Boston is steeped in history, though not defined by its past. It’s currently winning accolades as a relevant destination for art enthusiasts. Without the reputation of Paris or New York, its position on the periphery offers freedom for experimentation and space to nurture newcomers, often with striking results.
The scene is broad, from galleries and world-class museums to bold murals and outdoor installations that offer a fresh take and fresh air.
From highbrow to lowbrow, from classic to vanguard, Boston is catnip for anyone seeking compelling visual experiences.
Contemporary art at the Seaport
Kusama infinity room at ICA — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Those with a thirst for 21st century optics should head to the Institute of Contemporary Art, situated in a modernist building in the trendy Seaport District. A range of media is embraced, including music, photography and video, much of it by under-represented artists.
A new draw is Yayoi Kusama’s "Love is Calling," one of the artist’s famed infinity rooms. You’ll be engulfed by mirrors, inflated tentacle-like soft sculptures and Kusama’s characteristic perky polka dots as you step inside this immersive, kaleidoscopic environment. It’s enhanced by the haunting sound of Kusama herself reading a love poem in Japanese.
When you step outside, enjoy the Seaport District's art installations, monumental sculptures and a mural reproduction of Frank Stella's seminal painting, "Damascus Gate."
Underground at Ink Block — Photo courtesy of Jessica Mading
Underground at Ink Block is an urban park that has transformed a highway underpass into a gathering space adorned with vivid murals. Located between the South End and South Boston, it hits the sweet spot between community gathering place and art venue. In warmer months, exercise classes, concerts and festivals are scheduled.
A personal collection
Courtyard at Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is housed in a structure modeled after a Venetian palace. Once home to its namesake heiress and filled with her collection of gems by Botticelli, Michelangelo and Rembrandt, a visit feels personal.
Majestic tapestries, ornate marble sculptures, period furniture, stained glass and a spectacular courtyard filled with fragrant flowers are treasures. The glass-enclosed Renzo Piano-designed auxiliary wing opened in 2012, presenting a modern aesthetic with additional exhibition space, a concert hall and greenhouses.
An artsy South End neighborhood with a hands-on twist
SoWa Artists Guild member Audrey Markoff in her studio — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
SoWa Art & Design District is filled with art galleries, studio space and design showrooms. Its Power Station, built in 1891 and once the world’s largest power generation plant, has been masterfully transformed into an event and exhibition space while keeping original industrial elements intact. It hosts a Sunday outdoor market from May-October, where makers sell a variety of handmade goods, along with food trucks, a farmers’ market and live entertainment.
Glimpse an eclectic community of working artists at SoWa Artists Guild. Each Sunday and the first Friday of the month, painters, ceramists and sculptors open their studio space, allowing visitors an up-close look at their creative process. Talented mosaic artist Audrey Markoff hosts intimate hands-on workshops where guests can create their own colorful mosaic. Audrey lovingly guides participants through each step with just the right amount of encouragement.
A sculpture park with breathing room
Outdoor sculpture at the deCordova — Photo courtesy of Anchor Imagery
Located 20 miles outside of Boston in Lincoln, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s lush grounds are a leafy respite. Liberated from the practical constraints of four walls, this outdoor sculpture park offers multi-sensory stimulation.
It’s an intersection of art and nature, with large-scale sculptures and site-specific installations dispersed along wooded paths, verdant glades and shady groves. Many of the works are on loan and rotate frequently. Artists from around the world are represented, though there’s an emphasis on those with a connection to New England.
Galleries & Venues: Snap a photo at these amazing murals across the United States
Live like a local
Mural art in Jamaica Plain — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
To really uncover Boston’s artistic soul, explore residential neighborhoods like Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain.
Roxbury native and owner of Live Like a Local Collin Knight takes participants on immersive walking tours of diverse and vibrant neighborhoods that are off the tourist track. Knight is a charismatic oracle and informal ambassador, offering a running commentary as he proudly introduces his neighborhood’s history, food, culture and art, including cutting-edge murals by homegrown talent.
A hotel that looks like a gallery
The lobby at Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport looks like a gallery — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
With sleek lines that wouldn’t look out of place in a contemporary museum, Omni Boston Hotel at the Seaport looks like a trendy gallery with a curated collection of paintings, sculptures, murals and photographs. Much of the artwork is displayed in the lobby, making it easy to observe as you sip a cocktail at the bar. An innovative platform stage presents live performances.
For those looking to spend the night, loft-like rooms in the Artist Tower have hardwood floors and stamped concrete ceilings.
An urban park blends art and nature
"Summer Still Life with Lobsters and Ferns" by Daniel Gordon — Photo courtesy of Hills3 Studio, the Greenway Conservancy
The Rose Kennedy Greenway is a mile-and-a-half-long sliver of a park that winds its way through downtown. Captivating temporary art installations mesh with gurgling fountains, a whimsical carousel and a wonderland of urban flora. Food trucks and a beer garden are seasonal highlights.
A museum with everything from soup to nuts
The Museum of Fine Arts presents a comprehensive collection — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Whether you gravitate toward ancient or modern art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston will impress. Its comprehensive collection is one of the largest in the Americas, spanning millennia and crossing genres, from ancient Egyptian artifacts to Japanese ukiyo-e prints to French Impressionist paintings. The building is sprawling, so it’s easy to find a quiet corner to contemplate.
Exciting visuals in unexpected places
High Street Place food hall has splashes of vibrant art — Photo courtesy of Allison Tibaldi
Eye candy can be found peppering unexpected corners. A new food hall, High Street Place, seamlessly mixes delicious edibles from 20 local vendors with punches of graffiti art and a wall covered in custom album covers. Nosh on plump pastrami sandwiches from Mamaleh’s Delicatessen and sip Champagne from Bubble Bath’s Moët & Chandon vending machine while soaking in Art Deco details and playful original work gracing nooks and crannies of this soaring glass atrium.