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 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.
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
- 465 Huntington Avenue, (at Museum Road)
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
- 100 Northern Avenue, (at Seaport Boulevard)
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
- 280 The Fenway, (at Palace Road)
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.
- 161 Essex Street, (at New Liberty Street)
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.
- 51 Sandy Pond Road, (off Route 2 or 128)
The name really says it all. This Jamaica Plain art space it not much more than a deep but narrow storefront on South Street that once housed a TV repair shop. Luckily for JP residents and the rest of us, the Hallway we know and love today has been completely renovated into a gallery space that hosts quality shows from local artists. The shape of the place lends itself to casual browsing—the small space is equally accessible to the curious passerby as to the more serious art fan.
- 66 South Street, (at Carolina Avenue)
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.
- 450 Harrison Avenue, (at Paul Sullivan Way)
You might also like
Read more Boston features
Your ultimate guide to things to do in Boston—from the city's best restaurants and shops to museums and sightseeing
We’ve sifted through the city’s museums, parks and historic sites to select the very best Boston attractions
Plan ahead with Time Out's guide to the biggest and best annual Boston events, festivals and concerts
From well-established local favorites to the latest hot tables, these are the Boston restaurants you need to know about right now
From low-key Irish pubs and dive bars to swanky cocktail lounges, Boston bars cater to every drinker, whether your preferred poison is beer, wine or whiskey