I’ve revised the meta-list of contemporary artists (and selected works) by adding 10 more lists, bringing the total number of original source lists to more than 20. I first created this meta-list in 2015 and a great deal has happened in the art world since then, so this new list has a lot more artists. In fact, there are 44 new artists on the list, from all over the world. Here are their names, dates, and countries where they have worked. For each artist, I researched their more-often mentioned works of art by doing an informal Internet survey. I have added these new works of art (there are several hundred) to my visual arts checklist and also to the geographical lists that tell where you can find the artwork. Many of the listed artworks cannot be found in museums, but may be viewed at occasional exhibitions or installations, or at certain art galleries.
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. On several days in June 2020, I wandered around downtown Boston, looking for public art. One day, I walked along the tree-lined Commonwealth Avenue Mall in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and photographed the various statues and monuments along the way. The Mall was designed by Arthur Gilman, using the new boulevards of Paris as his inspiration, and was created between 1858 and 1888. The dominant trees were American elms, although many of them have succumbed to Dutch elm disease; other tree species include sweetgum, green ash, maple, linden, zelkova, and Japanese pagoda. Interestingly, public sculpture was not a component of Gilman’s original plan, although it is now a highlight of the Mall.
The tour begins at the Public Garden (Arlington Street) and moves west to finish at Charlesgate East. For more information and photos, check out the website of the Friends of the Public Garden.
1. ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1865) Sculptor: William Rimmer
Born on the Caribbean island of Nevis (and thus not eligible to be president), Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) helped draft the U.S. Constitution. He founded the Federalist Party, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the New York Post. He was George Washington’s secretary of the treasury and authored the nation’s early financial policies. He was killed in a duel with then-Vice President Aaron Burr.
2. GENERAL JOHN GLOVER (1875) Sculptor: Martin Milmore
A merchant and fisherman who was born in Salem, Massachusetts and lived in Marblehead, John Glover (1732-1797) served as a brigadier general during the American Revolutionary War. The regiment he commanded evacuated George Washington’s army after losing the Battle of Long Island, and ferried Washington and his troops across the Delaware to surprise Hessian forces at the Battle of Trenton.
3. PATRICK ANDREW COLLINS (1908) Sculptors: Henry Kitson and Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson
Patrick Collins (1844-1905) was an Irish immigrant who became a prominent Boston politician. He served in the Massachusetts Legislature from 1868-1871, in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1883-1889 and as Mayor of Boston from 1902 until his death in 1905.
4. VENDOME FIREFIGHTERS’ MEMORIAL (1997) Sculptor: Theodore Clausen Landscape Architect: Peter White
The memorial honors the nine firefighters who were killed on June 17, 1972 in a fire at the Hotel Vendome, which was located across the street from the memorial.
5. WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON (1886) Sculptor: Olin Levi Warner
The most prominent Boston abolitionist, William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) published the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator from 1831 until 1865 and was a co-founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He fought to give women the right to vote and supported other social reforms.
6. SAMUEL ELIOT MORISON (1982) Sculptor: Penelope Jencks
Boston-born Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976) was a Harvard professor and distinguished historian, who specialized in naval and maritime history. Morison was also an accomplished sailor who recreated Columbus’s voyages using the original log books.
7. BOSTON WOMEN’S MEMORIAL (2003) Sculptor: Meredith Bergmann
The Boston Women’s Memorial includes representations of Lucy Stone (left), Abigail Adams (center), and Phillis Wheatley (right).
Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts. She was married to second U.S. President John Adams and served as First Lady from 1797-1801. She served as informal advisor to John Adams, who consulted her on most matters. Abigail Adams was also the mother of sixth U.S. President John Quincy Adams. Her letters are the source of important information about the early United States.
Massachusetts women’s rights activist Lucy Stone (1818–1893) was a public speaker and writer who helped to organize the first National Women’s Rights Convention and establish the Women’s National Loyal League and the American Women’s Suffrage Association. She was also an abolitionist who campaigned for the passage of the 13th Amendment.
An acclaimed poet, Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784) was born in West Africa, sold into slavery and brought to Boston, where she was sold to the Wheatley family. In 1773, she published Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book of poetry published by an African-American, which received praise from many, including George Washington. Following the publication of the book, Wheatley was emancipated.
8. DOMINGO F. SARMIENTO (1973) Sculptor: Yvette Compagnion
Domingo Sarmiento (1811-1888) was an Argentine writer, intellectual, and politician who became the 7th president of Argentina, serving from 1868-1874. Sarmiento modeled his country’s education system on that of Boston’s Horace Mann, and Argentina gave this statue to the city in gratitude.
9. LEIF ERIKSSON (1887) Sculptor: Anne Whitney
Leif Eriksson (c. 970-c. 1020 CE) (also spelled Erikson) was a Norse explorer from Iceland, who may have been the first European to establish a settlement on continental North America. Some scholars believe that the settlement of Vinland described in Icelandic sagas corresponds to a Norse settlement, remains of which have been discovered in Newfoundland, Canada at L’Anse aux Meadows. The statue in Boston, which is the oldest public sculpture of Leif Eriksson in the U.S., was donated by patent medicine maker Eben Horsford, who mistakenly believed that Vinland was located on Boston’s Charles River.
For other Pandemic Art Adventures, check out these posts:
I’ve updated the Best Works of Art lists, both the ranked (with the artworks on the most lists at the top) and chronological versions. (The chronological version, in seven parts, is called Art History 101.) I’ve added a number of new lists to the meta-list and also changed the formatting somewhat. Hope you enjoy.
I’ve done a little analysis of the entire artworks meta-list. There are a total of 555 artworks (actually more because some entries encompass series or artworks with multiple versions). There are artworks from Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America, although the vast majority are from Europe.
Here are the artists with the most works of art on the meta-list:
9 works of art Rembrandt (The Netherlands, 1606-1669) paintings, prints
8 works of art Michelangelo (Italy, 1475-1564) sculptures, paintings, architecture Pieter Bruegel the Elder (The Netherlands, c. 1525/1530-1569) paintings
7 works of art Leonardo da Vinci (Italy, 1452-1519) paintings, drawings Raphael (Italy, 1483-1520) paintings Titian (Italy, 1488/1490-1576) paintings Vincent van Gogh (The Netherlands, 1853-1890) paintings, prints
6 works of art Albrecht Dürer (Germany, 1471-1528) paintings, prints Francisco Goya (Spain, 1746-1828) paintings, prints
5 works of art Jan van Eyck (Belgium, before 1390/1395-1441) paintings Piero della Francesca (Italy, c. 1415-1492) paintings Peter Paul Rubens (Germany, 1577-1640) paintings Diego Velázquez (Spain, 1599-1660) paintings Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italy, 1598-1680) sculpture, architecture Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) paintings Pablo Picasso (Spain, 1881-1973) paintings, sculpture, collage Jackson Pollock (US, 1912-1956) paintings
4 works of art Donatello (Italy, c. 1386-1466) sculpture Giovanni Bellini (Italy, c. 1430-1516) paintings El Greco (Greece, 1541-1614) paintings Caravaggio (Italy, 1571-1610) paintings Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-1675) paintings J.M.W. Turner (UK, 1775-1851) paintings Édouard Manet (France, 1832-1883) paintings Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) paintings Auguste Rodin (France, 1840-1917) sculpture Georges Seurat (France, 1859-1891) paintings Henri Matisse (France, 1869-1954) paintings, sculptures, prints
3 works of art Phidias (Greece, c. 480-430 BCE) sculpture Paolo Uccello (Italy, 1397-1475) paintings Andrea Mantegna (Italy, c. 1431-1506) paintings Hans Holbein the Younger (Germany, c. 1497-1543) paintings Tintoretto (Italy, 1518-1594) paintings Frans Hals (Belgium, c. 1582-1666) paintings Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) paintings Théodore Géricault (France, 1791-1824) paintings Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) paintings, sculpture Salvador Dali (Spain, 1904-1989) paintings; sculpture
Yes, it’s mostly men. Dead white men. I’m sorry. The contemporary art lists are more diverse. But there are a few works by women on the meta-list.
Works by Women Artists Unknown Women Embroiderers: The Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1045) Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes (1611-1613) Rosa Bonheur: Ploughing in the Nivernais (1849) Mary Cassatt: The Child’s Bath (c. 1891) Frida Kahlo: The Two Fridas (1939) Helen Frankenthaler: Mountains and Sea (1952)
The artworks span many centuries. Here are the results by time period:
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. On several days in June, I wandered around downtown Boston, looking for public art. I found quite a bit of art in Boston Public Garden, which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. Here are some photos and descriptions of what I discovered.
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. On several days in June, I wandered around downtown Boston, looking for public art. I found quite a bit of art in Boston Common, which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. Sadly, the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment (1897) by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was undergoing renovations at the time of my visit so I was unable to get a photo of this remarkable sculpture.
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. College campuses are great place to find art, so one day in June I visited the Boston University in Boston, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside. I found quite a bit of art, most of which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. There is some excellent information this BU-sponsored website. There were a few sculptures I couldn’t identify, which are shown at the end of the post – if you have any information about them, please share in the comments!
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. College campuses are great place to find art, so one day in June I visited the Brandeis University in Waltham, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside. I found quite a bit of art, most of which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. Brandeis has an excellent website with additional information here. There were a few sculptures I couldn’t identify, which are shown at the end of the post – if you have any information about them, please share in the comments!
Robert Berks (1922-2011) – Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1956).
Peter Grippe (1912-2002) – The Three Freedoms (1963)
The statute of Job (1967) by Nathan Rapaport (1911-1987) is part of a larger Holocaust Memorial outside the Jewish Chapel at Brandeis.
Maurice B. Hexter (1891-1990) – Non-Objective (1970).
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973) – Pegasus (Birth of the Muses) (1972)
Ernest Trova (1927-2009) – Tree (1982)
Lila Katzen (1925-1998) – The Wand of Inquiry (1983). The mockingbird is not part of the sculpture, but it insisted on remaining for the duration of my visit.
Penelope Jencks (1936- ) – Student and Knowledge (1986)
David Bakalar (1924- ) – Duality (1990)
Rita Blitt (1931- ) – Inspiration (1993)
David Aronson (1923-2015) – Ruach Yisrael (The Spirit of Israel) (1997)
Brandeis Peace Monument (2002). I have been unable to locate the identity of the artist(s) who created this work. If you have any information, please let me know.
A Golem for Brandeis University (2014) was created by Brandeis student and artist Paul Belenkey (Class of 2014).
Chris Burden (1946-2015) – Light of Reason (2014). These photographs were taken during the day; for the full effect, the work should be seen at night when the lamps are lit.
Muslim at Prayer (?). I have been unable to locate any information about this statue, which is located in a small wooded glade near the university chapels. At first I thought it was someone asleep or collapsed (after too much studying?), but I have been told it may represent a praying Muslim figure (perhaps intended to draw attention to the lack of a Muslim chapel?).
Armillary Sphere with Zodiac Signs. I have been unable to find out any information about this artwork. If you know anything about it, please let me know in the comments.
This abstract sculpture adorns the exterior wall of the Gryzmish building. I have been unable to find out any information about it. If you have any knowledge of the sculptor, date, etc., please contact me or leave a comment. Thanks.
POSTSCRIPT: Outside the sculpture studio, I found a number of student works in various states of completion, waiting for the students to return after the untimely interruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. College campuses are great place to find art, so one day in June I visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside. I found quite a bit of art, which I was able to identify either through plaques or an online search. MIT has an excellent website with additional information here.
Although Eero Saarinen’s 1956 MIT Chapel is a work of architecture, it’s compact size and modernist belltower make it feel like a sculpture, so I am including it here. Other interesting works of architecture on campus are Baker House (1948), one of only two permanent structures in the US designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (see below),
and of course, the whimsical Stata Center (2004), by Frank Gehry.
Alexander Calder’s La Grande Voile (The Big Sail) (1965), made of painted steel, is located in McDermott Court.
Transparent Horizon (1975) by Louise Nevelson is made from Cor-Ten steel painted black and is located in front of the Landau building.
Gary Wiley’s Invaders, completed in 1981 and installed in 1982, consists of three different butterfly figures and is made of wrought iron, soft steel, mirrored and colored Plexiglas, marbles, and paint. The sculpture is intended to be mobile and is moved to different locations on campus from time to time. I saw it at the alumni pool building.
Mark di Suvero’s Aesop’s Fables, II (2005) is made of steel painted red and is located on the northeast sector lawn.
Alchemist (2010), by Jaume Plensa, is made of stainless steel painted white and is located on the lawn of the Stratton Student Center.
The closing of museums during the pandemic put me in a state of art withdrawal. In search of a fix, I traveled to various locations in the Greater Boston area looking for publicly-accessible art. One place to find art is college campuses, so one day in June I visited Harvard University in Cambridge, MA to see what art I could find without having to go inside. I found quite a bit of art, and some of it was fairly easy to identify either through plaques or online searching. In one case, I had no luck with IDs. If you know anything about the unidentified artworks, please leave a comment!
Outside Adolphus Busch Hall proudly stands a replica of the Brunswick Lion. The original was made in 1166 and is located in Dankwarderode Castle in Braunschweig, Germany. This replica was made in about 1900-1903.
Speaking of lions, these two Chinese protector lions are located at the entrance to the Harvard-Yenching Library, but I have been unable to locate any information about them. If you have anything to share (artist, date, provenance, country of origin, etc.), I would appreciate it.
Certainly the most famous sculpture on the Harvard University campus is Daniel Chester French’s 1884 statue of John Harvard, which, as any student can tell you, is not a likeness of 17th Century benefactor John Harvard (there are no paintings or drawings of him) but of 19th Century Harvard student Sherman Hoar. Daniel Chester French’s most famous work is the statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Although much of the architecture at Harvard consists of traditional 19th and early 20th Century brick and stone structures, in 1948, the University commissioned The Architects Collaborative, led by Bauhaus innovator Walter Gropius, to design a Graduate Student Center on campus. The modernist features of the multi-building complex serve as a stark contrast to the ivy-covered walls of old Harvard. As part of the project, Gropius commissioned a number of artworks, including this one, called World Tree (1950), by Richard Lippold.
An archival photo from the 1950s shows Gropius and his colleagues (including John Harkness) posing on the sculpture.
My personal favorite work of public art at Harvard is Night Wall I (1972) by Louise Nevelson, which is located outside Hauser Hall at Harvard Law School. The multi-component sculpture, made of steel painted black, presents many different views as you walk around it, and reveals more layers of detail the more time you spend with it. As seen in these photos, the play of light and shadow on the various steel surfaces is an added component of interest – the time of day and season of the year will affect the viewing experience.
During my June 2020 walk through a deserted campus, I was pleasantly surprised to discover this triptych in the windows of the Sherman Fairchild Biochemistry Building. The works are (from left): Hope, Uncertainty and Hope III (all 2020). They are part of the Pandemic Series by Marla Allisan, who is listed on Harvard’s website as a member of the University’s Health Services staff.
One of the downsides of meta-lists is that they tend to be conservative. To a certain extent, they confirm the conventional wisdom and perpetuate the status quo. “Best of” meta-lists, which combine the results of multiple lists from different sources, focus on the consensus: what most people can agree on, not the controversial, the outliers, those that push the envelope. In the case of the lists of best artists and best artworks, the meta-lists tend to confirm the stereotype that nearly all the great artists were male and white.
But these lists don’t tell the whole story. Great artists come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and genders. And every artist tells a different story, presents an individual viewpoint, even as they (as all artists) absorb or react to their culture, environment and historical context. By ignoring these voices, the standard “best of” lists tend to marginalize the marginalized, and oppress the oppressed.
I recently created a new meta-list of the best African-American artists: Best African-American Artists of All Time. The 23 artists on at least three of the original source lists are featured, along with images of their work. These men and women range throughout the entire history of the United States – the earliest was born in the 1760s and the youngest was born in 1977. They provide an important counterbalance to the narratives and visual styles of white artists. You may recognize some of the names on the list, but some of them may be new to you. Most of them were new to me. In order to make a better world, we need to listen to each other’s voices, as expressed in words, music, and, here, in the visual arts.
If you want to go even deeper into the story of African-American art, check out these other names of artists who were listed on two of the original source lists:
– Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)
– Sargent Claude Johnson (1888-1967)
– Beauford Delaney (1901- 1979)
– Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)
– Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)
– Roy DeCarava (1919-2009)
– Betye Saar (1926- )
– Bob Thompson (1937-1966)
– Martin Puryear (1941- )
– Howardena Pindell (1943- )
– Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017)
– Glenn Ligon (1960- )