Arts & Culture

New Light: Encounters and Connections

Contemporary Acquisitions In Conversation With Rarely Seen Works


Tribal Map, 2000 Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, born in 1940) Mixed media on canvas * Museum purchase with funds donated by Barbara L. and Theodore B. Alfond through the Acorn Foundation, Drs. Bruce K. and Shelly Eckman, The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, Gallery Instructor 50th Anniversary Fund to support The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, and The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund * Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


From a curatorial standpoint, to have a large collection means to have the potential for many various groupings, conversations, connections, and ideas to play with. A large collection is like a microcosm of a society. Disparate and similar people may or may not intersect, groups of specific people may or may not form, and the meaning will always be different, depending on the variables. No matter how large a collection is, the whole thing completely changes every time something new is acquired and, unlike in a society, individual pieces can be conserved(to an extent) for hundreds or thousands of years instead of dying within an expected window of time. Collections can keep getting bigger with the right amount of space and care.

What does a vast, history-spanning collection’s state of flux mean, especially during times of so much cultural reconsideration? “New Light: Encounters And Connections”, opening at the Museum of Fine Arts on June 3rd takes this into deep consideration. With several new contemporary acquisitions as a starting point, the exhibit’s curators(with representatives from every department in the museum except Ancient Greece, who was preparing for their own large exhibit) formed groupings with older pieces from the museum’s collection of thousands.

I spoke with Debra Lennard, Curatorial Assistant in the MFA’s Contemporary Art Department, who described the exhibit as an attempt to explore how new meanings can be found and how lived experiences can completely change what something that’s been around for ages might mean. The primary theme that brings the 27 contemporary artists together with art spanning centuries across the globe is community conviction and a drive for social change. Ancient religious struggles, diasporas, Indigenous resistance, racial equality, and queer rights all merge to tell stories of pain and perseverance.

What I’m especially interested in about this exhibit is that the nature of the theme implies there could be countless other iterations, equally meaningful but completely different. Most of the contemporary pieces in the show were acquired as a part of a museum initiative to support living artists during the pandemic, with special care to those born in Boston(7 total).

Check out the show’s press release here:

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