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Talking about public art on WBUR’s “Radio Boston”

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I spent much of today wandering around Boston with Pixnit, David Boeri and the production team of Radio Boston talking with people about public art. We talked to a number of interesting people about how they see and understand public art in Boston, what they expect of art in general and art in the public sphere in particular, and whether the city should do more to fund and support contemporary work alongside monuments and statuary.

We started near Faneuil Hall, near the sculpture of Mayor Kevin White. There we met some teens who talked about how art should have "meaning" but, when we asked them what that meant, settled on the idea of a narrative or relationship to history. Another woman said that she only sees art in public, and doesn't go to museums or galleries. She was supportive of more contemporary art in public, but wanted a group of experts to make sure it was good art.

From there we moved to the sculpture of basketball coach Red Auerbach sitting on a bench. Here children climbed over the sculpture, and a restaurant waiter told us that he'd seen many people do dirty, vulgar things to the sculpture.

At Mags Harries Asaroton, near Haymarket, we met a young man who said there was a difference between art and monuments, and in his opinion Harries work was much more interesting because it was about experience, rather than history. Nearby, a group of delivery trucks rumbled over the piece, and delivery-men walked over it without noticing.

I'd invited Pixnit along because of her knowledge of graffiti, and interest in different ways artists can engage in the public sphere that aren't sculpture on pedestals. We talked with many folks about graffiti, many of whom considered it art but worried about where it appeared. We also talked about other public art, such as the interventionist work of the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, the Buscycle, and many others.

Finally, we ended at the Boston Common talking to children and parents at the Make Way For Ducklings sculpture. Parents seemed indifferent to the role of the piece as art, but pointed to the fact that their children had read the books and that the sculpture reenforced the relationship of literature to art.

This Friday at 1pm, Radio Boston will spend the hour discussing public art in Boston and what role it can play. I was happy to talk with Boeri about his intentions for the show, and hear his ideas about a more robust and contemporary public art program that wouldn't focus on "dead white guys." Producer Tim Skoog told me that they'd probably use about 10 minutes of the audio we recorded during the show, so if you tune in to WBUR you can hear Pixnit, Boeri, Producer Claudine Ebeid and I talking with all the great people we met today.

Images:
Top - from the Radio Boston website
Bottom - a detail of Mags Harrie's Asaroton, from the artists' website

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About Author

Matthew Nash is the founder of Big Red & Shiny. He is Associate Professor of Photography and New Media at the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University and was the 2011-12 Chair of the University Faculty Assembly. Nash is half of the artist collaborative Harvey Loves Harvey, who are currently represented by Gallery Kayafas in Boston and have exhibited in numerous venues since 1992.

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