Museum of Fine Arts, Huntington Ave. and Museum Rd.

Wednesday, February 9th, 5:22pm

I don’t know why but I expected something different when I walked. Maybe it was the monumental entrance. The MVSEVM OF FINE ARTS inscription emblazoned above four Ionic columns and below the ornate pediment over the front entrance. The broad curved stone driveway wrapping around an enormous mesa of white snow. Floating above the snow, a Native American thrusts himself forward atop his horse. He spreads his arms wide in welcome. As I walk up along Huntington Avenue, one sweeping wing of this grand classical building is framed by the two tallest buildings in Boston.

The first hint was an engraving on the stone embankment that flanks each side of the front staircase: Bank of America Plaza on the Avenue of the Arts. I walk in the building to see a row of people staring at me. Some combination of bored and fatigued, they splay themselves on padded benches. They are lined up behind a marble statue whose back is reflected on the glass wall behind them. Through the glass I can glimpse a marble staircase and some columns. There is no window-shopping to be done here. Even if anything interesting were in sight, the glare of the glass would be too blinding.

In this front hall, the ceiling is low and the space is cramped. There is competition for the limited seating options. They don’t roll out the red carpet for you in quite the same way as, say, the Boston Public Library does. To the left of the row of benches, two electronic ticketing kiosks stand begging for money. Further to the left, I see an opening, a hallway leading into the bowels of the museum. Not so fast! A sign printed on the stone wall on either side of the opening warns, “EXIT ONLY: PLEASE DO NOT ENTER.” An empty black swivel chair covers for a guard who lets the signs do the talking. I am not the only one misled by this hallway – even visitors waving their member cards in the air walk through the entrance and look around like little lost lambs until a guard returns to direct them around to the opposite side of the vestibule where the entrance is located.

Turning to my left, there is a tunnel of light – the Huntington Gift Shop. I take a few steps inside and just as quickly turn around, too apathetic to proceed any further. Next, I try the right side of the front hall. I see another hallway, parallel to the first. Foiled again. This time, the two guards chatting at the entrance have an official stand. Another beam of light beckons from further to the right. I turn to see the bright LED screens and white ropes of the ticket counter. I approach just close enough to see “Adults $20” and promptly turn around.

I had no intention of sneaking into the museum. I was simply hoping to explore a bit, to take a look around before deciding whether I wanted to see more. Instead I snag a low seat in one of the small compartments immediately on the right and left of the front entrance. Each chamber features a marble statue and a low heater, which serves as a de facto bench. One of the heaters has already been claimed, so I head for the other spot and take a seat near Cleopatra.

The marble queen of the Nile leans her head back in a moment of respite from her responsibilities. As she reaches her left arm up and behind her to support her head, her gown slips and exposes her right nipple. A much better customer service experience.

I didn’t need to see the full monty; I just wanted a little peek.