radar work of artists in four collectives from four cities. Through Jan. 4. Providence, R.I. 401-454-6500,


PORTLAND MUSEUM OF ART “Treasures of British Art 1400-2000: The Berger Collection.” Starting with a painting of the crucifixion circa 1395, this notable private collection spans centuries and includes works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Thomas Gainsborough, and David Hockney. Through Jan. 4. Portland, Maine. 207-775-6148,

BOWDOIN COLLEGE MUSEUM OF ART “Hendrick Goltzius: Mythology and Truth.” Goltzius (1558-1617), internationally known in his time, was an emotive and sensual artist. These prints highlight his talents as a portraitist and storyteller. Through March 1. Brunswick, Maine. 207-725-3275,


YALE UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY “East of the Wallace Line: Monumental Art From Indonesia and New Guinea.” East of an ecological divide running through Indonesia, large-scale sculptures and textiles and smaller ritual and functional objects display delicate, interwoven geometric patterns. Through Feb. 1. New Haven. 203-432-0600,


YALE CENTER FOR BRITISH ART “Figures of Empire: Slavery and Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century Atlantic Britain.” Slaves often appeared in portraits as part of the sitter’s coterie. This show examines them as subjects, rather than adornments, under the sway of imperialism. Through Dec. 14. New Haven. 203-432-2800,

More coverage:

- Section: Museum special

Cate McQuaid can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.