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MFA’s Dana Chandler acquisition headlines upcoming show

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
MFA’s Dana Chandler acquisition headlines upcoming show
‘Fred Hampton’s Door 2,’ 1975. Acrylic paint on wood. William Francis Warden Fund, The Heritage Fund for a Diverse Collection, and Gallery Instructor 50th Anniversary Fund PHOTO: © MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, BOSTON

In 1974, artist Dana Chandler created “Fred Hampton’s Door 2” here in Boston. The visceral, moving piece memorialized the brutal murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and several of his associates. This spring, the MFA acquired the life-size installation, bringing the conversation full circle.

“Fred Hampton’s Door 2” is the second piece Chandler made memorializing the prominent activist. The first, a small painting of the door, was stolen from an exhibition. “A lot of Chandler’s work was vandalized, stolen, otherwise destroyed,” says Liz Munsell, curator of contemporary art at the MFA, “because it was seen as inflammatory and was incredibly directly taking on issues of race and racism in the U.S.”

In response, Chandler created an artwork that couldn’t be stolen. The piece is crafted using a found door that’s been painted green and red, the colors of the Pan-African flag. Genuine bullet holes litter the façade, and a blue-and-white star stamp in the upper right-hand corner reads “U.S. Approved.” The work represents the police barrage into Hampton’s apartment in a very tangible way and connects directly to ongoing instances of police violence.

Chandler’s piece will be a prominent part of the “New Light: Encounters and Connections,” exhibition opening July 3. The show pairs new works by contemporary artists with existing works in the MFA’s collection that haven’t received the floor time they deserve. “Fred Hampton’s Door 2” will be paired with a painting by Benny Andrews, another Black artist who reflected on violence against people of color.

The acquisition brings Chandler’s Boston roots full circle. While working in the city in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Chandler was vocal about the MFA’s lack of diversity and the importance of a more equitable collection. He worked with Elma Lewis and Barry Gaither to champion that fight, an effort that led to a large exhibition of Black artists from Boston and New York. Now, decades later, the acquisition of Chandler’s piece is part of the continued effort at the MFA to showcase artists of all backgrounds.

“Having ‘Fred Hamptons Door 2’ on view in ‘New Light’ will allow Black visitors in particular the opportunity to see some of their history that has been far too often swept under the rug and to see it directly addressed through our interpretation,” says Munsell. “The piece helps to provide a historical perspective for this very charged moment in U.S. history.”