Last week, the MFA hosted College Night: MFA After Dark, a chance for college students to visit the MFA after dark and take in the spooky sights before Halloween. Appropriately, the keynote exhibit of the night was Francisco Goya’s “Order and Disorder,” a collection of over 170 works from the Spanish artist famous for his boundless imagination and extreme variety.
Goya’s characteristic medium is aquatinted etching, in which a plate is engraved with acid and then inked. The transfer of the inked plate to paper creates colorless but tonally rich works. Humans, buildings, and nature, are composed entirely of faint, disparate lines of ink, giving each piece an airy quality.
True to Halloween form, a room of the exhibit is dedicated to Goya’s most frightening paintings, many of them pulled from his fantasies and dreams. Perhaps the strangest of that series is “Witches’ Sabbath,” depicting a coven of witches surrounding the devil in disguise as a garlanded goat, as bats fly above in an abysmal background. The painting is one of many similar works on loan from Madrid that clearly show Goya’s inner turmoil and mental disturbance later in life.
What I found most disappointing about the MFA’s event was the choice of live music playing in the Shapiro Courtyard. I had expected dark, brooding classical music, and maybe even some of my favorite Halloween pieces, along the lines of Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macabre,” Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” or Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead.” Instead, I left the Goya exhibit to the electric sounds of the local indie-folk rock band Grey Season, breaking the mood of an otherwise excellent exhibit.
Drawing a majority of the students to the contemporary art section of the museum was free gelato being served at the Taste Café. Students finished their cups before exploring another special exhibit in the Foster Gallery entitled BRIGHT MATTER by Shinique Smith.
BRIGHT MATTER contains all rectangular pillars of bundled clothing scattered about the stark, white-walled gallery, and other irregularly shaped masses of fabric hang from the ceiling, their shadows strikingly eerie in an otherwise vibrant exhibit. Smith’s signature style for her paintings seems to be long-flowing calligraphic swirls that seem to contain words but, on closer inspection, are devoid of literal meaning. She often combines fabric into her paintings, attaching thin tulle, ribbons, or clothing to them. The contrast of colors is important — many works are neon and symbolize movement, while others are haunting black-and-white, the characteristic swirls sending different messages depending on the hues.
The MFA’s After Dark was a chance for college students a little weary of the museum to experience it in a different setting, while it was an intriguing first experience for initiates. Goya’s exhibit is a must-see in any case, but the MFA’s idea of attracting students to it the night before Halloween was genius.