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Littering is a problem in almost all cities, and Boston is no exception. There is one crosswalk here that’s always covered with trash; but this iconic Boston art is certainly meant to be there.
Created in 1976 by Mags Harries, “Asaroton” is a bronze inlaid sculpture built into the crosswalk at the corner of Blackstone and Hanover street. Boston’s Bicentennial Committee commissioned the piece, which was submitted through a contest, to commemorate the culture of the Haymarket District. The piece was funded by the Browne fund.
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Haymarket, the area along the southeast side of Blackstone St., has hosted an open air market since 1830. Operating from dawn to dusk every Friday and Saturday, purveyors of fresh produce line up and down the street to offer some of the best deals on seafood, vegetables, fruit and more. As great as this open air market place is, a lot of waste gets left behind (in fact, so much that on-site trash compactors had to be installed). “Asaroton” immortalizes marketplace litter to create an iconic representation of the exciting district. While strewn garbage is normally bad, “Asaroton” uses it to show the chaos of one of America’s first outdoor markets.
The inlaid mural contains numerous metal sculptures. Depicted items include banana peels, newspapers with headlines from the 70’s (when the artwork was installed), egg cartons, pizza, and a large broken basket. No marks reference the artwork except for a small piece of “cardboard” in the sculpture bearing the artwork’s title, Harries’ signature, and some information about the commission.
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Roman Style, Boston Art
The name “Asaroton” carries a great deal of meaning. Meaning “unswept floor”, the word is used to describe traditional Roman mosaics that show debris and food on the floor of banquet halls (one of which is pictured below). Intended to show the liveliness and fun of banquet events even when there were none held, this playful art style can be traced all the way back to the first century. However, asarotons have been found in other parts of Europe and the world both historically and now. Boston’s “Asaroton” is yet another modern installation in this medium, showing the personality of a market instead of a banquet hall.
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Boston Art Legacy
During the Big Dig, “Asaroton” was removed and relocated to the Boston Science Museum so construction could commence. It was held there for 10 years, where visitors could see all the bronze artifacts on display. A new version of the mural was installed in 2006. However, the new “Asaroton” added some more modern components to give new life to the piece. These include portobello mushrooms, a broken cellphone and even newspapers about John Kerry and George W. Bush.
When installed (and reinstalled) “Asaroton” generated a lot of controversy. People didn’t want to honor the garbage, and the local vendors didn’t like the reputation the piece promoted. However, decades later, most people can smile as they walk by the charismatic Boston art. Every day new people stumble upon it and are graced by it’s signature charm.