THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Three key questions

Aerial view of the MFA An aerial shot of the Museum of Fine Arts shows the new wing, with its distinctive glass courtyard roof (right), on the eastern side of the museum. (David L. Ryan / Globe Staff)
By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / November 14, 2010

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The construction, installation, and endless meetings are done. Now it’s time to see how the expanded Museum of Fine Arts works. Here are three questions sure to linger.

WILL THE MFA BE ABLE TO SUSTAIN ITS ATTENDANCE BOOST?

Museum building projects always spark a visitor boom, as people want to see the new spaces. But if attendance drop-off is too dramatic when the excitement wears off, a museum can fall into crisis. MFA leaders project they will double their usual attendance after the wing’s November opening. (Typical attendance is 60,000 to 80,000 a month in the winter, says Kimberly French, the museum’s deputy director of communications.) How will the MFA sustain the crowds? French believes an April show featuring work by glass artist Dale Chihuly should do for the MFA what Shepard Fairey did for the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2009: draw visitors even after the thrill of the opening has worn off.

CAN THE MFA BE A PLAYER IN THE CONTEMPORARY-ART WORLD?

Known for its Monets and Sargents, the museum hopes to make a splash by turning its West Wing into a contemporary wing. New curator Jen Mergel will be in charge of the art. ICA deputy director Paul Bessire is eager to see in what direction the MFA’s contemporary collecting goes. “Filling gaps is always difficult,’’ he says. “It’s expensive and challenging. They would be better off connecting the work to their collections. For example, they could do a show featuring a contemporary Indian artist that can connect with their Asian work.’’

WILL THE NEW GLASS-ENCLOSED COURTYARD BE A MEETING PLACE OR A GHOST TOWN?

New spaces are tricky, and the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Family Courtyard, a massive space connecting the new wing to the old museum, is meant to change the way people visit the MFA. There will be a cafe, places to relax, and a meeting spot. Dan Monroe, executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum, says the courtyard created there after its 2003 expansion has been a huge success. “This sounds a little ridiculous, but we had spent so much time and gone through so many designs, we didn’t discover anything significant that we hadn’t addressed,’’ said Monroe.

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