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Public art on UMass campus draws 311 complaint

A well-known work of art on the UMass campus was mistaken for scrap metal.
A well-known work of art on the UMass campus was mistaken for scrap metal.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/Globe Staff

It must be true what they say: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

According to BOS311, the city’s online tool used to notify officials about trash, graffiti, and other bothersome neighborhood problems, someone reported this week that a large piece of scrap metal had been abandoned near the University of Massachusetts Boston campus.

“Big piece [of] scrap metal left on side of road. Looks like the prop may be from a possible shipwreck,” the person wrote, sharing a picture of the object to the mobile-based constituent service app. “Hope everyone is okay!”

Turns out, however, that large piece of yellow “scrap metal” was left behind on purpose, and it didn’t come from a ship — it’s a well-known (to some) work of art that has long been on the school’s grounds.

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DeWayne Lehman, a UMass spokesman, said in an e-mail that the metal artwork, called “Sunflowers for Vincent,” has been around since the fall of 2011. The piece was created by abstract expressionist sculptor Mark di Suvero. It was inspired by painter Vincent van Gogh.

The person who lodged the complaint apparently didn’t understand modern art — or didn’t have any love for this particular sculpture.

Lehman said he leans toward the complaint being more of a “spoof,” though it’s hard to tell.

“It is composed of various parts of things, but nicely painted,” he said in an e-mail. “I’ve never heard anyone mistaking it for trash.”

“Sunflowers” is roughly 10 feet tall, and 30 feet long. The structure is made from steel beams and tubes, and is painted a bright yellow color that stands in sharp contrast against a blue sky. It also has a large propeller on the back, which may have been what confused the person who reported it as scrap.

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The object is part of the school’s “Arts on the Point” collection, which, according to UMass Boston’s website, includes “works by some of the most important sculptors of the 20th and 21st centuries.”

The various sculptures are placed around the school’s campus in relationship to their environment, the school’s website says. Each one has a plaque nearby that explains what it is. Many of the sculptures are on long-term loan to the school.

“Sunflowers” is the second di Suvero piece the school has displayed. A piece called “Huru” was on campus until 2013. It’s now on exhibit in San Francisco.

The city quickly closed the complaint, saying the case was “noted,” and alerted the BOS311 user that the sturdy, industrial-looking artwork is on UMass property, not the city’s.

“We take all requests seriously and look into all posts,” said Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s office, in an e-mail.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.