The exhibits might not have come to life, but the museum sure did for Thursday’s ‘MFA After Dark.’
It’s early evening on Huntington Ave. The Museum of Fine Arts Boston is empty, the usual Thursday crowd of art enthusiasts already dispersed. The familiar sound of clinking utensils and casual conversation over coffee and croissants dissipates, as the Taste Cafe closes in preparation for the rush it anticipates later in the night. An eerie silence permeates the halls, raising an interesting question: What really happens during a night at the museum?
No, two-inch figurines from Western exhibits do not magically come to life and engage in miniature battles to the death. Contrary to popular belief, deceased American presidents do not gallop upon the marble floors from exhibit to exhibit, offering advice and wise words to those who need it. Even more upsetting, 65-million-year-old dinosaur fossils do not wreak havoc in the halls of the museum.
Unlike these notions of what could transpire after hours in a public museum—as suggested by the popular 2006 film Night at the Museum—the College Night: MFA After Dark event provided students with an entirely different but similarly exciting experience. Although it did not meet the expectations set by Ben Stiller and his motley crew of living museum items, the event did offer activities to keep visitors busy through the night. Luring college students from all reaches of Boston with the promise of music, artifacts, and various flavors of free gelato, MFA After Dark hit all the major stops.
The MFA features exhibits ranging from classical to modern art, abstract to concrete. One popular exhibit currently is Goya: Order and Disorder. A collection of haunting images—aptly displayed during the Halloween holiday season—the works painted by prominent Spanish artist Francisco Goya intrigued visitors with its dark shades and brutish subjects. Starkly different from Goya, Shinique Smith’s exhibit, Bright Matter, explores the artistic potential of everyday items like articles of clothing and patterned material. Three-dimensional sculptures and canvases dotted the room. Additionally, oil paints by Jamie Wyeth and propaganda posters from World War II attracted attention from those in attendance.
Performing for the college students was Grey Season, a local five-member band that hails from Boston and plays gigs at various venues across Massachusetts. Singing songs from its new album Time Will Tell You Well, the group’s indie-folk sound infused with slight rock undertones filled the Shapiro Family Courtyard. The group played original songs—tracks comprised of soft vocals and jaunty banjo riffs. Their most recent album is a collection of songs lamenting lost love and unrequited desire. One fan favorite was “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” a track whose a cappella vocals at the beginning captivate the listener until the instrumental takes over and accompanies the lyrics perfectly. Comprised of five-part harmonies, guitar chords, and feverish drums their song “Look at Us Now” is also a contender for top track. The act was well-received by the audience, as a gathering of students eager to dance formed in front of the performers and sang along to the music.
Also located in the Shapiro Family Courtyard was a photobooth available to anyone interested in taking home a souvenir to remember the night. Miscellaneous Halloween props were provided, and museum-goers waited to get a photo with their friends. Because the event recommended visitors wear costumes in the spirit of the holiday, the line for the photobooth contained everything from to ghosts to goblins to Mean Girls characters excited to commemorate the first night of the Halloweekend.
As expected, homemade gelato emerged as the evident MVP of the night. Perhaps the driving force in most visitors’ motivation to make the trek to a museum, of all places, on a Thursday night, the gelato drew the largest crowd out of all the attractions set up sporadically around the museum. Students flocked to the Linden Family Wing at the mere mention of the delectable dessert, immediately abandoning the exhibit they were observing for the promise of a flavored frozen treat. Willing to wait in long lines comprised of hundreds of hungry people, the students had more than enough time to decide which flavor to choose. Despite the small selection of gelato—a meagre three choices including chocolate, vanilla bean, and salted caramel—the dessert dominated both the conversation and the night’s events.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Photo Illustration