Existentialism in Davis Square

October 3, 2013

in Public Art, Sculpture

Public Sculpture
Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Davis Square Sculpture - Full View

A long-time fixture near the Davis Square T stop entrance on Holland Street which has subtly but significantly transformed its message over time.

When the extension of the Red Line beyond Harvard was constructed in the early 1980s, the new stations at Porter and Davis got the benefits of adornment with public sculpture.

At Davis, one category of those adornments included a series of figures that inhabited the plaza between the two subway entrances. When the plaza, and Seven Hills Park, just behind the northern T entrance abutting the Minuteman Bicycle Path, were updated some years ago, the figures were redistributed.

One of them remains in the plaza itself: a portrait of an elderly couple arm in arm. Repositioned to Seven Hills Park are two other groupings: a performer surrounded by two middle-aged onlookers, and, to the side, kind of comically and ironically seated on one of the park benches, a grouping of two parents with a young child.

Davis Square Sculpture - Closeup

The remaining figure, which was moved from the plaza to the entrance of the T-stop is a standing figure of a young man with some flowers by his side. His T-shirt says simply I Am Not. It is a boldly existential statement, but one would have to know the history of the sculpture to understand that its original motivation was more sociological than philosophical.

Davis Square Sculpture - Detail of Flowers

When the sculpture was first installed thirty years ago it read I Am Not A Moonie. At the time, it was common for members of the Unification Church, followers of the Korean Christian evangelist Sun-Myung Moon, commonly known as Moonies, to sell flowers in public places. I am not sure what led to the erasure of the second part of the phrase, but the remainder is a lovely metaphysical conundrum nonetheless.

Moon Label

And all of the figures, beautifully updated with metallic faces to ensure their longevity, have a kind of quiet dignity that lends atmosphere and grace to Davis Square Plaza and Seven Hills Park.

– BADMan

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Davin Danish Wolok October 18, 2013 at 10:45 am

I love that Davis Square existentialist. When I was a grad student at SUNY Stony Brook we had to settle for existentialists the likes of Soren Kierkegaard and Jean-Paul Sartre. But in Davis Square you have a figure who beats them both for simplicity and insight.

How brilliant! “I am not.” I think what D.S.E. (the Davis Square Existentialist) was alluding to was the teaching, “I am — not.” That is, I am not a thing, an object, but no-thingness itself, in short, the not! The “I” eludes all objectification. The I is life itself, pure existence — not a substance, but — not!

Beautiful, baby. You are my man, D.S.E. — the Davis Square Existentialist.

When I feel lost or dissatisfied with myself, I will always think of your teaching. I can go beyond where I am. I am not a fixed object, a thing. I am — not!!!

With gratitude and thanks,

Davin Danish Wolok

Howard Gerstein December 9, 2014 at 8:36 pm

I don’t think that you are correct in saying that the faces were an addition to the originals. What I remember is that the faces were, originally, cast in metal, but that the rest of the figures were cast in Hydrocal because the grant didn’t provide enough money to cast the entire figures in metal. The whole thing was then matched in color to look consistent; but, over time, the paint faded and the different materials became apparent.

The elderly couple, as you dub them, were Bill and Alice, the owners of the tiny seafood restaurant- Davis Square Seafood, I think it was called- that was where Johnny D’s is. That place was wonderful. I got an education there, and it was there that I had mackerel, one of my three all-time favorite fish, for the first time. He had all kinds of other fish that I’d never heard of- and I tried them all- and have never seen on any menu since. That place was, as they say in Japan, an intangible national resource.

I was saddened- no, horrified- that the family of sculptures was split up and that most were banished and exiled to Siberia. I think that it was an unnecessary crime to displace them and that it’s criminal that they were never maintained.

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