Offering a ‘Proposal’ at City Hall

Azra Akšamija’s “Palimpsest of ’89”

By Cate McQuaid Globe Correspondent 

‘A Summer Proposal” sounds like a rom-com title: Here’s the daffy tale of a hard-edged modernist space and art that tries hard to fit in.

The exhibition at City Hall, organized by Paul C. Ha, director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, features work from a terrific slate of artists responding to the building’s architecture.


Modern architecture with a monumental bent can pose special challenges to exhibiting art. Here those include brick walls and an open layout that discourages quiet communion. The art struggles. Still, Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Arts and Culture chief Julie Burros deserve credit for raising the quality of exhibitions at City Hall.

Azra Akšamija’s “Palimpsest of ’89” responds eloquently to its site. It’s on a level down from the Scollay Square Gallery, on a concrete cube jutting out between two Auditing Department windows. Folded white fabric lies atop the cube, where a video unspools of brilliant carpet patterns being woven, altered, and erased.

It’s soft, intimate, and mesmerizing amid City’s Hall’s profusion of brick and concrete. The Sarajevan artist’s patterns refer to Yugoslavia, but what their evolution represents can be applied anywhere. The piece considers how a place’s history and culture are written over with time’s passage.

Mark Cooper’s formally mischievous “Beacon,” a wooden sculpture filled with cubbies, is all serpentine curves. Its three-dimensional grid hums in tune with its modernist surroundings, yet the piece takes the curvy shape of a sea monster — or a boat, as he suggests in his artist’s statement, carrying immigrants to Boston.

Two wonderful video installations — Mary Ellen Strom’s “nowhere and everywhere” and Deb Todd Wheeler’s “Bathtub Cinema June 2017” appear aimed at taking us away from it all with watery, glimmering visions. The video Wheeler screens in her bathtub, though, has a wry lesson about adapting. If you’re at City Hall to pay a parking fine or untangle red tape, it may be the art for you.



At Scollay Square Gallery, Boston City Hall, 1 City Hall Square, through Aug. 18. 617-635-3914,

Cate McQuaid can be reached at
Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.