Evolutionary Art in Boston
Flying across the country from San Francisco to Boston, just as this past winter's infamous “polar vortex” was set to grip the midwest and northeast for a few days, I made a list of all the popular culture stereotypes I knew of the city. The Pixies, Red Sox, Tom Brady, Larry Bird, a few Bruins, college kids (lots of college kids), Afflecks and a Damon, The Departed, Bill Russell, Paul Revere, a Tea Party, and an area called Southie that I accidentally associated with Robin Williams. I know of Boston as the cradle of America's Revolutionary War, a city steeped in colonial history, university culture and a fervid devotion to sports franchises that have been wildly successful over the past 20 years. Then there's the accent, which, in all honesty, I only heard a few times, although it seemed to get deeper after a few pints. When I began to create a list of the art I knew of in the city, there were highlights like OSGEMEOS's incredible mural painted on the Rose Kennedy Greenway in 2012, and Shepard Fairey's untimely arrest on the steps of the ICA Boston, just as the Obey artist was walking into his own museum retrospective in 2009. I hadn't been to Boston or Massachusetts in years, but the city is an American landmark, so a trip in the middle of winter was exactly the type of plan that made sense on paper, and I was going to make sense of it in real life.
I stayed in the Seaport neighborhood at the Envoy Hotel, which was convenient for a myriad of reasons (igloos at the rooftop bar may play into this happiness), most of which was the proximity to the ICA Boston, a museum with a superb program that just unveiled a new site-specific mural at the museum entrance by former Juxtapoz cover artist, Nina Chanel Abney. By the time this magazine is in print, the museum will be hosting an exceptional show of works by Ragnar Kjartansson, as well as an exhibit by Yayoi Kusama scheduled later in 2019. Seaport also proved to be ideal because of public art sculptures that have begun to emerge in the neighborhood, with Spanish artist Okuda creating a series of seven works that populate the heart of the neighborhood, curated by Justkids. When I think of Boston, I think of brick and a certain Cambridge crimson, so to see Okuda's bright and playful use of colors on the sculptures was an unexpected curation, but one that works well, as Seaport continues to grow around such public art. The neighborhood developers plan for more public art projects as more and more city blocks are fully realized.
Being a visitor, I prevailed on Juxtapoz contributor, fine artist and resident Bostonian, Josh Jefferson, to also give me a bit of a tour of the numerous art scenes around the town. The first stop was easy. I headed to the South End and 450 Harrison Street, where not only are there a string of galleries, but one Steven Zevitas Gallery, who was hosting none other than Josh Jefferson for a solo show. Steven has been a mainstay in the Boston area since 2003, with perhaps the strongest program in the city. Most of the galleries in this neighborhood hovered on the modern art side of things, so Josh and I took a nice wander through South End where we ate at Delux Cafe. The retro bar and restaurant was a cozy respite from the sub-zero weather outside, and I will go anywhere that has Christmas lights up all year. We finished the night off at The Eagle! (I put the exclamation point on it because this is exactly how Josh texted it to me, and his enthusiasm was palpable). Josh called The Eagle, at 520 Tremont St, the best dive bar in Boston (so did Boston Magazine in 2014), and after what seemed like 30 games of pool as the snow fell outside, there was no way I was going to argue.
A couple more locations for art hopping are Newbury Street near Boston Common, with a good selection of mostly secondary market galleries, and Krakow Witkin Gallery at 10 Newbury is where you can see your Albers and LeWitts. Other noteworthy galleries scattered across the city include Drive by Projects and Gallery 18 in Watertown (right outside of Cambridge). There is also a slew of artist buildings around town with pop-ups, including the Distillery in South Boston.
A must-see is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Located in the Fenway-Kenmore area, the museum was recently renovated with a contemporary art wing that is worth a look. I learned that the museum was burglarized in 1990, which at the time, was one of the costliest art thefts in U.S. history and maybe not the best reason for renown, but the building is amazing. Also, you can't go wrong with an afternoon at MFA Boston. To me, this is quintessential Boston-arting, with classical taste and some blockbuster shows. A great Frida Kahlo show is up there now, and the Kay Nielsen show coming up this summer looks like a big hit. Also, former cover artist Nicole Eisenman's public sculpture, Fountain, is scheduled for installation and unveiling on June 2, 2019, at 401 Park, not far from MFA Boston and the Gardner Museum, another reason to head into that 'hood.
More public art is a great thing for any city, so the last hidden gem on your art and architecture tour would be the Mapparium at the Mary Baker Eddy Library, described as a “world-famous, three-story, stained-glass globe.” Indeed, it was built in 1935, and is a true treasure to behold.
Without a doubt, if you happen to be in Boston and happen to love art, I highly recommend taking the three-hour drive out to North Adams for MASS MoCA. It is one of America's, if not the world's, best art museums, a truly unique place with incredible works by the likes of Turrell, LeWitt, and Holzer, as well as a brilliant contemporary program currently featuring a massive installation by Trenton Doyle Hancock. It is one of the rare places that warrants a full art pilgrimage, and if you are going to be anywhere in the Northeast, a full day or two at MASS MoCA should be on your schedule. With the rich art history of the Berkshires as the backdrop, the day spent there was perhaps my favorite art outing in recent memory. —Evan Pricco
A huge thank you to the Justkids, Envoy Hotel, Boston ICA and everyone at Seaport for their support.