MBTA Is Auctioning Off Iconic Government Center Station Murals

You can bring a piece of Green Line history right into your home.

government center murals auction

‘Dog in Doorway’ by Mary Beams / Photo provided

Last summer, as the MBTA began tearing down Government Center Station to make way for a more modern, accessible facility, officials set out on a search for Mary Beams, the artist behind the series of murals that had adorned the station’s walls since the 1970s.

Unable to find evidence of a contract, the transit agency crowdsourced for a way to contact Beams, hoping to return the artworks, which depict various scenes unfolding on the Green Line. After a campaign powered by social media, news coverage, and word of mouth, the MBTA tracked the artist down in northern Minnesota, where—after leaving the art world n the mid-1990s—she’s now the co-owner and baker at Pie Place Café.

But when the MBTA offered to return the original 19 panels, Beams declined.

“These murals are so Bostonian,” she told the New York Times.

Instead, in an attempt to keep them here, Beams is collaborating with the MBTA to organize a public auction. Auction house Skinner Inc. will run online bidding for all 19 panels—comprising 17 works, including one triptych—beginning on October 20.

The murals, which were painted on plywood and covered with Plexiglas during their time at Government Center, will be sold in their authentic state, many of them stained with surface grime and small abrasions. Starting prices range from $300 for a single panel to $1,000 for the triptych.

government center murals auction

‘Driver’ by Mary Beams / Photo provided

The catalog for the auction offers more insight into the history of the project. Originally intended as a temporary installation, it was proposed in 1977. Beams spent a summer riding the Green Line, collecting photographs and video footage of commuters. The artist, who was a teaching assistant and visiting lecturer at the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, then projected the resulting images onto panels, traced them in pencil, and enlisted students to help her fill them in using Benjamin Moore house paint. Beams then left Boston shortly before the panels were hung at Government Center.

Later this month, the artist will return, attending a preview event on October 21, while the works are on display at the Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza.

Proceeds from the auction will benefit a new art installation at the renovated Government Center Station, which is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2016, serving as “a sort of lifeblood from one artist to the next,” according to the catalog.

government center murals auction

‘Wires I’ by Mary Beams / Photo provided

Bidding for the Government Center murals will run from 10 a.m. on Tuesday, October 20, through 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 29, at skinnerinc.com.

Public viewing will run October 20-29, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on the second floor of 10 Park Plaza. Skinner staff will be on-site October 20-23, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and October 29, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The preview event with Mary Beams will take place on Wednesday, October 21, at 6 p.m.