The first 100 years established the major permanent collections including a world-class group of ancient Egyptian artifacts, Dutch Golden Age painting, extensive French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, and the largest museum collection of Japanese art under one roof outside of Japan. Venerable defined the museum then and now, but in 1970 the MFA owned few works from living artists, leading some to find it “stodgy.” It wasn’t until 1971 when, under pressure stoked by protests from the local art community, museum director Perry Rathbone hired Kenworth Moffett, their first curator of contemporary art. Since then the MFA has done much to redeem itself, building an exemplary collection of contemporary work, and showcasing challenging work by a diverse group of artists as part of its programming in 2020.
Well-known and not-so-known female creative pioneers will occupy seven galleries throughout 2020 in Women Take the Floor, a mega exhibition of approximately 200 artworks by more than 100 women drawn primarily from the permanent collection, marking not only the MFA’s anniversary but also the centennial of the women’s suffrage in the U.S. Women Take the Floor will feature paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics, and furniture as well as rotations of textiles, prints and photographs. Local women leaders were solicited for their feedback on the project, an example of how far the museum has come in welcoming the outside world to its curatorial decision making, something unheard of back in 1870 or 1970.