One Fine Show: ‘Tender Loving Care’ at MFA Boston

Welcome to One Fine Show, where Observer highlights a recently opened show at a museum outside New York City, a place we know and love that already receives plenty of attention.

Collection shows are compelling because your average museum has a literal warehouse full of great materials that the public hardly ever gets to see. Most shows are curated around a time period or a movement or an artist and, while the collection might comprise strong arguments for its thesis, in those shows the institution’s collection is not the main event. For collection shows, the curators dig deep into storage facilities and pull out dozens of objects that might not necessarily work for broader shows but deserve attention in the moment. Then, it’s a matter of arranging a loose theme to group them.

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A museum space with tapestries on the wall
A view of ‘Tender Loving Care’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on view through 2025. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has chosen the concept of care for the rubric of its newly opened collection show, “Tender Loving Care.” Every artist must care for their artwork on some level, the wall text reminds us, and museums care for artworks and people alike. “Sometimes creating with care calls for radical honesty, engaging with subject matter that may be violent, taboo or uncomfortable,” the writing continues, lest you think this is all going to get a little too touchy-feely. The exhibition features around 100 works that will rotate in and out over the show’s long lifespan but currently highlights the work of Gisela Charfauros McDaniel, Sheila Hicks, Howardena Pindell, Jane Sauer and Nick Cave, among many other artists, grouped across five different kinds of caring: threads, thresholds, rest, vibrant matter and adoration.

All told, the show features 175 artists, but 77 of those are in the Charmed bracelet (2019), each commissioned to create a charm no larger than one-inch square to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Sienna Patti’s jewelry gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts. The result is chunky but has more coherence than you might think.

Several objects cross into the world of design, among them a pair of high heels with horsehair tassels designed by Helmut Lang, and a good number of wild chairs and benches, because how else should a museum show its care? Also excellent is the Branching Bowl (1996), a cast glass work by Page Hazelgrove, a glass studio instructor in the Materials Processing Center at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It resembles an icy and intricate Venus Flytrap.

Care is harder to define when it comes to art. All of Diedrick Brackens’ woven works display a great deal of it, of course, but his shadow raze (2022) shows figures dismantling a column, repudiating it, though in their poses it does seem to be done with a weird amount of care. Also on display is Joan Snyder’s Resurrection (1977), an eight-panel work on view for the first time since its acquisition in 1986. It somehow merges the best of Pop and Abstract Expressionism, a drippy non-optimistic sunrise over real newspaper articles that have people saying things like, “If you consider company work as a meal, men employees are the main dishes and women are desserts.” Yikes. One of the museum’s newest acquisitions is Rashid Johnson’s Bruise Painting “Lakefront Blues” (2023). It consists of intricate loops that merge graffiti and calligraphy, and emerged from the artist’s interest in healing following the COVID-19 pandemic—an exploration of “what it felt like to be living after a blunt force trauma of some sort.”

In short: the theme wasn’t that important, but they did stick to it. Kudos, Boston.

Tender Loving Care” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through July 28, 2025.

One Fine Show: ‘Tender Loving Care’ at MFA Boston