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What Does The Mural On Boston’s Tallest Building Mean For The City?

A strange image of a man with his hands in his pockets appeared on the shiny glass windows of the former John Hancock Building in the Back Bay last week—sparking the interest of Bostonians below.

You can see the mural from the streets of Boston. You can see it from office buildings across the city. Or you can even make out the white figure on from the fifth floor of O’Neill Library.

What does it mean? Well, nobody knows.

I’ve heard guesses that the black-and-white pasting is a depiction of a naked man, a man in a bathing suit, or even the recently deceased, Hall of Fame baseball player, Yogi Berra.

I’m as confused as anyone, but I doubt that a New York Yankee would be plastered onto the western facade of the Boston’s tallest building.

The mural was installed between the 44th and 50th floors of the gleaming tower—recently renamed 200 Clarendon—and is 150 feet wide and 86 feet tall, according to The Boston Globe.

We still haven’t confirmed much about the mysterious figure, but we do know the man who created the man. A representative of Boston Properties, which owns 200 Clarendon, announced last week that the image is a work by a French artist known as JR. The street artist is known for installing massive murals on walls all over the world. JR keeps his real identity hidden, but has given TED Talks about using art to “turn the world inside out.”

JR’s latest work is perhaps the most notable example of Boston’s emergence into the public art scene.

“There is a great resurgence now in the city around public art, whether it is temporary or permanent,” said Lynne Kortenhaus, a veteran publicist who sits on the Boston Art Commission.

Kortenhaus explained that Boston is a prime target for artists to showcase their work in public. She said the city is dynamic in terms of its development and massive amounts of public green space and building construction around the city.

JR’s exhibit on the former John Hancock tower is the final piece in a series of temporary public art installations at the building, but a number of other areas have partaken in the growing trend of temporary public art in Boston.

The various murals in Dewey Square downtown, Janet Echelman’s aerial sculpture suspended over the Rose Kennedy Greenway that was created this summer, and the Illuminus installations looking to light up Lansdowne St. next month are all examples of Boston artists looking to get a little more creative in finding platforms to showcase their work.

Kortenhaus believes that the rise of public art in the city is tied with Boston’s reputation as an innovative tech community. She pointed to the integration of art, science, and technology as fuel for transforming the historic city into a well-rounded urban center. With big players like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and now real estate companies like Boston Properties getting more involved, it’s clear that Boston has artistic potential.

“The fact that the Hancock mural was commissioned is another brilliant example of creating artwork in places that sometimes in unexpected, but is also highly visible for all people to experience,” Kortenhaus said.

JR’s mural on the tallest building in the city is a bold statement that public art is here to stay. The image works as the perfect way to reel in the imaginations of thousands of people—and that’s exactly the kind of broad reach that artists like JR are looking for.

“This is really about creating a dialogue with the viewer,” Kortenhaus said. “The best compliment an artist can receive is a variety of reactions about how you experience the art when you see it.”

The mural allows us to take a step away from our daily routines and look up at the naked man—or man in a bathing suit—and contemplate its meaning.

We may never know for sure what the black-and-white image on the shiny windows of the former Hancock Tower actually means—and that’s just fine.

Let the debate continue.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic


September 30, 2015