Video Work | Photo/Installations | Documentary Projects

The New York Times, Friday, June 3, 1994
Inside Art/
A public work draws fire in Massachusetts

By Carol Vogel

A Difficult 'Crossing'
Public art never ceases to push some people's buttons. In Brookline Village, Mass., there has recently been something of an uproar over "Crossing," two altered crosswalk signals facing into the dividing triangle at Washington and Harvard Streets. The work is by Denise Marika, a local artist, and the signals project images of a mother protecting her child at a crossing.
It sounds innocent enough, but both the woman and the child are naked. The nudity is so tactfully executed that the woman's pose reveals no private parts and it is impossible to tell the sex of the child. But some local residents were up in arms when the piece was unveiled two weeks ago. Some tried to have "Crossing" removed.
"At first we got about 80 complaints from local residents, but it's dropped off," said John Harris, Brookline's director of transportation. "This was a bit more contemporary than a lot of people around here are comfortable with. They don't believe public nudity belongs in the streets."
Mr. Harris said he became involved in the project to make sure the artist's traffic signals wouldn't be mistaken for the real thing. "The two can't be confused," he said. "These face away from the street. They are also painted in a different color. " The metal shells for the signals are white rather than black.
Still, some residents are confused. "Some people thought it showed a nude man tussling with a nude child," said Doug Rodman, a resident of Brookline Village, who owns a nearby liquor store. "It's very out of character for Brookline. There's a time and place for everything, and this belongs in an art gallery, not a busy intersection."
The $1,500 project was sponsored by the Brookline Council for the Arts and Humanities and financed by the Massachusetts Arts Lottery with the support of the town of Brookline.
"Public art always creates controversy," said Ms. Marika, who said she made the figures nude to convey that they are meant as universal symbols, of every woman and every child. "It's about protecting a child from dangers," she said. "There's a lot of fear associated with that, and much of the negative reactions are people projecting their own feelings, which is to be expected."
The installation has left the community divided. "This incident shows a lack of understanding " said Milena Kalinovska, the director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. "It's a very innocent piece, which has been attacked unnecessarily." "Crossing" coincides with "Public Interventions" at the institute, a show of 20 years of public art that Ms. Kalinovska helped organize.
Neither Ms. Kalinovska nor members of the Brookline Council for the Arts seem intimidated by the fuss. "I think it has stimulated a lot of healthy discussion," said John Bassett, an artist who is a member of the council. "Letting art out of museums and galleries is a good thing. We are not discouraged."
Originally, Mr. Bassett said, there was no set time that the piece would be on view; now the council has decided it will come down at the end of the month. The council says the decision was made not because of the negative reactions, but because it will have had a sufficient run.
"Some people still insist on knowing the meaning of the piece," Mr. Bassett said, "So I tell them 'Hang on to your kid and take your clothes off.' "