Worst Public Art Manifesto No. 1

We at The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research would like to explain a bit more about our thinking as we seek nominations for the Worst Public Art in New England and organize a movement to get it removed:

We believe long-term public art has a greater responsibility to the community, to the public, than regular gallery art. Gallery art can afford to be more crazy, acid, painful, antisocial, or just plain bad because our experience of it is temporary. But long-term public art, like architecture, is something we have to live with. And usually we, the public, have no say over what public art or architecture we have to live with. That does not mean we want public art or architecture with no teeth (bland saccharine toothless stuff is one of the major failings of public art), but that it generally should be a companionable beast.

A key aspect of public art that is often left out is the public. Usually the public is not involved in choosing public art; that decision is given to small committees or individuals or private businesses. Individuals or small groups are often best for selecting great art, so we’re not trying to change the selection process.

We also believe that public art – even works we hate – should be given a chance. Years. Sometimes it takes a while for something to grow on you. Sometimes it takes a while just to figure something out. Sometimes something that looked cool at first becomes trite. Or it breaks down.

But we believe that after giving public art a fair shot, the public has the right to impeach bad public art. We don’t mean for bad public art to be destroyed. Just removed. Perhaps some other community would benefit from some quality time with it. And new public art should take the place of the impeached work.

So we ask you for your nominations of the Worst Public Art in New England. Please e-mail us your choice – preferably with photos – of the worst of the worst. We’ll share the nominations at The New England Journal of Aesthetic Research – and then select one work that is particularly lousy. And launch a campaign to have it removed. Please join us in this noble democratic effort.

Nominations so far:
We nominate the terrible benches (pictured above) at Boston’s Downtown Crossing T stop.
Edgar Beem nominates the worst public art in Portland.

14 Responses to “Worst Public Art Manifesto No. 1”

  1. B says:

    The creepy hands at Park Street Station


    (photo is not mine)

  2. Meaghan says:

    The whale billboard off 93 at the border of the south end and southie!

  3. christian says:

    this god awful pastel, fiberglass gator knot dumped by the back steps of the UMass Boston campus.


  4. Whit says:

    There is no question here. The worst piece of public ‘art’ in Boston, the most simple-minded, facile, maudlin, utterly appalling and embarrassing piece of garbage of all time would be the Potato Famine Monument in front of the Borders Bookstore in Downtown Crossing. Anyway, I think that’s what it’s called. I can’t be rarfed to Google it.

    What is is about this pile of crap that is so awful? There is something about those really fat healthy looking Irish people who made it here glancing half-heartedly back at the skinny rag-wearing Irish people back in Ye Olde Potatoe Famine Ireland that really grosses me out. Also, it is poorly executed and ugly. Social Realism? Really? This could as easily have been thrown up in some square in East Germany in 1962. The tourists love it, however, so it’s not going anywhere fast.

  5. anonymous says:

    Do the ghastly baby heads outside the MFA count?

    If not, what about the creepy picture of Mayor Collins on the side of Boston City Hall? It’s not only bad in its own right, and completely out of place (though I suppose there’s not much that could make City Hall uglier), but it’s like something out of 1984, or the USSR.

  6. Kate says:

    davis square has both my favorite and least favorite public art pieces–the child-designed tiles in the T station (favorite) and the creepy masked statues scattered around the square (horrible). why are they masked? after years and years of hanging out in davis, i STILL jump a bit when i see one out of the corner of my eye and think there’s a person there. seriously, they are the worst. some people seem to think they’re cute and take pictures with them, but i would really love to see them replaced with something a little less creepy-clownish.

  7. Whit says:

    The whale mural was cool 10 years ago, but I guess they repainted it and put a very cheesy border around it. It has been a landmark for a long time–it is too bad they destroyed it.

  8. Eric says:

    Here’s one that’s always mystified me, the bronze outside the former Taft School in Brighton (now Another Course to College). It took me years to figure out he was not a guy having a fight with a very weird snake.

  9. anuddermous says:

    I totally agree with anonymous at 2:44. That Irish potato famine thing is the most cringing thing I have seen in New England. Makes you want to wave your hands and scream, “I get it! I get it! Just stop!”

    But it’s also true that it’s not going anywhere. I mean, what, are you in favor of the Potato Famine or something, I mean, why would you want to take that down?

  10. CB says:

    This thing: http://cambridge.ma.povo.com/Image:IMG_1186
    in Porter Square (apparently it’s called the “Gift of the Wind”). I like the idea of a kinetic sculpture, but this just looks weathered and faded now, and it creaks eerily in the breeze. Why not put an actual wind turbine there and power something nearby (lights in the adjacent T station perhaps?).

  11. Nathan says:

    Worst: The chess/checker board right in front of the gates in Chinatown–it’s completely arbitrary and easy to overlook. I can just imagine the Rose Kennedy Greenway project managers and Big Dig hacks stewing over this great breakthrough.

    Favorite: Daniel Chester French’s “Death Staying the Hand of The Sculptor” in Forest Hills Cemetery

  12. donna dodson says:

    I like Ralph Helmick’s hand in the park street station, Luis Jimenez’s alligators at UMASS, ‘night and day’ the big baby heads by Antonio Lopez Garcia at the MFA, Cast Fondu Cement Figures by James Tyler in Davis Square and Shingu’s sculpture at Porter Square but the Harold Connolly memorial is new to me. I dont think I’ve ever seen it. the whale mural is a bit tired. thanks for provoking this discussion.

  13. Jim says:

    Hope you will next extensively vet some of the nominations with the public before advocating removal.

    Please remember public art often becomes part of the public identity the longer it is in place. After an initial chuckle, I too came to hate the Davis Square Mime statues. But then my children began to interact with them; we took lots of fun photos of them over the years; and I learned to really appreciate them as a tactile art form. It would be a shock to not have them there anymore.

  14. [...] New England Journal of Aesthetic Research is accepting nominations for the worst public art in New England. [W]e believe that after giving public art a [...]