Art and Jazz at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Jun 13, 2022

by Christiana Larracuente and Nonie Gadsden   

The Art and Jazz gallery is one of seven newly installed galleries in the Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). This gallery explores the intersections of art and jazz in the 1920s-50s, highlighting the widespread influence of Black culture on American life. Images of performers and performances, paintings that attempt to translate the music into visual form, designs that evoked jazz rhythms or movement, and the fashions of the Jazz Age all demonstrate that jazz was more than a trend in popular music. It was synonymous with modernity. 

Christiana Larracuente, a student at Boston University and the Decorative Arts Trust IDEAL Intern, played a key role in the development of this gallery. She also participated in a panel discussion about the gallery with George W. Russell Jr., Chair of the Harmony and Jazz Composition Department at Berklee College of Music, and Nonie Gadsden, Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the MFA, which was moderated by Dalia Habib Linssen, Head of Academic Engagement at the MFA. 

Below, Nonie asks Christiana about her experience. 

Nonie Gadsden (NG): From your perspective, what were the most surprising and the hardest things about developing this gallery? 

Christiana Larracuente (CL): The most surprising aspect of this gallery for me was the Boston jazz story. I had not known much about it, but through the meetings with George and you, we were able to uncover such a rich history pertaining to the presence of jazz in Boston. Telling that story in a gallery dedicated to jazz in one of the most prominent museums in Boston has been a really enriching experience. The hardest thing about developing the gallery was definitely the large case, in which we create a modern interior scene of a woman getting dressed for a night of jazz, including a dress, shoes, hats, stockings, Donald Deskey’s screen (figure 1), easy chair, table and lamp, as well as a vanity table. It was difficult only because there are many stories to be told, it was hard to narrow down the designs and objects.

NG: What is your favorite object in the gallery and what have you learned about it? 

CL: It’s hard to pick just one, but if I had to it would be Archibald Motley’s Cocktails (figure 2). This painting holds such a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, but it was actually the first painting that I really researched upon starting my internship at the MFA. I have spent a lot of time deconstructing the subject matter and really trying to understand all of the intricacies that Motley embedded in his work. As a Black woman, it’s beautiful to see that representation with varying shades of skin tone, as well as showing the Black experience through a different lens that is separated from pain and trauma. The work correlates Black experience with modernity and jazz, even including cocktails which were taboo during a time of prohibition. The work is intentional and beautiful, I am also extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to write its wall label for the gallery.

NG: How has this experience influenced your ideas about art museums and your thoughts on working in an art museum? 

CL: Prior to starting this internship I had not known the realities of working in a museum environment. I had done research, but reading about a job versus being immersed into that environment are completely different experiences. My love for museums is still very much alive, I think I also have a newfound respect for every single person who works within the MFA. They are all part of this greater whole, and their roles are instrumental to the success of a gallery and exhibition from all parts. I think that I would love to continue to work in museums. This has been a passion of mine throughout my entire undergraduate experience, and I hope I can come back to it sooner than later.

Visit the Decorative Arts Trust IDEAL Internship Grant webpage for more information about this unique program. 

Christiana Larracuente is a student at Boston University and is the Decorative Arts Trust IDEAL Intern at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Nonie Gadsden is the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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