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art history

A Boys' Club No More: Reinventing the Salon for More Tolerant Times

‘Club Americano’ opens up the doors to everyone for lively discussion surrounded by American art and history.
All stills from a performance of "What Is a Club?" Photo: Shane Godfrey

Since as early as the 16th century, the salon has been a gathering place for a certain kind of mind: that of the Western white male. Well into 19th century America, these lounges and university clubs developed a reputation for being one-dimensional, often carrying their exclusionary bent into mainstream critical artistic and literary discourse. An ongoing exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA), however, challenges the idea of what a quintessentially American salon might look like today. With Club Americano, the MFA folds both fine art from the museum's time-tested collection and a lively, performative atmosphere into a single room curated by artist and educator Pablo Helguera.


With a particular nod to this country's Spanish and Portuguese past, Helguera opens the doors to the past, flashing a keen eye to the complexities of American identity. "To me, Club Americano is not an exhibition. It is meant to be a social and cultural space within the museum with the attributes and qualities of the conventional university club, only that this is a club open to everyone," Helguera tells Creators. "It conjures up an America without borders and divisions, only with shared histories and cultural traits. And it is through the events we will present that we hope that the public will be able to experience some of these relationships."

From performances to pinturas de castas—paintings that Helguera calls "a bureaucratic form of racial discrimination to assign a socioeconomic status to an individual during the colony"—Club Americano offers a window into today through the lens of the past. "Looking at the vast and rich collection of the MFA," Helguera continues, "I was interested in objects that, while unique and special in it of themselves, would also be representative of historically significant aspects about the Americas: for instance, our colonial past (be it Spanish, Portuguese or British); the way in which race played a role in structuring colonial societies, and the legacy of that history in our present." At Club Americano, yesterday gets recast to create a better tomorrow.


The Dinner Party, Henry Sargent (American, 1770-1845), about 1821. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mrs. Horatio Appleton Lamb in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop Sargent, Photo: Museum of Fine Art, Boston

Club Americano will be on display and play host to events through June 4, 2017 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Find more information here.


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