Commission to Remove Landwave Sculptures

The blue-and-green tiled waves alongside Peter’s Park in the South End will be no more.

After years of strife between community members of the South End and the Boston Arts Commission, the board voted 4-3 to remove the two Landwave sculptures in Peter’s Park at hearing on Tuesday, May 8.

“Deaccessioning a work of art from a permanent collection is indeed a decision that none of the commissioners take lightly,” said Chair Lynne Kortenhuas. “This is the first time that I know of we had to make a decision to remove a public artwork from the permanent collection.”

The vote did not deaccession the piece that would have formally removed it from the City’s collection, but will remove the physical structure of the Landwaves.

The Commission will work to document the piece as once being installed in their collection and work to commemorate the original landform by re-siting the plaque on site. In the future, the Commission hopes to further the original vision and concept possibly through original drawings or a virtual installation.

The sculptures couldn’t be moved elsewhere because it was commissioned as a site specific project.

“From my perspective the key is issue is one of placement,” said Julie Burros, Chief of Arts and Culture for the City of Boston. “It has become abundantly clear to me that the placement of Landwave is really in conflict with the uses in the park that are very close by. That has really exacerbated the detonation of the piece.”

The Landwaves represent the simple story of water becoming land. The sculpture sits on the site, at the corner of East Berkeley and Washington Streets, that used to be the bottleneck to downtown Boston. In the late 1800s, the marshlands were filled in by land, creating the South End.

The sculpture was installed in 2011, through the Neck Art Project, an initiative by South End residents and organizations to commission and construct a piece of artwork that marks the site of the historic neck to the Shawmut Peninsula.

But what was considered a beautiful concept in theory turned out to present many problems once installed.

Throughout the years, the sculpture has encountered a brutal beating from children attending Little League games at the baseball field adjacent to it and been used as an urban skatepark by kids on BMX bikes and skateboards.

Residents have seen many young children climbing the tall Landwaves and fall off into the glass of the broken tiles beneath it.

“This is what really saddens me; that there was an extraordinary, tremendous and very well organized community energy support to build the artwork and then there is clearly energy involved in dismantling the artwork,” said Shauna Gillies-Smith, the artist behind the Landwave. “But there was very little work or community effort, except for a few individuals, to care and maintain the artwork.”

In October 2017, the Boston Arts Commission (BAC) conducted a conservation and condition report on the Landwave. A structural report was made in April 2018 that stated the Landwave appeared stable and in good condition; however, further testing of the concrete would have to happen.

At the BAC meeting in April, staff recommended removing a wave closest to the baseball field and work with the artist to maintain the other wave using more durable and sustainable materials.

“If this were a painting, we would store it somewhere else, we would give to a museum, we would do something else with it – it would continue to have a life. This is not a painting; it is impossible to do that but, there may be other greater ways of restructuring the piece in a public way,” said Commissioner Mark Pasnik. “I do believe the piece could be restored to how it was on opening day, but I don’ think this would work with the community.”

Up next, Sarah Hutt, a resident of the South End who has been working to remove the Landwwave, said the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association and Friends of Peter’s Park will work with the upcoming restoration project of Peter’s Park to figure out what will replace it.

“We won’t just rip it out,” said Hutt. “We will do it slowly and figure out what should go there. No one has thought of it because we didn’t want to jinx it.”

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