John Hancock Art Installation




I’ll admit that I initially thought it was simply a window washer, suspended from the John Hancock Tower, Boston’s loftiest building at seven-hundred and ninety feet.

However, my shifty vision was not to be trusted, and when I was again confronted by this mysterious sight, this time with my glasses on, I came to realize that it was in fact not a window washer, but rather a newly installed public art piece.


Truly, it is hard to miss. If you’ve been in the Back Bay, and by chance you happen to take an upwards glance, you too have more than likely been momentarily puzzled by this recent addition. Truth be told, it still takes me by surprise when I catch a glance of it out of the corner of my eye.


There’s no wall label to reference that might tell you what’s being depicted, who the artist behind it is, or what the medium might even be. Consider this post your wall label.


It’s a black and white mural that spans the windows of a few floors towards the top of the iconic Hancock building that we see in every skyline photo of Boston. It stands out against the building, which typically reflects blue skies, dark nights, and now more so than ever (since winter is fast approaching), those hopelessly gray and perpetually gloomy days.


From pure observation (enhanced of course by zoomed in photos), what I see is a figure on a platform of sorts. I’ve drawn the conclusion that it’s perhaps a dock of some kind, mostly because of the ladder that extends downwards from the side of it, fading away into the building’s constantly changing facade. Perhaps the artist has envisioned the building’s mercurial surface as something that the figure is climbing out of or leaping into. It could be water, it could be clouds, or it could be darkness.


Personally, I think the use of the Hancock building is ingenious, and I believe it is for this exact reason that the Hancock was deemed a suitable surface. The backdrop is constantly changing, always shifting. I can’t see myself getting tired of the mural when it’s different every time that I see it, all thanks to the mirroring panels that line the building.


The artist behind it is indeed as aloof as the mural. JR is his sobriquet. He’s a French street artist but prefers to refer to himself as a photographer. Oh, and his identity is actually unconfirmed. He likes to keep this constant air of anonymity around him.


The elusive JR is in no way new to the street art scene, either. Boston is only his latest canvas. In the past, he’s done similar enormous black and white “photographs” in the streets of cities like Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, and Shanghai. He tends to paste people, mostly focusing on faces and eyes, on the walls of not only business, but houses as well.


Now what does this mean for Boston? In all honesty, I’ve never thought of Boston as having an extremely vibrant art scene, like New York or LA. But with this new installation from an internationally renowned street artist, I’m starting to see the city in a new light.


Boston is establishing its own unique art scene, clearly incorporating art into daily life and culture with each passing day. For a few months now, we’ve had the privilege of seeing murals and sculptures popping up all over the city, like Janet Echelman’s enormous web sculpture flitting in the wind over the Greenway. Perhaps it will encourage the more creative, those who seek artistic settings in daily life, to flock to Boston, or even remain here if there is where they’ve grown up.


It’s clear to me what Boston’s latest installation is indicative of: the city’s art scene is becoming more and more prominent with each mural and sculpture that’s commissioned. And I for one am excited to see what’s next. Boston’s unique art scene seems to be on the rise, that’s for sure.

Text: Leo Gearin
Visual: bostonmagazine.com
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