In the past two years, Boston’s public art scene has exploded. With the launch of the city’s first outdoor mural gallery in the South End and street art festivals popping up in Salem, Lynn and Worcester, top tier artists from around the country have made a point to paint in Massachusetts. Works from international artists like Super A and Okuda can now be seen in Boston’s most traveled to spots. At the same time, large installations like "The Auto Show" on the Greenway and the Fountains at 401 Park honor Boston’s history while mapping out its future.
From Boston to New Bedford, here’s our list of public art offerings that can’t be missed this summer:
Dewey Square, Boston
Super A (whose birth name is Stefan Thelen) recently completed the new Dewey Square mural. He calls it "Resonance."
This mural is a departure from the abstract and landscape murals the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy has chosen for the rotating wall in past years. Not since the wall hosted the Os Gemeos brothers' mural in 2012 has it featured such a big name in urban art. Over the years, the spot has featured different styles or movements from graffiti to minimalism to forced perception to conceptualism.
A native of the Netherlands, Thelen first became recognized for his realistic images which blend the surreal, fantasy and nature. Often featuring a strong social message, Thelen’s work is still frequently spiked with humor. In "Resonance," Thelen depicts a barn swallow escaping its cage — delivering a simple, yet harsh truth about the sometimes-invisible walls holding us back.
“Resonance speaks to the issues of our time, specifically of within the current political climate, and our feelings and fears of our individual liberties and our own social, political and emotions that can sometimes trap us internally,” Lucas Cowan, the Greenway's art curator, said. “It represents the frenetic anxieties that we all grapple with on a daily basis.”
Central Square Murals
With six murals erected last fall and a handful more planned for the summer, Central Square is making it known that it is investing in outdoor public art. Still known as one of the best spots to find the quality graffiti in greater Boston, a new push to make Cambridge more colorful began last fall with local artists like Percy Fortini-Wright, IMAGINE, Lena McCarthy, Victor “Marka27” Quinones, Vyal and Cedric "Vise1" Douglas.
Spearheaded by the Cambridge Business Association, Executive Director Mike Monestime said the Central Square Mural Project aims to pay homage to the past, present, and future of the area.
Fortini-Wright, who has a long standing connection to the area, grew up seeing names like “Ryze,” “histo,” “138 crew” and “Monk” pepper the walls and rooftops in Central. “I have vivid memories of hip-hop events and going there with my mom, who was super hip and loved disco and soul music,” Fortini-Wright said. “Being able to cruise down Mass. Ave. and see my nightscape on a big Central rooftop refreshes those memories. A lot of spaces that had graffiti and street art are now gone, but it’s good to see a new push for public art.”
In addition to murals like Fortini-Wright’s nighttime driving scene, IMAGINE’s calligraphy-flavored wall and Victor "Marka27" Quinonez’s amazingly colorful "Queendom,” artist Kenji Nakayama updated an old Blockbuster sign for a retro welcome to the square.
Thanks to a boost in public arts funding last year, New Bedford’s art scene has been particularly active this year. In addition to major funding and backing by city officials, several collaborative art ventures like The Massachusetts Design Art and Technology Institute (DATMA) arrived last year, pushing for greater arts integration and appreciation in the South Coast community.
This summer, as part of a city-wide, collaborative venture called “Summer Winds,” DATMA has commissioned Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics, based in Los Angeles, to create the centerpiece of the event. "Silver Current," a large-scale public installation is set to open on June 29 at Custom House Square Park downtown in New Bedford.
"Silver Current" will feature an 6,500-square-foot kinetic net sculpture and mark the celebration of the city’s emerging leadership in wind energy. Built out of approximately 40,300 “ultra-lightweight metalized film,” the installation is made to move and shimmer with the wind, from 21 feet off the ground to 55 feet in the air.
Lindsay Miś, executive director of DATMA, said Shearn’s skynet will serve as a public art gateway while recalling the area’s relationship to wind and the ocean.
“We’re trying to provide accessible art, especially to those who would not naturally include art in their lives,” she said. “Placing art like 'Silver Current' in a public park drastically changes an environment and forces citizens to re-examine the place they know without even walking through the doors of an institution.”
'The Auto Show'
Kennedy Greenway, Boston
Even though the Big Dig ended more than a decade ago, its legacy continues to live on in Boston. The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, which now sits above the sunken Central Artery, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the park with the public art exhibition "The Auto Show."
A mix of loaned and commissioned works, it offers a look at the life of the Greenway and Boston's transportation story over the past 200 years. According to the Greenway's Public Art Curator Lucas Cowan, each of the artists featured brings a novel approach on “how transportation can re-imagine and transform our unique cities for the betterment.”
Included in "The Auto Show" is an exaggerated Porsche 924 shaped to resemble a UFO by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm, a field of kinetic works inspired by the patterns and symbols of transportation by Texas artist Julie Libersat, a photo exhibit featuring hyper-real impossible compositions of contorting vintage vehicles by Scottish artist Chris Labrooy and illuminated stained glass art by Midwest artist Karl Unnasch.
For his Greenway commission "OPERANT (An Oldowonk Cataract)," Unnasch recalled his real-world experience driving through the Big Dig in the early 2000s. His red dump truck with stained glass tells a tale on the window panels, almost like a comic book, and includes a cascade of backlit chunk glass being dumped onto the nearby grass. Unnasch said it’s a nod to all those that put in work on the massive construction project.
“I’m coming from a rural blue-collar aspect,” he said. “This piece is for all of those folks who got callused hands, spent long days and now have bad backs.”
'Grouping of Works from Fountain'
401 Park, Fenway
A play on the extravagant fountains of Rome, Nicole Eisenman's "Sketch for a Fountain" was a critical favorite when it debuted in 2017 at Skulptur Projekte Münster in Germany. The installation, featuring a small cast of full-scale figures, included several bathers lounging around the pool, water coming out of beer cans and body parts. Eisenman has recently been commissioned to install something more permanent at the newly revamped 401 Park (formerly the a 1920s-era Sears, Roebuck & Co. building in Fenway).
Unveiled earlier this month, the three figures in "Grouping of Works from Fountain" will all be made of bronze.
"I’m happy to know the fountain will be situated in a place where people are likely to hang out and enjoy some leisure time,” Eisenman said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing kids climbing on the sculptures and this piece integrating into the fabric of life in the Fens.”
'Air Sea Land'
Seaport District, Boston
Over the past few years, corporate developers in Boston have tapped street artists to create engaging art and build a sense of community in their respective neighborhoods. A perfect example of this can be found in the Seaport, where Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel installed his largest physical work to date late last year.
Planning for the installation began in 2017 with sketches of icons “mixing animals and humans.” Inspired by surrealism, pop art and world culture, Okuda created seven installations featuring his colorful brand of street art. Amid the walls of glass and concrete along Seaport Boulevard, the boldness and exploding color of "Air Sea Land" is impossible to ignore.
“The multicolored geometry in bodies and faces symbolize multiculturalism,” he said. “All skin colors and races in one. All seven sculptures are related to my own iconography and deal at the same time with the notion of Mother Nature using figures such as the squirrel and the deer, and creation. They 'talk' about the universe, about the sea and mythology.”
One of the buzziest installations of the summer won't stay put. The Trustees of Reservations is showing off Doug Aitken's mirrored hot air balloon, titled "New Horizon," all across the state.
It's set to launch in mid-July, offering spectators an instantly Instagramable installation. The Trustees are also offering rides in the balloon and other cultural programming around it.
Aitken, an American artist and filmmaker known for his large-scale outdoor installations, said "New Horizon" was built to evolve over time.
“It's a mirage. It's something which changes continuously,” Aitken told WBUR when the project was announced. “We could be sitting on a sand dune at dusk right now, and above us is this enormous curved reflection of the sun setting. ... And then [we] see that change, and change again.”
The balloon has been scheduled to make appearances at eight Massachusetts locations, including the Long Point Wildlife Refuge and the FARM Institute on Martha’s Vineyard, the Holmes Reservation in Plymouth, the deCordova Sculpture Park in Lincoln, the Crane Estate in Ipswich, Field Farm in Williamstown and Naumkeag in Stockbridge. (Keep an eye out for an updated schedule here.)