Not every new gallery or exhibition is automatically or immediately reviewed. Yet I expected some reaction by the Boston media to the newly refurbished and rehung Koch Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which was unveiled on Saturday.
Why? This was the first (I believe) gallery that Malcolm Rogers, MFA’s director, has specifically taken charge of since he named himself “acting” director of the Art of Europe there late last year, after the former chair of Art of Europe, George Shackelford, announced his departure to the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Tex.
The MFA is calling this gallery its “Great Hall,” harking back to the castles built in Europe in the Middle Ages. This biggest, most impressive room in the museum seems tailor-made for billionaire William Koch, its namesake. Not aligned with his conservative brothers David and Charles Koch, Bill Koch is a bit of a renegade — he gives to both parties — and Rogers has been courting him for years, even giving his eclectic collection an exhibition in 2005. It was controversial. At the time, the Boston Globe said the 100 objects on display ranged from “antique firearms to French Impressionist paintings and 20th-century sculptures,” plus of course his two (in)famous “racing sailboats, their masts rising 125 feet in the air — nearly twice the height of the MFA’s roof.” Few people applauded.
In the last few years, the MFA’s installations have been less controversial: not everyone loves the new Art of the Americas wing or the Linde Family wing for contemporary art, but they are defensible.
But now, with the Koch gallery, Rogers seems to be returning to his strategy of being iconoclastic to stir things up, despite the fact that he told me in 2010 that ”I don’t feel the need to be controversial anymore, but I want to do new things,” which I used in an article for the Wall Street Journal.
Paging Sebastian Smee. Paging Boston Globe art critic Sebastian Smee.