Art – like architecture – evokes a gut reaction. Some people like it, others don’t. (And not all viewers fall neatly into those two categories.) So what’s the big deal with Os Gemeos’ piece in Dewey Square?
The big deal is that a quick Google search for the mural will merit you this soundbite an infinite number of times: what some would say looks like a terrorist.
Naturally, I had to see this for myself. If you were told that somebody painted a 70 foot terrorist on your city, how could you not have to guffaw with everyone else?
After seeing it for myself, two things about this complicated piece have become quite clear.
First, the news stories covering Os Gemeos’ work care more about the reaction of a group of respondents than about the piece itself. Essentially, the local news coverage has been what passersby think, not what the artists think, not what art critics think, not what any expert on the subject might think, but what gut reaction people have been experiencing as they walk by (with a distinct emphasis on one of many reactions in particular).
Second, as many detractors have pointed out, the character’s head really is wrapped in a shirt. But wrapping his or her head in a shirt may simply indicate that Os Gemeos’ character knows its canvas is a building that effervesces exhaust. Ventilation buildings don’t make typical canvases for fresh air and daisies, after all (irony excepted).
In fact, this sense of place seems to be an important factor in distinguishing street art from other installation pieces. A quick look at street artists’ work (just take a look at Banksy’s) shows that it is often used to mirror a reality – actual or perceived – that is either undetected or ignored. So the real question is what is being reflected here?
Whatever it is, I don’t think it is meant to be a terrorist. The piece's placement -- on a ventilation building in the Financial District -- is in all likelihood a better indication of what we are meant to see than is the shirt that too many have homed in on.
Til next time!