Haymarket artwork mystery solved

Sculptures safely stored, dinged up a bit

THE MYSTERY OF the missing public artwork at Haymarket is solved: It was dug up by a contractor, but it’s now safely stored nearby and state officials plan to contact the artist to determine what should be done with it.

Mags Harries, the sculptor, was kept in the dark for more than a week after the public art was jackhammered out of the ground, and she was pleased to learn Friday that her sculptures weren’t trashed.

For years, the artwork titled Asaroton had been part of the streetscape in the area a couple blocks from City Hall that is host to a pushcart market for discounted fruit, vegetables, and fish on Fridays and Saturdays. The work consists of pieces of bronze sculptures in the shape of the detritus of the time and place – a piece of lettuce, the plastic rings of a six-pack, a comb. Harries said the work, which was first installed in 1976, was inspired by Roman mosaics depicting the scraps of food that would be tossed on the ground during a feast.

The installation had been removed in the early 1990s to make way for the Big Dig, and then a new version was installed in roughly the same location in 2006 once the highway tunnel project had been substantially completed. Harries has already made new sculptures for the third installation of the public artwork, which is being done with the support of a hotel developer constructing a six-story Canopy by Hilton on one of the last remaining parcels left over from the Big Dig.

Separate from that hotel project, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation paid contractor A.R. Belli $3.6 million to fix up the sidewalks across the street from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to bring them into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The contract called for the construction crew to “R&S,” or remove and stack, the bronze pieces, and that’s what A.R. Belli did.

“Normally if you have something on a job that’s of historical significance, there’s a lot more detail as far as handling them and everything. This was just a note to remove them and stack them,” said Bill Keaveney, general manager of the construction firm, who said he is now curious about the significance of the pieces. “We’ll keep them until told what to do with them.”

Plans in a contract provided by MassDOT direct workers to “R&S” or remove and stack the bronze artwork.

The crew used jackhammers and saws to pry the bronze pieces from the hardtop, and they are currently stored in buckets toward the back of a storage container cluttered with other stuff. The container is sitting on a sidewalk less than a block away from where the pieces were removed.

The work crew removed nearly all of the bronze sculptures in one spot on Hanover Street, but at the installation’s second location on Blackstone Street, the bronze pieces are still in the ground.

A couple of the dug-up pieces were “dinged up,” said Keaveney. “I think there was a couple that got twisted a little bit. You have to understand these were embedded in a hardscape product, so it’s not like you’re just taking them up with tweezers. We did the best we could.”

According to the hotel developer, the artwork was removed on September 26, and Keaveney said that timeline sounded pretty accurate, but he said the work took place over a number of days.

Earlier this week MassDOT acknowledged that a contractor had removed the artwork as part of the sidewalk upgrade, but officials wouldn’t say who had been hired to do the work or where the pieces wound up. MassDOT provided the name of the contractor on Thursday.

“MassDOT has asked: ‘Do we have them? Where are they? Are they in your lockbox? Can you send us a photo?’” Keaveney said. “We’ve actually written back to them asking for direction on where they want them to go because at this point we’d just as soon pass them off to somebody else.”

The disappearance of the artwork surprised the artist and dismayed passersby who appreciated the bronze sculptures of discarded food scraps and trash.

“It’s sad. It was a piece of history,” said Emily Robertson, who used to work in the area.

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 not a place where you normally see artwork,” said Amanda Quinlan, who lives nearby in the North End. “It’s really disappointing.”

A spokesman for the state Department of Transportation said Harries will be contacted to determine what should be done with the artwork. “No one’s called me,” Harries said Friday. “They do have an obligation to contact me.”