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 | mfa.org
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 | icaboston.org
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 | pem.org
MASSACHUSETTS MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART (MASS MOCA) | The Berkshires — a strange, quiet wilderness to the west that would be perfectly at home in Lovecraft novel — host this modern-art behemoth. The Mass MoCA resides in a cluster of Industrial Revolution–era mill buildings transformed into Cold War electronics plant. It opened its doors as a museum in 1999. In addition to a long-term (as in, 25 years long) installation of the wildy colorful, undulating works of Sol Lewitt, you can also find three special exhibits on view through January 31: "Thursday the 12th," an assortment of Guy Ben-Ner's frequently slapstick video pieces (including a re-make of Moby Dick staged in his kitchen); "Long Time Gone," a graphic-novel collaboration between George Cochrane and his six-year-old daughter; and the wryly anxiety-laden group show "This Is Killing Me." If you're planning a Berkshires jaunt, keep your eye on their events calendar, as Mass MoCA flexes some serious live-performance muscle. Upcoming concerts include Blonde Redhead on June 27, Aimee Mann on July 11, and the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival (July 15 through August 1).
1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, Massachusetts | 413.662.2111 | massmoca.org
WORCESTER ART MUSEUM | Where's the culture in Wormtown? Call the WAMbulance; they'll fix you right up. Resident jaw droppers at Massachusetts's second-largest art museum include Rembrandt's Saint Bartholomew, El Greco's The Repentant Magdalen, and Edward Hicks's Peaceable Kingdom. Also check out "Rona Pondick: The Metamorphosis of an Object" (through October 11), in which the sculptor juxtaposes ancient bronzes with her 3-D-modeling-aided fusions of human, plant, and animal forms.
55 Salisbury Street, Worcester, Massachusetts | 508.799.4406 | worcesterart.org
PORTLAND ART MUSEUM | The crown jewel of downtown Portland's Arts District and Maine's oldest art institution (with a 1983 addition designed by I.M. Pei), the PAM offers such gems as Frank Lloyd Wright furniture, a bevy of Winslow Homers, and an Edgar Degas bronze. Summer exhibits to watch out for: "Call of the Coast: Art Colonies of New England" (June 25 through October 12); "For My Best Beloved Sister Mia: An Album of Photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron," a 19th-century collection of tender portraits snapped by Virginia Woolf's aunt (July 4 through September 7); and "Joyce Tenneson: Polaroid Portraits" (July 11 through October 4), works by the Rockport-based artist whose photos — many with an emphasis on the nude female form — have graced the covers of such mags as Time, Life, and Esquire.