Harbor Arts: A Little Known Gem

By Bridgit Brown

Caption: James Fuhrman’s Sea Change – See Change at East Boston’s HarborArts. Photo: Arthur R. Smith

On a very chilly December afternoon, perhaps one of the coldest days of 2011, fellow Guest Street curator Arthur Smith and I ventured over to the Boston Harbor Shipyard to see Hazards of Modern Living, an outdoor exhibit made possible by HarborArts, Inc. If you can stand the cold, take a winter visit to check out this eco-friendly art stop. As for me, there’s a magnificent stony ball there called “Apogee” by the stone sculptor Karl Saliter that I would like to see again, but not until it gets a bit warmer.

HarborArts is an ambitious nonprofit that started in the late nineties, and uses art to raise awareness of environmental issues. Funded through grants and donations, its goal is to transform the city’s waterfronts into people-friendly outdoor art galleries.
In 2009, HarborArts put out an international request for existing and new ideas for large-scale sculptures that would raise public awareness about marine conservation and would be displayed at the East Boston shipyard site. Nearly 60 artists responded to the call. Randi Hopkins, Associate Curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, juried the selection process and 30 projects were chosen in the end. In 2010, The Urban Arts Institute helped to install the first 9 works of art, no mean feat given that some objects had to be moved across the harbor. To date, there are 27 works on display, and space is available for four more.

The Cod Fish by Steve Israel and the HarborArts team. Photo by Arthur R. Smith

The biggest catch is the forty-foot sculpture, “The Cod Fish," which sits on top of a warehouse. It’s made from 5,000 pounds of repurposed sheet metal joined together with 20,000 pieces of wire, nuts, bolts, and sprinkler pipes. It is wired to be illuminated at night—too cold for me to stick around to see, but this work, by HarborArts founder and chairman Steve Israel and others, has a 100-watt solar panel and is sufficiently arresting by the light of day. Remarkable in size and location—apparently it cut quite a figure during its swim to its current home. “The Cod Fish" is also a reminder of what’s happening in our oceans, waterways, and marine communities. Did you know that due to over fishing, Atlantic Cod is a threatened species and is on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List? The IUCN is widely recognized throughout the world for its work drawing attention to the status of plants and animal species.

After strolling another 150 feet or so, we encountered a larger-than-life sized clover-colored cleaver called “Fiddler.” Created by the sculptor Robert Craig, this piece, like the cod, is magnificently constructed. Slim, smooth and sleek , Fiddler is humungous! For me, it is a reminder of the commercial fishing industry’s use of automated cutting machines versus hand cutting tools. What is automation’s role in the life of the ocean? In his statement, Craig explains that he is drawn to common objects and has an interest in how simple tools have become artifacts in our technologically driven world. I guess art is in the eye of the beholder; Arthur just thought it was a big knife!

Trace O'Connor’s “Iscariot” Photo: Arthur R. Smith

Another stunner is Iscariot, the nine-legged she-squid by North Carolina artist Trace O’Conner. All 31 feet of the sculpture sits on another building in the shipyard. She is made of reclaimed and recycled steel, pipe and light poles. Up close, her many tentacles dangle from the top of the building, like a gigantic squiggly in a classic monster flick; her face defiantly takes in the harbor, perhaps before swimming across to devour downtown! Previous to the HarborArts installation, Iscariot was the first prize honoree in the 2009-2010 Rosen Outdoor Sculpture Competition.

Guest Street Curator Bridgit Brown by one of the “Hazards of Modern Living” plates. Photo: Arthur R. Smith

“The Hazards of Modern Living” is the exhibit that first brought us to HarborArts, as well as its most recent piece. The installation consists of plates, subtly dispersed throughout the yard. At first they seem to be ordinary yellow caution signs. But take a second look and you realize that you are being forewarned about stepping into “deep water” or getting stabbed in the back – with a fork. Created by local artist, Gary Duehr, there are 12 original plates to the work. The artist cites the post 9/11 culture of fear as a theme; Duehr's response has a light touch and keeps you thinking.

Another plate from Gary Duehr’s “Hazards of Modern Living” Photo: Arthur R. Smith

There are only six plates on display in the shipyard right now and I found myself wishing there were more. As it turns out, there are more examples from Duehr's piece online, at the Berlin-based fine arts consulting firm, Gray Projects.

That’s our quick tour of a hidden gem in East Boston; it's definitely worth a return visit, but we’ll wait for spring!

Visiting Information:

Shipyard Sculpture Gallery
256 Marginal Street, East Boston, MA 02128
Hours: Mon-Fri, 3:30 p.m.—sunset, Sat.—Sun., 9 a.m.—sunset.
Cost: FREE!!


About the Author
Bridgit Brown Bridgit Brown
Bridgit Brown is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Emerson College ('98). She was a Fulbright Lecturing and Research Scholar in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and her writing has appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, Bay State Banner, Color Magazine, BasicBlack.org: Black Perspectives Now, Colorlines of Architecture, Exhale Magazine, Ibbetson Street Magazine, and Somerville Review.


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