Suffocating Boston’s Public Art


The Boston Phoenix loves to frown upon EVERYTHING that is good. They blamed The Decemberists for the death of indie rock music and they referred the New England Holocaust Memorial as “a breathtaking banality.” Every year, the Phoenix publishes its “Best of Boston” issue, highlighting the best in everything that is OVERRATED in the city. With the help of Bostonians who vote for the best, I meant “most” (OVERRATED) burger joint, political blog, clothing store, favorite place to get a haircut for men and/or women and so on, Boston’s “alternative” newspaper is anything BUT alternative.

Highlighting everything that is overrated in Boston isn’t enough for The Boston Phoenix of course; they also invite anyone who doesn’t have a single clue about art and architecture to vote in the category for bad public art work. If a newspaper or magazine highlights the “Best of Boston” why not have a category for “Best Public Art Work?” and not the “Best of Bad Public Art?” Why not name the edition “Worst of Boston 2011” instead?

This year, the Best Bad Public Art Work category features, in the words of Chris Millis, works that exude “a breathtaking banality” like the boring, uninspiring and most literal representation of the Irish Famine memorials I have ever seen. The list also features Boston City Hall (a “brutalist” building as public art work, I think the listing instigates more hatred towards a building that is already much maligned among Bostonians) as well as other, once again, uninteresting public art works in Boston. Why not nominate EVERY single public work of art in the city (with the exception of the public art collection at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which is truly spectacular)?

The New England Holocaust Memorial is Boston’s most eloquent and powerful monument. Regardless of one’s race, nationality or creed, one cannot deny all the emotions and thoughts this memorial allows us to experience. Designed by Stanley Saitowitz and dedicated in 1995, the memorial features a long black granite path with six glass towers, allowing visitors to pass through each tower. Each square tower represents the major Nazi concentration camps and six million numbers in total are etched on all four sides of the columns, one for every person killed in the concentration camps. If this wasn’t emotional enough, one walks through each tower surrounded by steam, yes, steam, to further emphasize the horrors of the gas chambers and incinerators during the Holocaust.

The Boston Globe’s architecture critic Robert Campbell considered the memorial a mix bag, “the good news is that the memorial is pretty successful urban design” but it was “…caught between a rock and a hard place:
the huge Boston City Hall on one side and the delicate old Blackstone Block –Boston’s last surviving chunk of 18th-century streetscape – on the other.” Overall, Campbell’s critique referred to the memorial as being over symbolic. This is true, but there are dozens of public art works in Boston that should be also on the list because let’s face it, why are we judging bad public art works in Boston when in the words of Mr. Campbell himself, “we lack a common visual language of public symbols”?

For as long as Boston continues to embrace its puritanical roots and ideals, its architecture and art will continue to suffocate.

Campbell’s quotes are taken from “A Matter of Design: Evaluating Boston’s Holocaust Memorial,” published on November 26, 1995 in The Boston Globe.

Photo Credit: Alice Chan,

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike N says:

    This is striking and you’re right, the Boston Phoenix likes to talk the talk, but do they ever talk it? In terms of art and architecture, Boston has taken very little chances and risks up until recently, but its public artwork needs help.

    1. Anulfo says:

      Thanks for your comment. I just got the idea of highlighting more of Boston’s public art through the blog.

  2. Joel Wool says:

    I completely agree. Boston has a lot of great public art. In Dorchester, we have a beautiful new piece by Ashmont Station — Sleeping Moon ( — and a slew of other pieces. Mayor Menino and Councilor Ayanna Pressley have been wonderful patrons of the arts.

    1. Anulfo says:

      Yes, we do have some good art. The Boston Phoenix needs to get out more I think. I’ve been meaning to blog about Joseph Wheelwright’s Sleeping Moon.

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