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With all the attention to the MFA's new wing, museum-goers said they felt compelled to witness the fanfare.
“You want to be here on these big days,” said Hank Peirce, from Medford. The Unitarian minister was waiting in line with his wife and two small daughters Saturday morning.
Peirce compared the opening to other momentous Boston occasions: “Red Sox winning the World Series, Patriots winning the Super Bowl, MFA opening a new wing,” he said.
Peirce, his family, and all of the other guests were sequestered in a modern glassed-in courtyard.
The executive director of the MFA, Malcolm Rogers, gave a short speech about making the museum more accessible. When it was over, museum-goers were relieved they could finally get inside.
The first painting they see is an action shot, "Watson and the Shark," by John Singleton Copley. Peirce was a little speechless as he described it for his daughters.
“This painting is of a boy who fell off a boat and the shark is coming to eat him and his friends are trying to save him and someone else has got a spear,” he said.
A few rooms later there is a giant portrait of a young, fit, even sexy George Washington crossing the Delaware River.
The dramatic presentation is not lost on Julius Dudley, a retired history professor. I caught him with his mouth agape staring at Washington like he was seeing him for the first time. It reminded him of the way he taught history at the UMass-Lowell.
“You had to jazz it up, you had to make it interesting. Otherwise, you will lose your audience," he said. Then he pointed to the thick gilt frame surrounding Washington’s portrait. “That's a little jazz right there.”
Chris Schoolmeyer, from Jamaica Plain, was surprised to see Copley’s famous portrait of Paul Revere.
“It kind of brings history into reality for me,” he said. “Especially being from the West Coast. You know, the American Revolution for me is something that is pretty far off, even though for people from here it's in their backyard.”
Barbara Cates came from Connecticut to see the show. Like many here, Cates poo-poos art by Americans, but she still thinks this collection will elevate Americana.
“It seems pretty coherent," she said. "I think it's wonderful to expose people to this."
But it’s not going to change her opinion.
“I've been coming to this museum for decades and other galleries grab me emotionally much more,” she said.
And perhaps that's the point. The legions of children who see the Art of the Americas wing might not grow up with the same bias if they see American artists treated the same way as the European masters.
Nine-year-old Olivia Hernandez had never been to the MFA before, even though her dad's a member. Olivia was obsessively snapping photos of an abstract sculpture when I met her.
“I see sparkly, gold, red crushed into a big pointy ball,” she said.
Her dad's tired after three hours in the museum, but Olivia's not done yet.
"I feel like I want to live here," she said. "It's just wonderful.”
This program aired on November 22, 2010.
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