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Terrorist or graffiti tagger? Os Gêmeos’s The Giant of Boston

A mural by the Brazilian street artists Os Gêmeos, installed in Boston as part of their first US solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, has drawn some divisive comments and stirred up debate about cultural understanding.

The twin brothers painted the 70-foot-tall mural The Giant of Boston depicting a boy wearing a red jacket wrapped around his head in the city’s high-traffic area of Dewey Square (the figure of a shrouded graffiti tagger is a common motif in the artists’ work). But when the local Fox news affiliate posted an image of the mural on its Facebook page and asked its readers, “What does it look like to you?” some responded with bigoted comments: “terrorist”, “towel head”, “Mooselim protected by Obama!” and “a Muslim woman in a head scarf holding an AK-47 in her hands”. The figure isn’t holding anything in its hands, but the image used by Fox features a crane in front of the mural that could look like a gun.


Eric Magnuson
The Art Newspaper


Mark Bradford’s “A Truly Rich Man Is One Whose Children Run Into His Arms Even When His Hands Are Empty.’’ (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)

Imposing and even quite grand at a distance, Mark Bradford’s paintings, like the sprawling cities they evoke, suggest ruins up close.

They are ruins — the ruins of other modes of communication, other forms of speech. One over the other, Bradford layers old billboard signs, maps, and street posters. They’re salvaged, shredded, stripped, glued on, and rubbed back.

Working intuitively, he converts all these materials and more into works of art that are dense with history, freighted not only with political and social readings but with an abiding, poignant silence.

It’s the silence that gets under your skin. To wander around Bradford’s superb survey show at the Institute of Contemporary Art is to oscillate between the desire to get up close and even to touch (the impulse to run your fingers over their corrugated surfaces is almost impossible to resist) and a growing sense that you are in fact looking on from unreadable distances, like a general watching a chaotic battle from the top of a distant knoll, or an uncomprehending politician flying high over a disaster zone.


Sebastian Smee
Boston Globe

An aerial shot of the Museum of Fine Arts shows the new wing, with its distinctive glass courtyard roof (right), on the eastern side of the museum. (David L. Ryan / Globe Staff)

Museum building projects always spark a visitor boom, as people want to see the new spaces. But if attendance drop-off is too dramatic when the excitement wears off, a museum can fall into crisis. MFA leaders project they will double their usual attendance after the wing’s November opening. (Typical attendance is 60,000 to 80,000 a month in the winter, says Kimberly French, the museum’s deputy director of communications.) How will the MFA sustain the crowds? French believes an April show featuring work by glass artist Dale Chihuly should do for the MFA what Shepard Fairey did for the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2009: draw visitors even after the thrill of the opening has worn off.


Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, with the “Appeal to the Great Spirit” statue at the Huntington entrance. (Photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times)

You love art. When and where did that start? In school? At home? In books? For me it began when I was a kid in the 1950s and ’60s, before and during my teens. The primal scene was divided between two Boston museums where I spent a lot of time. I visited both again last week to check memory against reality and got a surprise: sometimes they match up.

I come from an art-loving family. Midwinter Saturdays, slushy and short in New England, were museum days. Our mainstays were the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, close to each other on the Fenway, a bayou-like tract of Olmsted parkland. There were early hopes that the area would attract rich residents, become chic, but it didn’t and the museums were a bit marooned there.


Holland Cotter
New York Times

Bill Greene/Globe Staff

The blue lights were flashing as the Boston Police car approached the traffic island in Copley Square. Christos Hamawi, standing by with his brushes and paints, didn’t panic. He reached for his permit.

He didn’t just have permission from the city to paint the gray electrical box outside the Westin Hotel. He had been hired for the job. Hamawi, 36, is one of about two dozen local artists brought in by the Boston Arts Commission as part of its PaintBox program.

Modeled after similar efforts in Cambridge, Somerville, and other cities, the program started slowly last year with 13 boxes but has expanded to more than 40.

“The idea is that it would deter graffiti because these boxes wouldn’t be a blank canvas,’’ said Karin Goodfellow, staff director of the commission. “But I like it not just specifically because of graffiti. My interest is more in getting local artists to create art on the streets they’re living.’’


Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority turned off the lights on the Zakim Bridge to save $5,000 a month. (Evan Richman/ Globe Staff)

When the cash-strapped Massachusetts Turnpike Authority doused the lights on the Zakim Bridge last week, it crushed a lot of spirits, not least those of Miguel Rosales.

The architect, who designed the bridge with a skirt of regal blue lights to evoke the shimmering Charles River, drove Sunday night along Interstate 93 and gazed mournfully at his creation, darkened for the first time since it opened to great fanfare in 2002. Rather than wallow in sadness, he took action. Yesterday, Rosales mailed a check for $15,000 to the authority – enough to light the bridge for three months – and urged the agency to, please, let the lights shine again, for the sake of the city.

“It just brings to life the whole structure at night,” Rosales said yesterday, adding that while he sympathized with the Turnpike Authority’s financial plight, “Turning the lights off, I don’t think it really gives the right message. I think it makes it an even more depressing situation.”

Turnpike officials, who darkened the bridge to save $5,000 a month, were surprised by Rosales’s donation, a decidedly rare gesture of charity toward an agency that has been criticized as bloated and wasteful. But, they said, it probably won’t be enough to get the lights back on.

“My initial reaction is, ‘Thank you,’ ” said Alan LeBovidge, the executive director of the authority. “And assuming he’s an upstanding guy, and assuming there’s no legal impediment not to take it, I’d say we need $45,000 more. I don’t want to turn them on, and turn them off, and turn them on, and turn them off. If we’re going to do something like that, I’d like to have a sustainable solution.”

In a recession that has seen cuts in the city schools, police department, and social services, as well as calls for higher tolls and taxes, cutting the Zakim lights was seen as a needling blow to the city’s psyche. One of Boston’s most recognizable landmarks, the bridge at night has been heralded by drivers and broadcast internationally as a backdrop for television and film.

“To me, it’s a source of inspiration, and I always felt like it gave me so much satisfaction,” said Rosales, a 48-year-old Beacon Hill resident who passes the bridge on his runs along the Esplanade.

On Wednesday, Rosales was in Portland, Ore., working on his latest project, a bridge over the Willamette River, when he learned, in an e-mail from a friend, that the Turnpike Authority, facing insolvency, was cutting the Zakim lights. “I was very sad,” Rosales said. “It was very disappointing.”

Back in Boston, Rosales drove on Interstate 93 Sunday night to look at the bridge, illuminated only by its required aircraft warning lights. The bridge, he said, “had lost its appeal.”

“This was the first cable-stay in New England,” Rosales said. “No one had a bridge like this. And it was supposed to be an icon for the city.”

Rosales called the lighting “an integral part of the design” that was “carefully planned to highlight the bridge as an important gateway to the city of Boston.” And he said he hoped his donation would inspire more donations.

Plenty of others welcomed the idea. “It’s incredibly generous of him,” said Frederick P. Salvucci, the former state transportation secretary who was instrumental in overseeing the Big Dig. He called Rosales’s donation “really uplifting.”

“What’s the saying? Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle?” Salvucci said. “Maybe this is the candle we need. I was really moved to see it.”

LeBovidge, however, was not. With the turnpike buried under $2.2 billion in long-term debt, he said, the authority cannot afford to pay for decorative lights.

“It’s all about money,” LeBovidge said. “I’ve gotten calls from people saying, ‘Are you doing this to bamboozle us?’ But this is not a coordinated, Machiavellian anything. Maybe people have missed it: The Turnpike is having financial problems and revenues are down.”

Michael Levenson
<a href=””>Boston Globe