Nothing to See Here

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

By Max Grinnell | Boston Magazine |

Do you know what we need? A Marshall Plan for public art here. A national, or, better yet, an international jury of art experts should bring together a wide range of artists to create contemporary pieces across the city. We also need to finally declare an end to the Bronze Age.

I’m not saying we should completely leave it behind. Let’s just reframe the conversation: Our supposed “burden of history” is actually an opportunity for dialogue with the past, a chance to think creatively about how to drag some of these older (and, of course, distinguished and important) works and public spaces into the 21st century. Why not have a mediated and thoughtful response to the power and message of Saint-Gaudens’s bronze of Shaw’s 54th Regiment from an artist interested in human rights or the horrors of war? How about an installation, in response to the words on the Boston Common Tablet, that offers a meditation on the use of this public space in our own time? Two small examples, but it’s easy to see how, if promoted properly, the prominence of our city would bring entries from all over the world.

Funding, of course, is an age-old problem, particularly with tight city coffers and a slumping private-sector economy. So let’s rely on modern innovation and crowd-source the idea. Why not ask people from around the world to pitch in a few dollars via Kickstarter? It’s a dynamic and rather 21st-century solution to getting around the usual channels of large corporations or a few Brahmins throwing out millions of dollars. It also offers a sense of communal ownership that might be a neat exercise in real community-building. Which, it’s clear, we certainly need.

  • 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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