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Election season is filled with all sorts of oddities. But in recent weeks, something extra odd has begun to take shape in one of the storefronts among the peppy mix of retail and Minute Men reenactors at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
The first indication that something was up may have been a charmingly, awkwardly hand-lettered sign that appeared in the door window: “Coming Soon: Boston Campaign Headquarters. ‘We won’t rest until we’re tired.’”
Before long, the front windows there—in the 4 South Market Building, just to the left of Urban Outfitters and the statue of Red Auerbach sitting on a bench and just to the right of the 1630 store on the end—were painted with red, white and blue slogans and symbols reading “Elections can’t be bought, donate now” and “Vote for nothing. / Nothing will care. / Nothing works for you. / Nothing will change.” On the door, hand-painted lettering now read: “Welcome to Boston Campaign Headquarters. U.S.A. Land of the free and 200 million other people.”
“It’s a campaign for nothing, for no one. It’s a campaign against the evils of campaigning,” explains Pat Falco, the Boston artist who turns out to be behind the thing. “Think of someone who’s running for alderman and you’ve never heard of and they’ve got this empty retail space. … A space that they tried to put a little work into, but it also used to be something else. Just kind of weird. Janky.”
It’s a “Campaign Headquarters” about the disappointments of getting your hopes up about politics. It’s where American campaign dreams go to die. And the race to the bottom kicks off with a free opening reception there from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 14.
Pat Falco graduated from Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston in 2010. He helped run the Lincoln Arts Project, an alternative gallery in Waltham from about 2010 to 2013, and is director of the Distillery Gallery in South Boston.
The laconic, folksy hand-painted graffiti look of his paintings can sometimes bring to mind West Coast street-art star Barry McGee. But Falco has found his own voice—funny, barbed, disappointed, heartbroken—as he’s taken it out into the streets.
For a November 2014 project, he debuted a new public artwork each day of the month, taking on the gentrification of Boston (on the city’s sign reading “Welcome to Fort Point: New England’s Largest and Oldest Artist Community,” he crossed out “Artist” and inserted the words “Luxury Condo” instead), questioning police (on a fence across from a police building he posted a sign “To ‘Serve’ & ‘Protect’”), and doubts about love (a sign attached to a garbage can read “A Mailbox for Your Love Letters”).
Last summer, as part of the Isles Arts Initiative on Georges Island in Boston Harbor, he satirized Boston real estate development by erecting a cartoony faux row of storefronts—a Dunkin’ Donuts knockoff, a “Luxury Pet Hotel,” a realty office and a “Mom & Mom” shop left defunct in their wake.
At age 29, Falco has been shaped by coming of age during the era of 9/11, the failed Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Great Recession and the subsequent Boston real estate boom, the 99 percent, Black Lives Matter, Barack Obama “Hope” and the frustrating reality of the limits of what Obama has actually been able to accomplish. In the tone of Falco’s art, you can sense these disasters and quashed hopes. In there is the feeling of watching a few get rich while you struggle just to get by. And it has a particular local flavor, coming from a Boston native with family roots in the North End and South Boston.
“I lived in Southie for a while. My father grew up there,” Falco says. “It’s weird because I don’t really like what Southie’s turning into. But it’s diversifying.” The changes have some benefits—the neighborhood’s notorious racism is fading, the Irish mobsters glamorized by Hollywood are no longer such a force. “Gentrification is just a really conflicting thing. Like a neighborhood that didn’t have access to healthy food now does, but they can’t afford it. … All the dollar stores on Broadway are now restaurants you can’t afford to go into.”
At Falco’s Faneuil Hall “Campaign Headquarters,” he’s now taking on all of America—through the prism of one of the actual Boston sites of the American Revolution that’s been turned into an All-American retail tourist trap. Inside Falco’s HQ, his hand-painted signs and banners read “With Liberty and Justice For Some” and “Live Free or Die Poor.” The famous Revolutionary slogan “Don’t Tread on Me” becomes “Don't Tread on Anyone.” Across a makeshift Confederate flag, he’s scrawled “Nope.”
“Faneuil Hall is like this cradle of liberty. Faneuil got all his money from the slave trade. Boston history, American history, everything conflicts with itself. Which is great. That’s the American way,” Falco says. “All these vendors that have American stuff and it’s all made in China. It’s a bummer.”
The opportunity for Falco’s installation came about through the generosity of the folks at the 1630 shop, he says, who offered him the use of the empty storefront next door. “It’s becoming something and there’s this six-month window,” Falco says. “I guess they saw [political] signs around and suggested this campaign theme.”
“I’ve just been looking at all these campaign slogans and how weird they are,” Falco says. His paintings poke slogans from Obama (“Yes we can't”), Hillary Clinton (“I'm with here, she's with them, is anyone with me?”) and Donald Trump (“Make America”).
“It’s hard when you feel like you don’t have a voice. Even progressive people are taking money from these huge companies that obviously they have to cater to,” Falco says. “It’s always the lesser of two evils. It’s kind of tapping into that ‘Does it matter?’ … Does it matter? I don’t know. The presidential election is so big it only seems to matter on an image level.”
Falco intends to fill his “Campaign Headquarters” with his signs and buttons and shirts, “paraphernalia.” It’s the kind of mysterious storefront that’s only open occasionally, randomly, intermittently. Peering through the windows Monday, you could see more signs, a blue podium and now painted on the floor an image of a crying eagle flying over the United States.
“It’s been an easy election in terms of material to make fun of,” Falco says. “The absurdity of politics is so extreme that I almost don’t need to do this. It’s been cool to be at Faneuil Hall. It’s not people from Boston. When I was painting the windows, there were a lot of Southern accents and they were like, ‘Whoa, what? What’s wrong with America?’ ”
“If they have to laugh first,” Falco says, “you confuse them a bit, put them off guard, and they’re thinking a bit.”
He’s not sure how long his “campaign” will last. “In my head, someone’s going to come in and say, ‘I own Faneuil Hall. This is offensive. Shut it down,’ ” Falco says. “Otherwise it’ll be up until August.”
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