“I miss him,” Hayley Coen said as she ate lunch on the Dewey Square lawn and reminisced about “the yellow guy.” That’s the cartoonish figure on the giant mural by the Brazilian twins known as Os Gemeos that had framed the bustling area for the previous 14 months.
On Friday, Coen said she was relieved to see that the 5,000 square-foot wall across from South Station had a new centerpiece. At just past 2:30 p.m., the Institute of Contemporary Art finished installing an abstract seascape created by British-born artist Matthew Ritchie.
“Remanence: Salt and Light (Part II)” immediately became a hot topic.
Judy Armstrong, who works in the area, raved about the piece, calling it fabulous. She approached Ritchie, in town from New York for the installation, and thanked him.
Never mind that the work is very different from the brightly colored Os Gemeos mural. “Remanence” features just two shades of gray over a faint, blue paint.
“It’s so rich,” said Armstrong. “I can clearly distinguish the different shades.”
Sean Curran, who works at an architecture firm in Post Office Square, did not agree.
“It hasn’t left much of an impact on me,” he said. “You can tell there’s some sort of horizon, but I think [Os Gemeos] had a more positive impact.”
The ICA and Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy collaborated on the installation, which will remain up for about 18 months.
Only time will tell whether the piece will inspire the same debate as the Os Gemeos mural, installed in July 2012 by Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo. That piece sparked controversy when a local television affiliate posted an image of it and Internet commenters said the image resembled a terrorist. It also drew raves from the public. Earlier this month, fans of the mural tweeted farewell images and, in the pouring rain, hosted a “Goodbye to the Giant” gathering.
For the ICA, the buzz generated by Os Gemeos presented a challenge. How do you follow something so accessible? The answer: by commissioning a work that is almost monochromatic, by an artist who proudly creates physical representations of such theoretical principles as string theory.
Ritchie, who lives in New York, arrived last Saturday to begin the Dewey Square installation, marking the blank wall with the help of a projector. Workers, including Gloucester-based installers Tricia O’Neill and Steve Brettler, continued on lifts through the week.
Around 2:30 p.m. Friday, Richie picked up a brush to symbolically finish the final strokes of gray. He also smiled as he outlined the silhouette of a small figure he decided could represent Paul Revere. He suggested it would be fun for people to try to find the man on the horse amid the gray.
Ritchie said he was thrilled to be doing this project in Boston. He briefly attended Boston University in the 1980s, had a major show at Mass MoCA in North Adams in 2004, and will now serve as the ICA’s artist in residence.
That residency will include a multimedia performance with members of the rock bands The National and The Breeders and a video project to be put together with the ICA’s teen program and a series of concerts.
Friday, he talked about wanting to create a piece that would set him apart from Os Gemeos. The beauty of a public work, he said, is that it takes a space where thousands of people pass each day and gives them a chance to discuss art without paying to go to a museum.
“You set up this conversation,” he said. “There’s the first piece. Then I do something different. A third artist will do something different again. After five years, the citizens of Boston will be art critics.”
Although it is abstract, “Remanence” does contain a beachlike seascape on its lower section, spheres in the upper portion that resemble planets, and jagged strokes in one corner that could easily pass as birds.
With his mural surrounded by sunshine, blue skies, and the green lawn, Ritchie contemplated the change of seasons.
“On a cold winter’s day, I’m very hopeful that harbor fog color will sort of dissolve and you’ll see the drawing here hanging in space,” he said.
Observers generally said they were sad to see the Os Gemeos figure go, but eager to learn more about Ritchie’s piece.
“I was actually worried that that was it,” said Isabela Fengler, who had noticed the blank wall earlier this month. “Today I noticed this, and I was glad. It’s very different, and I want to read about it. I want to know what artist it is and know what it’s all about.”
Cynthia Peters, eating a veggie burrito from a food truck, said she appreciated how the mural works in Dewey Square
“It’s interesting with the background of all these very geometric buildings that are so stable and so upright and so square and this thing is the opposite of that,” she said. “I was just sitting here pondering how does something hold together versus not hold together. It looks like this is going to hold together.”