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What's the best public art in Boston?

Posted by Joanna Weiss  October 7, 2013 01:12 PM

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When it comes to public art, how does Boston rate? According to the Globe's Sebastian Smee, it's generally too bronze, too morbid, and too dull to be worthy of a first-date conversation. But within his broad critique of Boston's overcautious art, Sebastian also named some high points; Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg’s “City Carpet/Hopscotch” mosaic on School Street; Michio Ihara’s “Wind Wind Wind" on State Street. Some might add "Play Me, I'm Yours," the temporary collection of 75 pianos placed around the city.

Last summer, we asked the mayoral candidates to name their favorite examples of Boston public art. We've reprinted Marty Walsh and John Connolly's picks below, and posed the same question to some artists around town. Now, we want to hear from you. Look over this Pinterest board of Boston public art -- or take a walk around your neighborhood -- then share your favorites in the comments, or tweet us @BostonComment.

The best of the bronze

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sebastian smee.jpgBoston’s piece de resistance of public art — Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ majestic “Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment” — is a Civil War monument, and one of the greatest examples of public art in the United States. Nor would anyone deny that Robert Kraus’s Boston Massacre/Crispus Attucks Monument, erected on Boston Common in 1888, or Ted Clausen and Peter White’s 1997 Vendome Firemen Monument on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, deserve their place in the city. But why such a preponderance of bronze? And why so much morbidity?

Sebastian Smee, @sebastiansmee
"Moving Beyond the Bronze Age," Oct. 6


Harbor Arts in the East Boston Shipyard

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Jason Turgeon.jpgBoston's public art scene has many hidden gems, especially in the neighborhoods. HarborArts in the East Boston Shipyard is my favorite. It's a phenomenal collection of big outdoor art -- mostly sculpture but also street art, printed photographs, and an evolving series of india ink "tattoos" printed on the concrete pier. It's got an incredible view, and the fact that it's in a working shipyard is the icing on the cake. We also have transient events, like the lovely lantern parade around Jamaica Pond. But what I really love are the small surprises, often right underfoot. Consider the collection of decorative manhole covers in Cedar Square in Fort Hill that tells the history of the neighborhood, or the bronzed gloves and newspapers embedded into the bricks in Winthrop Lane. Hopefully the next mayor will capitalize on the talented pool of artists we have here and round it out with better funding and a signature project.

Jason Turgeon, @FIGMENTBoston, @BartlettEvents
Co-producer, Bartlett Events street art project in Roxbury; producer, annual FIGMENT Boston festival
Portrait by Jay Hagenbuch / Real Time Art Show


The Women's Memorial

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Bob Oppenheim.JPGThe award-winning Richard Haas mural from the 1970s on the BAC redefines an awkward space, in an imaginative way that is similar to the objectives of the ICA's Dewey square projects. Ironically, this work abuts the old ICA, which did not embrace graffiti -- although their back door was covered with it -- until it was institutionally acceptable. Another surprising success is the Women's Memorial, with figures only moderately larger than life, which I observe viewers engaging interactively -- and there is no bench. Still, there are a lack of ambitious innovative projects public art projects in Boston, just as there are few architectural projects of significance. Boston has a vibrant art scene. It's time that Boston public art looked beyond the narrow constraints of the past and commissioned contemporary work of the stature that may one day compare, in quality, to the Saint-Gaudens.

Bob Oppenheim, studio artist
Professor Emeritus, Simmons College and former Director of the Trustman Art Gallery


Traffic, in Roslindale

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for johnconnolly.jpgIt’s hard for me to pick just one, but my kids' favorite piece of public art in Boston is a colorful rotating traffic sculpture in Roslindale. Public art of all kinds makes Boston a more vibrant city, from the Frogs on the Common and the murals at Bartlett Yard in Roxbury, to the street festivals and music festivals that bring people together. I have supported public art like the Sleeping Moon statue at the Ashmont MBTA station, the events and art space at Bartlett Yard, and the LandWave Sculptural Landscape in the South End, and I will be a champion for public art as mayor.

John Connolly, @JohnRConnolly
City councilor, mayoral candidate

The Clapp Pear

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for martywalsh.jpgI like the Clapp Pear by Laura Baring Gould in Edward Everett Square in Dorchester. The work speaks to Dorchester’s agricultural history; the Clapp Pear was cultivated on a farm that stood at the site where the pear now stands. The piece also includes 10 satellite sculptures representing other aspects of the past, present and future or Dorchester, which were added after an extensive series of conversations with neighborhood residents. The process, which I was part of, was rewarding. I especially like the bronze three decker! I know not everybody likes that sculpture, but it means a lot to the people of the neighborhood, and it enlivens an area that has had challenges. I also really love the Shaw Memorial. Boston needs more public art – temporary and permanent. It adds vitality. When elected, we will look to identify revenue sources and partnerships that will allow us to expand public art in Boston.

Marty Walsh, @marty_walsh
State representative, mayoral candidate


The Street Pianos

headshot-ruvi.JPGIn 2009 the Play Me, I'm Yours pianos came to Sydney (my hometown) and I was fortunate enough to be a musician and sound artist living and working in the city at that time. What I loved then is what I love about the project now – it beckons anyone and everyone to play, interact, and enjoy these pianos no matter who you are or what you do. If you play the piano, you can bang out a few tunes. If you have never touched a piano, you can tinker on the keys and get a feel for what it's like to play. And if you are merely a non-musical passer-by, you can admire the visual and performing arts in one hit, because each piano is also beautifully painted and decorated by a local artist. Our piece is titled "Play Me, I'm Your Galaxy" and was the first collaboration between Nick, [my partner], and myself. It is located next to the Au Bon Pain on Mass Ave at Harvard Square.

Ruvi Perumal, local artist
Digital Programs Manager at ArtsBoston

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