How to make the Green Line beautiful
How much has Greater Boston broadened its horizons? Thirty-five years ago, when the MBTA began installing art in Red Line stations, the region set many of the standards for incorporating public art into transit systems still used today. New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles all followed suit. Locally, though, it’s now residents who are pushing for cutting-edge art on the planned Green Line extension into Cambridge and Somerville.
The selections, which the T is expected to announce April 1, provide an opportunity to pick artists who will bring beauty to the stations — and also to put forward a fresher face on Boston for visitors arriving by T.
The last major round of public art in stations, the highly regarded “Arts on the Line” initiative in the late 1970s and 1980s, produced some memorable pieces, like Susumu Shingu’s 46-foot red-winged “Gift of the Wind” in Porter Square. But it wasn’t necessarily the T’s idea — funding for the art installations was required by the state and supplied by federal grants. As those monies dried up in the 1990s, the program floundered.
But in December, with Green Line plans advancing, state Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey announced the T will again solicit art for stations, with a budget of $225,000. Artists this time won’t create pieces of art but instead have a hand in designing construction features, such as fencing, tile work, and windscreens. Dozens of sculptors, painters, architects, and graphic designers applied.
The Globe asked the 10 artists who made the final cut for an example of the kind of work they would install (nine responded) — and art, urban planning, and transportation critics to weigh in on how those works could enrich the city.
Mimi Graney, executive director, Union Square Main Streets
Valerie Fletcher, executive director, Institute for Human Centered Design
Judith Klausner, curator, Union Square’s Mµseum
JK: Lyman’s work certainly has a lovely fluidity and movement. I do wonder how it’ll connect with the geographic surrounding if she sticks with the water theme, but the sense of movement is fitting for a transportation hub.
MG: By including figures on the move —
VF: Lyman’s painterly treatment has added a welcome vitality to the T’s Water Shuttle Terminal. Could it work in our landlocked neighborhoods like Somerville and Medford?
About the artist: Mela Lyman is an artist working and residing in Cambridge, and teaching at Tufts University through the School of Museum of Fine Arts. Her work can be seen locally at the Water Shuttle Terminal at Boston Logan Airport and at Paine Park in Cambridge. She has teamed up for her Green Line proposal with Kinga Borondy, a Somerville resident and former crime reporter for The Star-Ledger in Newark.
VF: The visual lightness and curves of the floating perforated metal shapes appeal and could likely survive the inevitable dirt of the MBTA.
JK: Selvage’s renderings feel a little generic. I’d hope for art that is more tied to the vibrant community, full of history, that it inhabits.
MG: The Green Line extension will layer modes of transit as a pedestrian and cyclist path parallel the train corridor. Selvage’s work in perforated sheet metal is similarly layered. Its transparency will define the space while still allowing viewers to see the other passageways in intimately sized stations.
About the artist: Nancy Selvage exhibits her work at Boston Sculptors Gallery and in numerous national and international venues. Clients for large public art commissions include the City of Lowell and the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts; Keene State College, New Hampshire; the National Park Service, Grand Canyon; and the North Carolina Zoo. Selvage has served as the director of the ceramics program at Harvard University and as a guest instructor at the Massachusetts College of Art, Ewha University in Seoul, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and Rhode Island School of Design. As an honorary professor at Tohoku University, Japan, she has contributed an artistic and scientific perspective to a variety of interdisciplinary, international conferences.
JK: I find Thurston’s work instantly compelling. I love how it reflects the tension between nature and human construction, bringing to mind both a tangle of life-filled vines silhouetted against the sky and an intricate wrought-iron fence.
VF: Thurston’s beautiful black floral silhouettes offer a bold but gentle invitation to contemplation in the unlikely environs of the MBTA.
MG: Thurston’s intricately cut shapes displayed in a symmetrical design can, at first, evoke the original wallpaper in one of Somerville’s Victorian homes. Look closer, though, and there’s a richness as your eye identifies each object. Even on the 100th visit to the station, that kind of detail leaves lots to discover.
About the artist: Randal Thurston is a longtime Somerville resident whose work is exhibited in many public and private collections, most notably at the Museum of Fine Arts and the DeCordova Museum. Thurston has created large-scale installations at Otis College in Los Angeles; the Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wis.; and, most recently, at the Fitchburg Art Museum. He is also an associate professor at The New England School of Art and Design at Suffolk University.
VF: Lucking’s extensive experience in public transit art clearly shows. One can see her big curving forms becoming identity icons of beloved stations.
MG : The new stations will redefine Somerville’s squares that, with the loss of the train from long ago, have become blurred. You’ll know you’ve arrived somewhere when you see one of Lucking's gateways. And, by including iconography, her pieces tell the story of each station’s location.
JK: Mary Lucking’s work feels like giant woodblock prints pulled off of the paper, allowing us to inhabit a space usually reserved for the wanderings of our imaginations.
About the artist: Mary Lucking makes art for pedestrian spaces like parks and transit stops, using a wide range of media to reflect each place’s unique character. Lucking is now based in Phoenix, Ariz., but as a former Union Square resident and bus rider, she is especially excited about the Green Line’s new stations.
MG: The textures in Trimble’s work soften his modern designs with an organic feel. This balance is similar to the promise of the Green Line extension itself — a bold step forward while sticking to the neighborhood character around each station.
JK: While there is something visually satisfying about a fluid form created with a rigid material, the work does seem a bit corporate. It’s a technique that does lend itself well to an architectural application, but the new stations need more personality.
VF: We’ve seen and loved Trimble’s sensuous wood curves in interior environments. If they’re designed to survive outdoors, make them good to touch.
About the artist: Matt Trimble founded Radlab, a Boston-based multidisciplinary design and fabrication firm, in 2008. He has a diverse range of experience working and consulting in the field of architecture, and also served as a partner and director of technology and design for Ispace, LLC, a Boston-based product development company. Trimble has taught seminars, workshops, and studios for both graduate and undergraduate students at the Boston Architectural College, the Wentworth Institute of Technology, and the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala City. He currently teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.
MG: Somerville was once the home of the famous Union Glass Company before it moved to Corning, N.Y., and renamed itself. Featuring glass by local artist would be a nice nod to this history.
VF: Lichtman describes the goal of her art to “apply a human touch to an architectural scale” — a worthy aspiration for public transit art. But I’d welcome colors that would warm chilled passengers.
JK: Her work skews towards the decorative arts, but I have a hard time connecting with it. The designs remind me too much of early computer graphics programs (though arrived at in a very different way).
About the artist: For the last decade, Linda Lichtman’s work has focused on public art, creating unique site-specific works for civic buildings, hospitals, universities, and transportation systems. Her ongoing projects include glass paintings, most of which are now in public and private collections in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Japan.
MG: Authentic urban life has a gritty beauty. Asselin’s work gives appreciation to this part of the city.
VF: Asselin is an entrant with existing MBTA art – fabulous fish and welcome vivid color at the World Trade Center station. What imagery would work in these very different environments, though, and resonate in Somerville and Medford?
JK: Movement has great potential to startle people out of their own heads and bring them actively into the now. Asselin’s piece on the Silver Line catches my eye every time I’m there.
About the artist: Jason Asselin is an artist and teacher who has been making art in Massachusetts since 2001. He is currently teaching art at Salem State University and Cambridge Center for Adult Education.
JK: Redmond’s favored technique of wall-mounted, three-dimensional patterns has the potential to blend itself seamlessly into new stations. The work definitely leans heavily towards the decorative arts end of the spectrum, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
VF: These glazed ceramic sculptures resonate with the curiously tenacious style of the 1940s and ’50s that still pokes through in Somerville and Medford.
MG: Redmond’s work has a bold aesthetic with just the right sort of Somerville quirk. Hers won’t be your mama’s subway tiles.
About the artist: A graduate if Rhode Island School of Design, Jeanée Redmond has lived in Cambridge and kept a studio in Somerville for 30 years. Her work is primarily ceramic sculpture, applying intricately glazed images of science, nature, and language, and by grouping many pieces together, Redmond has used pattern, color, and narrative to produce large, three-dimensional wall murals.
MG: Public art in transit stations needs to tell a story — of the people passing through, of the neighborhood it’s in, of movement, of play. Phillips’s pieces don’t facilitate that community engagement.
VF: Phillips is an artist whose work we love but whose name we don’t know. His statues in Charlestown, the Seaport District, and Cambridge are enduring talismans — what city wouldn’t want more?
JK: Phillips’s art harkens back to the style of New Deal public works. Given that the era was a heyday for integrating art into public facilities, it seems like a fitting nod for the new T stations.
About the artist: David Phillips lives in Cambridge and has his studio in Medford. He is an award-winning sculptor specializing in stone and metal.