Haymarket art hauled off with no warning

Artist’s bronze ‘garbage’ sculptures removed amid roadwork

WITH NO NOTICE to the artist, a groundbreaking work of public art was ripped out of the ground in Boston’s Haymarket last Thursday and carted off.

The art consists of bronze depictions of some of the castoff scraps from the city’s long-running pushcart marketplace – green beans, lettuce, newspapers.  A contractor working on crosswalks for the state Department of Transportation tore up the roadway, including the bronze artwork, and hauled it off.

“I don’t know where it’s gone,” said Mags Harries, the sculptor.

Officials at the Department of Transportation, which is having work done on the sidewalks and crosswalks to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, acknowledged on Wednesday that the art was removed but didn’t say where it was taken.

Harries originally installed her sculpture in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration.  It’s titled Asaroton, and it references a style of Roman mosaic that depicts the detritus from feasts on tile floors. Harries said that Boston powerbrokers were aghast four decades ago when her sculpture of garbage was selected, but Harries said it was not meant to be disparaging, but rather a tribute to the market, and a snapshot of the era as seen through what is discarded.

“What happened to my art?” asked Mark Jaquith, a Cambridge resident who works nearby the installation and noticed Tuesday that it had been torn up. “I thought it was one of the awesomest things. Where else are you going to get a memorial to garbage that’s actually historically significant?”

A bronze glove is one of the few remaining bits of public art remaining in a street-crossing that was torn up and replaced by MassDOT. (Photo by Andy Metzger)

Haymarket is open for business on Fridays and Saturdays. Nestled between City Hall and the North End, it is a free-wheeling, cash-operated, open-air market with bargain-basement prices on fruit, vegetables, and fish.

“I loved the Haymarket. I went there every Saturday – got my rotten fruit,” said Harries, who said her sculpture was the city’s “first site-specific” sculpture.

About a decade and a half after the sculpture was first installed, it had to be removed to make room for construction of the Big Dig highway tunnel project. For about 10 years, the sculptures were displayed at the Museum of Science. Harries now owns those old pieces of bronze from the first installation, she said.

In 2006, after the new highway tunnel opened, new bronze sculptures were embedded in the cement around the Haymarket site, but Harries said it was a “shoddy job,” and the pieces took more wear and tear than she had hoped.

Harries said she had known for some time that the sculptures would eventually be removed again for roadwork, but she expected to be notified when it happened.

“There were a few pieces I wanted to keep,” she said.

Working with the developer of a Haymarket hotel, Harries plans to install new replacements next fall, and she said the new location will be an upgrade. The new sculptures are finished and in storage.

The new Haymarket hotel is a six-story Canopy by Hilton that will provide some amenities – water, power, and trash-service – to the pushcart vendors, according to Yvette Tetreault of CV Properties, one of the developers. The site of the hotel is one of the last parcels left over from the Big Dig, and Tetreault said construction should begin in a couple weeks with the hotel expected to open in the spring of 2021.

Until last Thursday, Sept. 26, the bronze statutes were located in two locations, on Blackstone Street and on nearby Hanover Street, according to Tetreault. Someone working for MassDOT ripped up nearly all of the installation on Hanover, but the artwork on Blackstone is still there.

MassDOT didn’t say who it hired to do the work, but officials said they knew the artist had already recast the artwork. State officials said the artwork embedded in the sidewalk is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the new artwork will be installed next to a crosswalk on Blackstone Street.

Jon Calleva, owner of JPC Masonry, said he is a subcontractor doing work reinstalling bricks on a sidewalk nearby but he was not involved in removing the artwork.

Neither Harries nor Tetreault know where the chunks of art-embedded street were taken. “It would be great to find out,” said Harries. Apart from the sculptures’ artistic value, “the scrap value of the bronze is huge,” Harries said.

As the aphorism goes, one person’s trash is another’s treasure. Although she is not happy about how the artwork was ripped up without any notice to her, Harries said she put it in the street for a reason.

Meet the Author

Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

“It’s very hard with public art because you put it out there, and it gets the abuse. And I chose to put it in the street,” said Harries. “I think it’s important to think about history as burnishing over time. And I really had wanted the piece to get more abstracted over time and be worn away by car tires and people’s feet. It’s really a commentary on how we perceive history, but also a celebration of the place.”