The Museum of Fine Arts is bringing a contemporary approach and community involvement to the forefront this season with its #mfaNOW event.
Opening on Sept. 17, #mfaNOW will feature exhibitions by famed contemporary artists Frances Stark and Terry Winters and will be highlighted by Christian Marclay’s masterpiece, “The Clock.” To accommodate its 24-hour presentation, the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art will be open overnight once a month from September to December, allowing visitors to watch Marclay’s work in its entirety. The overnights will be punctuated by outdoor “parties,” complete with food trucks, graffiti artists, live music, and lawn games.
Katie Getchell, deputy director and chief brand officer at the MFA, said this fall arts season event is the most ambitious project the museum has undertaken in recent memory. She said #mfaNOW is an attempt to make the museum a community gathering space and to engage a younger generation of art enthusiasts.
“We are definitely aware that our audience tends to be older,” Getchell said. “We’re just being really conscious of audiencegoers of the future and the unique position we have in the city. . . . There’s a huge university population that we’re working really hard to attract.”
In practice, attracting students translates into a stronger social media strategy, and for Getchell, #mfaNOW is about more than just a hashtag. She said using platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram allows members of the public to interact with the art and artists in an intimate way, something Frances Stark prioritizes.
With 117 individual works, Stark’s exhibition “UH-OH” is one of the most prominent #mfaNOW events and is the largest show of her work to date. Among the works selected for “UH-OH” are her trippy “chorus girl” collages from the “Torment of Follies” series and her pre-YouTube “Cat Videos” collection, all culminating in the video installation based on her unlikely muse “Bobby Jesus’s Alma Mater b/w Reading the Book of David and/or Paying Attention Is Free.”
“UH-OH” was originally put together by Stark and curator Ali Subotnick for the Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles, and is being organized for the MFA with the help of Liz Munsell, the MFA’s assistant curator of contemporary art.
Munsell said Stark’s social media presence plays a “hugely” important role in how her art reaches audiences. Though over 13,000 people “follow” her Instagram account (@therealstarkiller), Stark makes an effort to respond to comments and questions posed by her online fans.
“We’re all trying to navigate this space between the real world and the digital world that is becoming increasingly part of our lives,” Munsell said. “Frances’s work helps us think through those back-and-forths.”
Munsell said communication is a recurring theme in Stark’s work and, as the daughter of a telephone operator and newspaper engineer, Stark has always been fascinated by the ways people interact with each other. According to Munsell, it was Stark’s exploration of social media that partly inspired the #mfaNOW campaign.
“I think it’s about focusing on people tuning in to their individual experiences and creating a record of that,” Munsell said. “Frances does that a lot herself because she’s not creating in a vacuum. She’s creating for an audience, and we’re creating exhibitions that we also really want to engage our public with. We want to hear from the audiences in our neighborhood and across Boston and we want feedback.”
But strong Internet connections don’t necessarily bring visitors to museums. To get people of all ages moving through the exhibitions, the MFA is inviting local musicians, food trucks, and entertainers to host parties on the museum’s grounds until late into the night. Then, in the early-morning hours, the parties will shift into family and children’s programming.
Boston resident Raquel Robinson, also known as Raq City, will be at the event with the all-female DJ collaborative Substructure , which will be curating the music for the evening. Robinson said the #mfaNOW show will be the widest-reaching event Substructure has played and the anticipated age range of the audience poses a unique challenge.
“Something that you have to consider as a DJ is who your audience is gonna be,” Robinson said. “As a DJ, I know I try to do research on different time periods and think about some songs that I vibe with, that older folks may vibe with, and that kids may vibe with and then you also have to mix it into your own type and your own style.”
From social media to music and art, everyone involved in the #mfaNOW event is focused on bringing communities together and if the 1,900 Facebook attendees actually show up, it could be among the biggest events the city will host this year.
“We want to engage people uniquely with the MFA through this exhibition” Getchell said. “So it’s not just a place to go, but a place to go to have a meaningful experience with a work of art.”
Starting at 6 p.m., the #mfaNOW launch party will be held from Sept. 17 through Sept. 18 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave. 617- 267-9300, www.mfa.org. Admission is free.