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Art in the Public Space

Pedro Alonzo and Trevor Smith with Jared Bowen
Le Laboratoire, Cambridge, Massachusetts
June 7, 2016

Boston has public art on its collective mind. Thanks to efforts by City Hall, an expanded Greenway program, and grand private-sector gestures, the city has seen an ascendance of outdoor artwork. It is no secret that a well-produced program can help transform a city (see Chicago) and bring to it global audiences. As Greater Boston densifies, art projects in the public realm and the conversations around them have multiplied. What is public art today if not the static bronze memorials of the past? Answer: temporary, interactive, playful, and provocative.

That was the overarching summation at Art in the Public Space, an evening of presentations at Kendall Square’s Le Laboratoire, organized by The Trustees, Massachusetts’ conservation and preservation nonprofit, to kick off its Art and the Landscape program. To celebrate its 125th anniversary, The Trustees have enlisted Pedro Alonzo, the curator responsible for French artist JR’s bold statement on the façade of 200 Clarendon, to bring art installations to its properties. Alonzo previewed upcoming commissions of Sam Durant’s participatory Meeting House in Concord and Jeppe Hein’s reflective maze of mirrors at World’s End in Hingham. He was joined by Peabody Essex curator Trevor Smith, who famously brought Theo Jansen’s walking marvels, Strandbeests, to the area

In a roundtable moderated by Jared Bowen, WGBH’s arts editor, the curators discussed the arena of contemporary art that is happily leaking beyond institutional boundaries in our now-digital world. The conversation kept finding its way back to children, skateboarders, and selfies as the key markers of success, yet there was minimal discussion of public art’s capacity toward social change and activism. One attendee remarked that the audience and presenting panel were still noticeably homogenous. With this rush of installations extending into natural and historical landscapes, let’s look forward to projects that similarly push this conversation into new territory.

Mirror Labyrinth NY © Jeppe Hein.
Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery, New York City; König Galerie, Berlin; Galleri Nicolai Wallner, Copenhagen