Winteractive adds excitement to downtown Boston

Artist Max Streicher’s “Endgame (Nagg & Nell)” clowns are among the “Winteractive” pieces on display in downtown Boston. Photo Courtesy of David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe.

By Akua Devall

Boston University News Service

Boston’s cold temperatures aren’t stopping the city’s outdoor activities from freezing up as a new quirky and whimsical art exhibition has taken over downtown Boston this winter. Winteractive, which launched on Jan.17, features 16 artwork installations presented by the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District (BID) and is in partnership with numerous departments, including City of Boston and the Quebéc government. Their goal is to encourage people to explore Downtown Crossing during colder months. 

The curators behind the project are EXMURO Arts Publics, LeMonde Studio and Quartier des Spectacles International — all hailing from the Canadian province Québec.

Kelsey Pramick, BID’s Director of Special Projects, said that the goal of the installations is to make Boston more vibrant in the winter after BID noticed that Bostonians didn’t have enough offerings to get them outside in winter.

“For much of our 12 year history, it’s been focused on local artists [and] smaller scale programming directed at predominantly workers and tourists,” Pramick said. “But lately in the post-pandemic era, we have been shifting to destination art and cultural offerings that can help draw more people downtown and welcome visitors from not only the Boston area, but the region and even globally. And one of the ideas we had was a statement of a public art exhibit.”

Since its opening, the exhibition has garnered international attention, but has also been met with mixed reactions. One of the installations by Mark Jenkins, which was a sculpture of a person sitting on the roof of the Old Corner Bookstore, was taken down by the Boston Fire Department after a “concerned” individual saw and reported the figure.

Nicole Reiss, manager of Downtown Boston’s Brattle Bookshop, has one of Jenkins’ five pieces created for the exhibition titled “Untitled 5,” set up next to the store. 

“It is a clothes line that goes across our sail lot and half of a person’s body hanging,” Reiss said.“I think anything that has people talking about art is a good thing, regardless of what your opinion of the piece is.”

The outdoor museum stretches a little over a mile and includes a diverse range of  symbolism such as Mathias Gmachl’s “Echoes — A Voice From Uncharted Waters,” which is a 52-ft, 11,000-pound whale sculpture located at 1 Franklin Street. It features an interactive sound and light display in order to teach visitors about the importance of addressing pollution. 

On the opposite spectrum, Max Streicher’s “Endgame (Nagg & Nell),” located at 525 Washington Street is a more lighthearted and satirical piece featuring two inflatable clown heads stacked between two buildings. According to Winteractive’s website, the clowns “live out their days in a dumpster after losing their legs.”

The inflatable clowns by Streicher have gained some of the most media coverage out of all the artwork and have peaked the interest of locals and tourists due its eye-catching presence.

Erick Ramos visited “Endgame (Nagg & Nell)” after seeing his friends post about it on Instagram and thought it “looked cool.”

“I like the size of this art. I think a lot of art when you think about it is like a piece of paper or something like ceramics or pottery,” Ramos said. “It’s [art] normally small and hanheld, so I like that the scale of it is so huge and it integrated itself well into the city,” Ramos said. 

Described as a “Canadian Art Experience in Downtown Boston,” the initiative has raised eyebrows from critics as to why BID prioritized Canadian-based artists over local ones. 

“The theme of the exhibit is getting outside [and] enjoying winter, and that’s something that we think Canada does really well,” Pramick said. “Canada’s famous for several major public events that happen outdoors in winter [so] we wanted to convey that spirit of adventure and exploration during this time of year.” 

Ramos said he hopes that the alternative art displays will cheer people up this winter season as he feels Boston tends to be more “dull” this time of year.

“I just want people to feel something when they walk by like ‘Oh what the heck is that,’ ” said Ramos. “I think a lot of people get stuck into their nine-to-five, cookie cutter kind of lifestyle and this art will make them feel something.”

Winteractive will continue to remain active now until Apr. 14.

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