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Peabody Museum

Maori whale bone club from New Zealand, on view at the Peabody Museum in "Arts of War" (©President and Fellows of Harvard College/Courtesy Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology)

10 Best Museum Exhibits in Boston This Fall

By Leigh Harrington on 10/16/14, updated 10/17/14
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Culture vultures head for Boston-area museums this fall as world-class exhibitions focus on Renaissance sculptors, the Mayan civilization, Goya and more. 

Birds of the World

Harvard Museum of Natural History

Modern dinosaurs are here to stay as Harvard Museum of Natural History opens this wide-reaching new permanent exhibition crowning its Great Mammal Hall, which was completely renovated back in 2009. Hundreds of bird specimens from more than 200 different bird families settle into rejuvenated antique cases, while contemporary displays discuss current scientific discoveries, evolution and more.
Sept. 20-ongoing. 26 Oxford St., Cambridge, 617.495.3045

Quetzal at Harvard Museum of Natural History

Thea Djordjadze

MIT List Visual Arts Center

Specifically built for this exhibition inside MIT List's Hayden Gallery, Berlin-based artist Djordjadze offers up five structures composed of wood and steel that act as both display for and part of enclosed sculptural works. 
Oct. 10-Jan. 4. Wiesner Building E-15, 20 Ames St., Cambridge, 617.253.4680

Goya: Order and Disorder

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Among the Museum of Fine Arts' myriad world-class exhibitions (among them "Jamie Wyeth" and "Karsh Goes Hollywood"), the show to see this fall is to be North America's largest viewing of Spanish master Francisco Goya's work in the last 25 years. Themes like "hunting as sport and metaphor" and "symbolism of the giant" organize 170 significant pieces into eight groupings that stretch across six decades. MFA Director Malcolm Rogers says, "[The exhibit] is really an exploration of his mind and the habitual themes that he returned to. There are paintings, prints and drawings. Many, many loans from Spain, including the Prado; some things that have never left Spain, and certainly never seen in Boston before." 
Oct. 12-Jan. 19. 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617.267.9300

Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed

Museum of Science

The Museum of Science's fall exhibit on Mesoamerica's ancient Mayan civilization is so grand that visitors need a special timed ticket to gain entrance. Among the attractions: 10-foot-tall replica stelae monuments, an engaging ancient burial site environment, and a recreation of a famous stucco frieze from the El Castillo pyramid in Xunantunich, Belize. From architecture to art, astronomy to its ruling class, the exhibition touches upon both popular and little-known facts.
Oct. 12-Early spring 2015. 1 Science Park, Boston, 617.723.2500

Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini: Sculptors' Drawings From Renaissance Italy

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

There's no better museum in Boston than the Gardner—itself a vision of Venice, its founder's favorite foreign destination—to host this exhibition of Renaissance Italy's famed sculptors. "Donatello, Michelangelo, Cellini" poses the question 'Why did sculptors in Renaissance Italy draw?' and prepares to answer it with 39 drawings and related sculptures that collectively offer a focused study on the relationship between the two art forms over a 200-year period. One highlight comes from the Gardner's permanent collection, Baccio Bandinelli's "Self-Portrait," but many of the works are on loan from private collections and premier museums like the Louvre and the Uffizi and have never before been displayed in the U.S. 
Oct. 23-Jan. 19. 25 Evans Way, Boston, 617.566.1401

Bandinelli

Walden, revisited

deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum

Just two miles down the road from Walden Pond in Concord, 15 contemporary artists contemplate Henry David Thoreau's 1854 written narrative legacy in this deCordova exhibition that explores environmental, cultural and societal relationships with the art-making world. Mounted work touches a variety of media that runs the gamut from painting to installation to performance, and also features new commissions. On Nov. 2 and 9, museumgoers expand this study on walking tours of Walden Pond State Reservation hosted by featured artists.
Oct. 31-April 26. 51 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln, 781.259.8355

Arts of War: Artistry in Weapons Across Cultures

Peabody Museum

American archaeologist Steven LeBlanc curates this visual exposé on wartime weaponry, slated to run for three years in the galleries at Harvard University's Peabody Museum. Like any great Ivy League offering, this study ventures behind the scenes, examining traditions from around the globe and across ages, before asking visitors to weigh the artistic beauty of 150 objects, from maces to shields to suits of armor, with their more lethal intent.

Oct. 18-Oct. 18, 2017. 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, 617.496.1027

In Plain Sight: Discovering the Furniture of Nathaniel Gould

Peabody Essex Museum

Take a first-of-its-kind look at Salem's-own 18th-century craftsman Nathaniel Gould, who, in 2006, was discovered to be one of New England's supremely talented fine furniture makers. Gould created much of his work for wealthy patrons during the era of the American Revolution, but often left it unsigned leading to a loss of provenance some 300 years later. At the Peabody Essex Museum, such masterful wood creations as scallop-top tea tables and bombé chests show off more than just decorative arts, offering insight into importing and exporting, coastal trade, social status, and cutting-edge design. 
Nov. 15-March 1. East India Square, Salem, 866.745.1876

Rothko panel 5

Mark Rothko's Harvard Murals

Harvard Art Museums

Take a fresh look at the American modernist painter’s commissioned, but rarely seen, mural series. Rothko's five large-scale canvases have been on view at in the past, when they hung inside a dining room within Harvard’s Holyoke Center from 1964 to 1979. Severe fading and sun damage had forced the university’s hand into placing the works into storage—until now. New conservation techniques involving specially calibrated light have brought Rothko’s murals back to the present, enriching their colors and effectively returning them to original hues. Harvard Art Museums visitors can also examine three-dozen assorted studies on paper, sketches, and other items that demonstrate his creative process.
Nov. 16-July 26. 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, 617.495.9400

Adriana Varejão

Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston

Over on the waterfront, the ICA honors Boston's patrons of contemporary art as it mounts world-renowned Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão's first U.S. solo museum exhibition. The selected pieces that comprise the titular show range from 1993 to the present day; a new work "Polvo" investigates racial identity in a series of self-portraits, while other, more haunting, works featuring depictions of flesh intersecting with beautiful Portuguese tile, as in "Folds 2."
Nov. 19-April 5. 100 Northern Ave., Boston, 617.478.3100

Maya at MOS