19 Ways to See Contemporary Art in Boston and Beyond

In this city, creativity sparks at every turn, whether you're in a gallery, in a park, on a college campus or roaming an arts district.

Boston may be a small city, but the visual art climate here is legit. “I find Boston’s contemporary art scene to be incredibly energetic and diverse,” said Andrew Witkin, artist and Barbara Krakow Gallery partner-director. “You have this real mixture of young and emerging artists with long-dedicated artists who have built strong bodies of work over their careers.” From traditional gallery settings to college campuses, here are 19 places around Boston to get your fix.

Boston's Visual Art in Gallery

There are too many galleries in this town to mention, but here are a few standouts.

Barbara Krakow Gallery: This intimate gallery is a haven for contemporary paintings, sculptures, drawings and original prints. Taken from the decades of the ‘60s on, these cutting edge works are created by both emerging regional and international artists.

Samsøn Projects: As a self-proclaimed “interdisciplinary laboratory for the convergence of film, video, performance, music, design and visual art” this local gathering of artists (think Carlos Jiménez Cahua, Nicole Cherubini and Gabriel Martinez) gives voice to both under-recognized artists and established masters.

Carroll & Sons: This South End gallery supports under-recognized and emerging artists working in a variety of genres and disciplines.

Le Laboratoire: The offspring of the Paris-based original, Le Laboratoire Cambridge is the genesis of scientist and Harvard prof David Edwards. Expect to see "immersive, catalytic, multi-sensory exhibitions from the intersection of art and science" at this boundary-bending place.

The Society of Arts & Crafts: After 118 years in the Back Bay, America’s oldest craft organization moves to a 20,000-square-foot space in the Seaport District this September. The gallery’s goal remains to celebrate work by talented crafters and designers who live or work locally, and now they do it across 30,000 square feet.

Collection of postcards of Boston's Old State House
Collection of postcards of Boston's Old State House (Courtesy Barbara Krakow Gallery)

Finding Boston Art on Campus

List Visual Arts Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Just as MIT pushes scientific boundaries, its List Visual Arts Center challenges the contemporary art world. Established in 1985, the gallery hosts all types of media. Visitors can also indulge in a customized, self-guided tour of 51 works of public art and architecture spread across the campus.

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts: Located at Harvard University in America’s only building actually designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, the Carpenter Center is dedicated to the synthesis of art, design and education through photographic exhibits, video documentation and artist talks. Gallery installations change regularly.

Bakalar and Paine Galleries Massachusetts College of Art & Design: Frequently recognized for its unique exhibitions, MassArt’s galleries have been awarded for thought-provoking shows by emerging and established artists and designers. Bonus—this is New England’s largest free contemporary art space.

The Wallach Garden at Radcliffe Yard: Located a stone's throw from Harvard Square on Brattle Street, the Yard of Harvard's sister school is the viewing location for the eye-catching and provocative installation of the winner of the biennial juried Radcliffe Institute Public Art Competition. 

Christina Leigh Geros' 2015 winning installation in Radcliffe Yard, Boston
Christina Leigh Geros' 2015 winning installation in Radcliffe Yard (Photo ©Kevin Grady)

Finding Boston Art by Parks

Rose Kennedy Greenway: Over in the Financial District area, the Greenway offers a unique platform for contemporary artists to exhibit bold works against Boston’s skyline. The park engages art-lovers through free, temporary exhibits such as Ai Weiwei’s monumental bronze “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”; Carolina Aragon’s “High Tide” abstract that symbolizes Boston’s shifting shoreline; and Gianna Stewart’s “Midden,” a glowing (literally) nod to oyster shell refuse unearthed during the Big Dig.

Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina: It doesn't look like much is going on in this East Boston shipyard at first glance, but as you sit digging into your beef and cheese pie on the veranda at K.O. Pies you start to notice creative things like an in-progress pier tattoo project, painted murals and large-scale sculptural installations. These are all part of HarborArts, a nonprofit public art institution and all around unique program.

The artful side of the East Boston shipyard in Boston, thanks to HarborArts
The artful side of the East Boston shipyard, thanks to HarborArts (Fish sculpture ©Steve Israel & HarborArts/Photo ©Erica Derrickson)

Boston Art in Museums

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: Boston’s world-famous Museum of Fine Arts features more than 1,500 contemporary works from across the globe within the walls of a great I.M. Pei-designed Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. There are thematic installations such as 3-D work, sculpture, photography, decorative artm, film and new media.

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston: Whether it’s film, performance or traditional visual, the ICA engages in unique ways—yes, there was once a two-story active slide exhibit. One of America’s oldest contemporary museums, curators give nods to the importance of Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Anish Kapoor. Sweeping views of Boston Harbor and unparalleled architectural elements are artistic in their own right.

National Center of Afro-American Artists: Both visual and performing arts are a focus of this small museum founded by Elma Lewis in 1968. Today, in addition to its own permanent collections, the center enjoys a partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and presents a range of historical artifacts and artwork along with a particular focus on local Black artists and performers.

deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum: Contemporary art is the deCordova's sole focus inside and outside of the acclaimed museum's walls. Visitors should allot for time to stroll the sculpture park which contains 30 acres and an ever-changing collection of 60 installations. 

Mass MoCA: Two hours from Boston, this Berkshire museum defies convention and classification, taking an uber-forward-thinking approach to art within its expansive complex of massive galleries. This place is, at the very least, a day's destination, complete with restaurants and a hotel.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art (©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Finding Boston Art by District

Fort Point: Once a sea of abandoned warehouses, the Fort Point area is now home to a large artist community. Local artists mount engaging, intriguing temporary gallery and public art installations across the neighborhood. Currently, see “Toll With Me” by Gianna Stewart, 8,500 tiny bells ties to a chain link fence along A Street, and “Bright Side of the Road II,” Michael Moss and Claudia Ravaschiere’s unexpected, garden-like oasis in a neglected space on Congress Street.

SoWa: Tucked between the South End and Interstate 93, Boston’s design-centric SoWa district is alive with specifically contemporary art galleries and hundreds of working artist studios. Most open their doors in the evening for the monthly First Friday event which introduces local crowds to the creative talents of their neighbors.

Public Art Walks: Thanks to Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the Boston Art Commission, you can now enjoy Boston’s first edition of Public Art Walks, featuring both historic and contemporary art installations throughout local neighborhoods. This walk includes Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the Financial District and the North End, and you can discover an interactive map online. 

Contemporary art galleries in SoWa, Boston
Contemporary art galleries in SoWa (©Paul Gelsobello)