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Graffiti Artists Leave Mammoth Mark On Buttoned-Up Boston

BOSTON — Over the past week a very public act of graffiti has been taking place in Boston’s Financial District. But it’s not illegal.

Os Gemeos, a pair of internationally known Brazilian street artists, has permission to paint a huge mural on the side of a ventilation building. It’s part of their first solo museum show in the United States, which opens Wednesday at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

A Cartoonish Dude By The Financial District

There’s a new resident in Dewey Square Park, and he doesn’t exactly fit in with the men and women wearing dark suits who pass him by. He’s a colorful, defiant character, spray-painted on a 70-by-70-foot wall, looking like a Gulliver-sized street kid in a red hood.

“I’ve seen people do triple takes,” said ICA curator Pedro Alonzo. “They walk by and they’re like, ‘What!?’ And they keep looking back!”

That’s exactly the reaction Alonzo wants this mammoth mural to inspire. He brought Os Gemeos, the identical twin brother artists, to Boston for the ICA exhibition. The public mural is part of the show. Alonzo says vibrant, cartoonish dudes are Os Gemeos’ signature.

“They’re some of the most renowned artists in the world, really, as far as big, public outdoor murals,” Alonzo said. “They started painting on the streets in Sao Paolo, and they started to develop these characters over time. Os Gemeos strayed away from the tradition of graffiti-writing and embraced figuration. But their most famous are really these yellow figures with these red hoods.”

Boston’s Complex History With Street Art

The hooded figures are an edgy choice for a place like Boston. The city has had a complex and controversial history with graffiti and street art. Shepard Fairey, the poster artist who created the “Hope” image for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, was arrested here in 2009 on the opening night of his show at the ICA. The Os Gemeos mural embodies graffiti, hip hop and youth culture, so in many ways it’s pretty un-Boston.

“We love that, the ‘un-Boston.’ We love to be un-Boston,” said Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo (they basically speak as one), of Os Gemeos, which means “the twins” in Portuguese. The 38-year-old identical twins say this about Boston:

“Didn’t see many murals here in the city. I don’t know why, but we need art. We need colors in the city. Not that Boston is boring, but I love Boston, it’s a nice city, but it needs more art in the streets.”

The twins see every wall as a potential canvas. When they work — high up on lifts surrounded by empty spray paint cans — they close themselves off.

“[Boston's] a nice city, but it needs more art in the streets.”
– Os Gemeos

“We are really inside of the painting. But when we go down to take a cafe we try to be more open and to listen to people.”

And what are they hearing from Bostonians?

“Everybody says the same thing, like, ‘Wow we miss something like that here. Make our life more happy.’ And I hope that this is opening new doors for local artists or other artists to make more pieces like this size here in the city.”

The artists want public art to snap people out of their routines, make them look up even for a moment, to see the beauty and chaos of urban life. “Art for the people,” they call it. But it wasn’t easy to pull off.

“Looking for walls is sort of like being a matchmaker,” the ICA’s Alonzo said. “Because you have to find someone who’s willing to have their walls painted, and then you have to go to the artist and make sure they like the wall. And that is a complicated process.”

Ultimately the Greenway Conservancy, the Boston Arts Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation got behind the project. MassDOT owns the Big Dig ventilation building that’s now covered in spray paint.

But the mural is a temporary piece, slated to stay up for 18 months. Artists Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo wonder if Boston might decide to keep their hooded character.

“I hope he can stay there,” the artists said. Because Os Gemeos says he’s a nice guy, with a lot of positive energy.

The Os Gemeos solo exhibition runs through November at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. The artists made a smaller painting on the outside of the Revere Hotel.

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  • guest

    Looks great. I wish they would do more of these drab buildings that seem to be scattered everywhere in Boston. With the owner’s permission  of course…

  • http://twitter.com/EvolvingCritic Anulfo Baez

    “Didn’t see many murals here in the city. I don’t know why, but we need art. We need colors in the city. Not that Boston is boring, but I love Boston, it’s a nice city, but it needs more art in the streets.” – Os Gemeos

    I find this statement to be an insult to the City of Boston, its community organizers, artists and muralists who have left their imprint in this city. For almost three years, I have been walking the streets of Boston researching and documenting the city’s rich and varied mural history. To date, I have documented more than 100 murals across Boston’s built environment, with many more left to document. To say that they “didn’t see many murals here in the city” is to dismiss, ironically, the pivotal role that the
    Institute of Contemporary Art (the very same institution that organized their first solo museum show in the United States and provided them with the opportunity to paint the ventilation building on The Greenway) played in the development of community murals in the United States (!!!). In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the ICA/Boston introduced highly controlled competitions that produced some of the most outstanding murals in the country, so outstanding that these were considered landmark achievements in community organizing (!!!). Today the murals of Dana Chandler, Gary Rickson, Robert Hueng and many others, grace the pages of countless textbooks on the history of community murals and black art.

    While Os Gemeos’ mural is slated to stay up for 18 months, Boston has murals that go back as far as 1968. Within a 5 minute walk from the ventilation building on The Greenway, on one corner of the China Gate Plaza Park in Chinatown is Robert Hueng’s spectacular abstract mural from 1974 (the mural is currently in disrepair and covered in a tarp advertising a Chinese landscape painting from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts). If Os Gemeos think the city needs more color, look no further than the many murals found in Chinatown.

    • http://nickwardonline.com/ Nick Ward

       I have to disagree with you here Anulfo, Os Geneos are right, this city does need more color. A sprinkling of community project murals and some murals “currently in disrepair and covered in a tarp advertising” hardly constitute a strong showing of color and public art. I don’t think they are claiming that the city is entirely devoid of murals – just that the are few and far between. Instead of arguing that they have it all wrong and our tradition of murals is exceptional (its not), why not fight to help preserve this new wonderful piece that we suddenly have.

  • http://twitter.com/digital_derek digital_derek

    Anulfo, I work a block away from where this is being done, and there’s nothing this colorful around at all. It’s really going to compliment the Greenway a lot IMO.

  • Mike N

    Not a fan of it. It looks like a gigantic terrorist.

    • Twelveozs

      Why and how? What does a terrorist look like ?

    • MikeKnowsNothing

      Mike N, YOU are the terrorist.

      • Mike N

        so much for free expression of opinions. typical.

  • LAS

    I must support Anulfo’s comment. As usual, it depends on “which” Boston you’re referring to. I love driving around Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester pointing out murals, (many thanks to the Mayor’s Mural Crew), and discovering new ones. They bring color and vibrance to our city and represent our community, history, and the artists’ talent.

    Furthermore, where there are ample murals, I notice a lack of other graffiti that falls into the category of vandalism… quickly rendered “tags”, and signs indicating gang territory. Even a hardened gangster does not want to deface a beautiful mural that brings pride to the neighborhood.

    But I imagine that Os Gemeos will see Downtown Boston, the Financial District, the Seaport, and other tourist areas. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone from the Mayor’s Mural crew… or someone like Anulfo took them on a tour of the rest of Boston?

  • Louiek2003

    As residents of Boston and frequently walk by the area to enjoy the harbor… We hate it

    • Nick Ward

      I am curious what you hate about it? Too bright? Do you not really like public murals? Too big maybe? What is it about this mural that keeps you from enjoying the harbor?

    • Myself

      Get over yourself you f*cking snob.

  • Allisson Rodrigo

    Amazing… It’ grate!!! Congratulations Boston.

  • Ecregger1

    Saw it this morning… not impressed, the artwork seems both naive and derivative and the whole thing gives me the creeps!

  • http://twitter.com/annesaurus Anne Hjortshoj

    I walk by it every day and love it. They’re right, we need more of this kind of thing in our city.  Why not?

  • http://rpkphoto.smugmug.com/ Rodger Kingston

    A wonderful splash of color (and  so I hear, sadly, controversy) on the elegant Rose Kennedy Greenway. To see my photograph of Dewey Square with the new mural, go to and click on the “Singular Images” Gallery.

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