Boston: top 8 art hotspots in the city

From fine art to photography, here's where to get your art fix in the Massachusetts capital.

By Connor McGovern
Published 4 Sept 2019, 05:00 BST
Visitor at Institute of Contemporary Art
Institute of Contemporary Art.
Photograph by Juan Arredondo

Institute of Contemporary Art
Best for: cutting-edge cool

The nucleus of Boston’s modern art scene cuts a boxy, modernist dash on the waterfront, as part of the ever-expanding Seaport District. ICA’s main building hosts a calendar of thought-provoking exhibitions on all kinds of visual art but catch a water shuttle over to the ICA Watershed for large-scale installations. Don’t miss the museum shop either, with its excellent art books, gadgets and gifts. 

Fort Point Arts Community 
Best for: community spirit
Stay in Seaport and you’ll find an innovative community of over 300 artists scattered across the waterfront district, making it one of the largest and most diverse artistic collectives in New England. Stop by the Artists Bulding on Summer Street for guest-curated, mixed-media exhibitions, and check the FPAC website for October dates of the Open Studios, when the public can meet the artists at work. 

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Best for: a classic collection 

Taking its name from the bohemian, 19th-century art collector who once lived here, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is set within a lavish, Venetian-style palazzo. The artwork on display includes Rembrandts, Titians and medieval stained glass, while the lush courtyard, filled with statues and colourful blooms, is just as beautiful as the art itself. 

Boston Sculptors Gallery
Best for: sculpture vultures 

Right in the heart of the SoWa Art + Design District, this sleek space on Harrison Avenue is one of the leading showcases of three-dimensional art in the city. Originally founded by 18 local sculptors in 1992, the gallery’s grown to 37 members, so expect the cream of Boston-based talent here, both emerging and established, with monthly exhibitions (two artists exhibit per month). 

Public art on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Photograph by Juan Arredondo

Museum of Fine Arts
Best for: a highbrow hit

The fifth-largest museum in the US boasts a 450,000-strong collection of art works that’s little short of staggering. Lose yourself along a timeline spanning ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern American art, via French post-impressionism, a number of Dutch masterpieces and the most extensive museum collection of Japanese works in the world outside Japan. 

Rose Kennedy Greenway
Best for: a walk in the park

Back in the 1990s, traffic that had passed along a tangle of freeways and flyovers was diverted underground. Part of this disused highway is now the Greenway, a 1.5-mile ribbon of park that doubles as an open-air art gallery, displaying installations, sculptures and murals. Free events are also staged here year-round, from film screenings to exercise classes. 

Panopticon Gallery 
Best for: standout snaps

Photography more your thing? Head to Panopticon, one of the oldest photography galleries in the US, opened in 1971. It offers a first-class showcase for photographic talent from across the globe, from the classic to the contemporary. It’s changed locations a number of times in its near-50-year history, but you’ll find it in the grand Hotel Commonwealth.

Best for: neighbourhood vibes

For some local flavour, make your way to this town to the northwest of Boston, where a former storage facility has been transformed into Bow Market — a hip collection of boutiques, studios and canteens. From there, jump on the bus to Davis Square and catch a film at the kitschy, independent cinema, Somerville Theatre

Check out our story on Boston's contemporary art scene here

Published in the September 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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