Where to see art in Boston

Get an eyeful of contemporary installations, paintings, sculpture and more in the city’s vibrant galleries and fine art institutions

The best Boston art galleries: Institute of Contemporary Art

The best Boston art galleries: Institute of Contemporary Art

The art scene in the Hub has a lot to offer—as long as you know where to look. Most of the major art galleries and museums are located in Back Bay and South End, but further-flung neighborhoods like Jamaica Plain and Somerville's Union Square are drawing local talent with low rents and large spaces. Home of Mass Art, as well as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Mission Hill is a magnet for culture-seekers—the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum stand within blocks of one another.

Yet it's the SoWa neighborhood (that's "South of Washington" for the uninitiated) that merits the accolade of most popular artsy hangout. The beating heart of the district is the weekly SoWa Open Market, held just outside the SoWa Artists Guild building, which draws crowds with a variety of wares including crafts, antique and vintage items and fresh farm produce. The Guild's artists are well represented at the market, but they also open their studios to the public on the first Friday of every month.

Museum of Fine Arts

Founded in 1870, the MFA moved from Copley Square to its current home, a neoclassical granite building on Huntington Avenue—the so-called "Avenue of the Arts"—in 1909. The globe-spanning collection encompasses 450,000 objects. Of particular note are the collection of American art, including Paul Revere's silver Liberty Bowl and paintings by John Singleton Copley; the Egyptian collection, much of which was acquired through excavations in conjunction with Harvard University in

  1. 465 Huntington Avenue, (at Museum Road)
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Institute of Contemporary Art

Once crammed into a tiny building in Back Bay, the ICA moved to its spacious new home in late 2006, and is now the cultural cornerstone of the waterfront. With its 65,000sq ft floor space, the dramatic, glass-walled building houses galleries, a theatre and a café.The museum prides itself on being a platform for challenging works—the permanent collection includes pieces by the likes of Julian Opie, Paul Chan and Mona Hatoum, while changing shows explore broader themes that

  1. 100 Northern Avenue, (at Seaport Boulevard)
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Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

As unique as its founder, the eccentric socialite and patron of the arts who was the inspiration for Isabel Archer in Henry James's Portrait of a Lady, the Gardner museum is a lavish reconstruction of a 15th-century Venetian palace, complete with a luxurious interior courtyard with a seasonally changing floral display. Initially conceived by Gardner and her husband Jack to house the growing collection of art and objects amassed during their extensive travels, the museum only came

  1. 280 The Fenway, (at Palace Road)
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Peabody Essex Museum

Less than 20 miles north of Boston in Salem, the Peabody Essex Museum is home to one of the largest art collections in New England (around 1 million works in total). The backbone of the museum's stock is maritime art, but there is also African, American, Asian, Native American and Oceanic art from which to choose. For a break in the appreciation, relax in the sunny atrium or grab lunch in the outdoor Garden Restaurant.

  1. 161 Essex Street, (at New Liberty Street)
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DeCordova Museum & Sculpture Park

This stunning modern art mecca boasts thought-provoking works inside and out. When you visit, make a day of it: picnics and pets are allowed on the grounds.

  1. 51 Sandy Pond Road, (off Route 2 or 128)
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SoWa Artists Guild

The 450 Harrison building is a veritable hive of artistic activity—and the artists fling open the doors at least a few times a month for open studios events where they greet locals and visitors with works for sale and, often, snacks and drinks. First Fridays is the flagship event. Held each month, the event welcomes everyone from art aficionados to afterwork activity-seekers for an evening art, wine, cheese and mingling.

  1. 450 Harrison Avenue, (at Paul Sullivan Way)
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