Nothing to See Here

Enough already with Boston’s boring, old, and stodgy public art.

By Max Grinnell | Boston Magazine |

Finally, I tracked down Nick Capasso, the deputy director for curatorial affairs at the DeCordova Sculptural Park and Museum in Lincoln. Capasso has put together more than 75 exhibitions over the past 20 years, including works by award-winning sculptors Chakaia Booker and Steven Siegel. In Boston, he told me, “There’s not really a structure in place to support major works by major artists.” Instead, he said, “You’re getting a variety of small projects around the city of varying quality.”

So, that’s the tiny town of Lincoln giving us advice. Other cities are so far beyond us, it’s unbelievable. In New York, for example, the Creative Time organization has been working to “infiltrate the public realm” with outdoor installations since 1973. In early years, the group held the successful “Art on the Beach” show, which featured temporary sculptures, nearly every summer in Battery Park City. In 2011 it brought together a group of artists to create a series of site-specific performance pieces based on Twitter conversations and interactions. And since 2002 Creative Time has annually installed its wildly popular “Tribute in Light,” a twin-light-beam memorial to the city’s fallen World Trade Center.

But it’s not just New York that’s breaking ground. Denver has spent the past few decades garnering national and international attention for its diverse roster of public-art installations. Artist Lawrence Argent’s beloved Big Blue Bear (formally known as I See What You Mean) has been peeking into the Colorado Convention Center since 2005, while the 32-foot Mustang installation brought a much-debated fiery-eyed, rearing blue horse to the Denver International Airport. Farther west, the city of Seattle is sponsoring a series of temporary artworks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair. A living map of Seattle’s hydro-electric generation and energy use by Adam Frank was installed as part of these exhibits, along with Mandy Greer’s thoroughly expansive 250-foot web of fiber that celebrated the joy of Seattle’s urban creeks. Either might fit in nicely over at our Museum of Science, but there’s no will to make it happen. “We’re coming to a crossroads for public art in Boston,” Capasso says. “Contemporary public art in Boston compared to other cities is moribund.”

  • Robert Fleming

    Max: There have been a series of art installations in Boston’s neighborhoods over the last 20 years Including the art fountains in Mission Hill, the “Judge’ in Dudley Square, the “Sleeping Moon” in Peabody Square, the Gateway art pieces in Mattapan Square and those in Harriet Tubman Square in the South End to name a few that have very little in common with those older works you mentioned. You should check them out when you get the chance.

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