States of the art

New England museums worth traveling for
By SHAULA CLARK  |  June 9, 2009

Monkey with Hair, from “Rona Pondick: The Metamorphosis of an Object” at the Worcester Art Museum

Who needs the Venice Biennale, anyway? In New England, where you can't swing a sack of cranberries without hitting a venerable cultural institution, anyone with access to a car (or even a subway pass) can scope out these topnotch art museums.

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS | It's a bit obvious, but if you haven't ventured out to the MFA lately (or ever), here are a few reasons why you should make the trek this summer: their current side-by-side exhibits "Vida y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints" and "Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries" (both through November 2) offer a captivating, sometimes shockingly psychedelic look at Roaring Twenties Mexico, and "A New and Native Beauty: The Art and Craft of Greene & Greene" (July 14 through October 18) will make any design hound salivate with its stained glass, artisan furniture, and architectural drafts. Plus, the museum's outdoor Japanese garden offers a lovely Zen-inspired respite from the bustle of the always-hopping exhibit halls. Starting June 24, the courtyard will host performances by the likes of Bettye LaVette and Martha Wainwright.

465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts | 617.267.9300 |

INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART | In 2004, the ICA burst out of its cramped Boylston Street chrysalis to stretch its wings on the South Boston waterfront. This glass-and-steel cantilevered structure, filled with such ultramodern pieces as Tara Donovan's ouchy-looking toddler-size cube of steel needles, is set to host Rodney McMillian's cheekily flaccid replica of the Supreme Court building, plus other works, for its 14th "Momentum" installation. And if you haven't had your fill of Shepard Fairey yet, you can obey your cravings and make yourself an honorary Andre the Giant posse member at the "Supply and Demand" exhibit through August 16.

100 Northern Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts | 617.478.3100 |

PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM | This one's a breeze to get to if you're within spitting distance of the MBTA commuter rail (it's a 12-minute walk from the station). If you didn't catch their "Mahjong" exhibit — a startling and revelatory assemblage of post–Cultural Revolution art from China — you missed out, but the PEM never disappoints. Just stepping into its sun-drenched atrium lets you know you're in for something special. The permanent collection heavily reflects Salem's history as a port city, with an eye toward nautical themes and the cultural cross-pollination fostered by exotic trade routes. New exhibit "The Golden Age of Dutch Seascapes" (June 13 through September 7) brings together 70 examples of how 17th-century Dutch painters so masterfully captured the elements of wind, water, and light. Leave yourself enough time to explore the outstanding Yin Yu Tang, a late Qing Dynasty merchant's house, carefully preserved and painstakingly reassembled on the PEM's grounds.

161 Essex Street, Salem, Massachusetts | 978.745.9500 |

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