February 2, 2024 Never Lose He(art)
When HBI was asked earlier this month to host one of 19 pieces of public art planned for Downtown Boston as part of the Winteractive Festival hosted by the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), we enthusiastically supported the idea. The installation, The Fisherman, by American artist Mark Jenkins, is a lifesize sculpture of a man dressed in black who sits at the cornice of a the Old Corner Bookstore. Yes, the Fisherman is fishing. He holds a fishing rod, and his bait? A big red heart.
The BID installed the sculpture on the gambrel edge of the 1718 Old Corner Bookstore so that the fisherman’s legs and fishing rod hung over the edge of the historic building. We watched as the BID’s team installed the sculpture late in the day on Friday – so late that it was at day’s end and we were not able to take a clear photo of it because of the darkness. Its placement on the historic building, though, added a layer of contrast between the old and the new, the static and the dynamic.
We were worried about that weekend’s weather but otherwise looked forward to photographing the heart-hooker on Monday.
On Saturday morning, HBI was told that the Boston Fire Department had removed the sculpture after a concerned pedestrian called 911 to report a man sitting on the roof in the darkness Friday night. The installation, though not a safety hazard in itself, had caused public concern. To prevent further misunderstandings, the Fire Department made the difficult decision to remove “The Fisherman” from the Old Corner Bookstore. This was surprising since the BID had coordinated all its permitting with the City.
The removal sparked a range of reactions in the media. Some lamented the loss of a thought-provoking piece of art, while others breathed a sigh of relief (public art can do that!). HBI understands the fire department’s concerns, but can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. We know that not everyone shares the same enthusiasm for modern public art, yet we remain committed to a goal of promoting cultural activity that underscores the juxtaposition of the past and the future through initiatives like Winteractive.
The Fisherman was moved to the cantilevered entry to Macy’s and will be there until mid-April. This incident serves as a poignant reminder of the unpredictable nature of public art at the same time that it highlights how art in public spaces can engage, challenge, and sometimes even bewilder its audience. For HBI and the Old Corner Bookstore, this incident reinforced our belief in the importance of fostering curiosity, especially in a place as historically and culturally rich a place as Downtown Boston.