Yayoi Kusama, LOVE IS CALLING
Long a sanctuary for the local art community, Boston’s Seaport has for the last few years been undergoing a dramatic transformation that has seen a new wave of dining and high profile retail enter the area, as the city also tries to ensure that funding for those artists remains intact. It also hosts some of our fave East Coast city’s most buzzworthy art happenings, as was most definitely the case on our most recent visit.
And indeed, with word that one of the most influential living American artists, Frank Stella, was set to unveil his latest public mural – a new edition of Damascus Gate – we Amtrak’d it north to be a part of it, and take in a some of the area’s notable spots in the process.
Here’s what we did.
Frank Stella, ‘Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation 1)’
Marking the exalted artist’s return to his home city, Frank Stella unveiled a replica of Damascus Gate (Stretch Variation 1) on an office building along the main thoroughfare in the Seaport district (60 Seaport Boulevard, to be exact). Stella, a native of Malden, is a celebrated painter, sculptor and printmaker, working in the areas of minimalism and post-painterly abstraction. And taken from his legendary 1970s protractor series, the new work felt as fresh now as it did then.
Over champagne and bites, the octogenarian humbly waved off the accolades being showered upon him from an adoring crowd, in favor of a knowingly mischievous grin…which we couldn’t help but notice. Oscar-nominee Amy Adams even made an appearance, chatting with Frank and looking gorgeous in Prada from head to toe.
It’s a real get for the Seaport, the installation having been Commissioned by Boston-based WS Development in conjunction with New York’s Marianne Boesky Gallery. The colorfully abstract geometric mural now boldly stops onlookers in their tracks. Perhaps a harbinger of more public works to come?
Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)
Designed by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, the ICA of Boston is one of our favorite buildings by the award-winning architects – and their first in the city. Taking inspiration from performance artist Anna Deavere Smith’s idea of a “radical hospitality,” the waterfront museum’s vision is one of “radical welcome,” woven into all of its activities and programs. Since its opening in 2006 the ICA has been at the intersection of art and civic life, as much educator and incubator as it is a place to experience some of the most important works of contemporary art.
To wit, currently on view through February 7, 2020 is Yayoi Kusama’s LOVE IS CALLING (she’s also currently showing at David Zwirner in New York). Staying for the allotted two-minutes, we excitedly made our way through her signature polka dotted, soft sculpted ‘tentacles,’ done up in brightest color and glowing light. It was an experience that verged on the surreal and fantastical. Afterwards, we popped into the ICA’s well-curated gift shop, with a wide-ranging book selection and design objects, plus some really cool stuff for the kids (like us).
On the more serious side, we also spent time with When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Migration through Contemporary Art. The hard-hitting exhibition is a response to the refugee and immigrant crisis, and looks at the contemporary displacement of peoples. It featuring more than 20 artists from more than a dozen countries, including Colombia, Cuba, Iraq, Mexico, Palestine…and these United States, with featured work by such notable names as Kader Attia, Tania Bruguera, Isaac Julien, Hayv Kahraman, and Reena Saini Kallat.
The timing of the show could not be more relevant, of course, given the current administration’s aggressively malevolent stance on the treatment of migrants – especially children. It was a particularly moving, even heart-wrenching exhibit, but is a must see for all those who oppose the Trump administration’s despicable policies on the subject.
The Seaport is having a decidedly DTC moment, redefining retail in the most clever of ways. To wit, hot on the heels of Glossier’s residency at pop-up The Current last summer, the wildly popular beauty brand has again taken over miniature village. Located in a lovely open plaza just across from the ICA, the cargo-container-like storefronts were done up brilliantly in the brand’s trademark pink.
Home to an ever-evolving lineup of forward thinking brands, The Current spins the concept of traditional storefronts – a refreshing alternative to the high-end-only offerings at Copley Place. The first phase in 2018 was dubbed She-Village, and now showcases 9 female-founded businesses, including etailer-to-retailer The Giving Keys, interior designers Havenly, footwear brand Margaux, and artful florist Orly Khon.
The latter is by Kelly Brabants, one of Boston’s most sought-after fitness instructors, and her line of leggings are currently all the rage. Inspired by the vibrant culture of Rio de Janeiro, the birthplace of samba and sunshine, BbB seeks to overturn any notion that leggings aren’t actually pants. Brabants has created a built-to-last, one-size-fits-most clothing line uniting comfort and confidence, and we couldn’t resist picking up a couple of pairs of the versatile style favorites.
On the DTC tip, Warby Parker, Outdoor Voices, Bonobos, and Away have all put down roots in the Seaport. While For Now, a pop-up collective and retail incubator, is bringing together customers and one-of-a-kind e-comm brands to connect in real life, “no screens attached”. We especially loved The Foggy Dog pet products (every purchase helping a shelter dog), and the cozy chic Frances Austen sweaters, beautifully modern, ethically sourced, and heirloom quality. The brands do change regularly, so there’s always something new to experience as intended by visionary female founders Kaity Cimo and Katharine ReQua.
There’s even an outpost of L.L. Bean – who also sponsor a dock nearby where one can rent a kayak – Blue Mercury and Sephora for beauty junkies, a lululemon, and a Trader Joe’s that opened to significant fanfare while we were there. But surely our favorite, hailing from Boston’s South End, was the Polkadog Bakery, where we picked up handcrafted dried codskin treats for our own pooch. Cool dogs, obviously, go gaga over them.
Part of the luxe Autograph Collection, the Envoy Hotel was the perfect choice for full Seaport immersion, with its wildly happening rooftop bar (there was a line out the door when we were there, though hotel guests get immediate entry) and exceptional on-site restaurant Outlook Kitchen. The minimalist chic rooms have a comfy, residential layout, but with cooly mismatched furnishings. More importantly, most are radiantly light drenched, and some have heart-stopping Boston Harbor views. We especially loved the plush in-room bathrobes, cleverly fashioned after legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick, in signature grey jersey, complete with a stylish hood – especially appreciated on those chilly Boston autumn mornings.
Restaurants / Bars
The airily designed Outlook Kitchen and Bar is helmed by rockstar chef Tatiana Rosana, a first-generation Cuban-American, who oversees the bold, always-surprising food program at the hotel. Star of The Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay and Chopped, she’s also twice earned the title of Chopped Champion.
We especially enjoyed the bountiful, fresh breakfast and brunch offerings, including a Maine lobster benedict that was truly to die for – while the roasted cinnamon apple french toast was also totally irresistible. Dinner was just as outstanding, especially Rosana’s delectable yucca gnocchi, the Georges Bank scallops and the locally sourced Pineland Farms filet mignon. There’s a determined focus on locally sourced seasonal ingredients, which puts Outlook at the forefront of sustainable dining in Boston (N.B. – Check out chef Rosana’s delectable dishes on Instagram, @chef.tatiana.)
Outlook Kitchen and Bar
Finding ourselves craving something sweet between shopping stops, we popped into Japanese ice cream import Taiyaki, on Seaport Boulevard just a few blocks from The Envoy. Home of the custard-filled, whimsical fish-shaped waffle cone of Instagram fame, Kawaii-lovers from Toronto to Miami to Williamsburg have been madly posting since Taiyaki hit North America in 2016. We chose the matcha and black sesame soft-serve as a start, filling the freshly-made cones with red bean paste, then topping them with mini M&M’s.
The Seaport actually now boasts a apoplexy-inducing array of dining options, from the low-key to the Michelin-starred. Exalted Chef Barbara Lynch lords over the scene with her outstanding Italian diner Sportello, as well as Menton, a fancy-fancy Relais & Chateaux member serving delectable French fusion. Also worth a stop are Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe (a long time favorite from Harvard Square), Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar, Strega Waterfront (you may find yourself seated next to one of the Patriots), plant-based NYC export by Chloe, the landmark, century old seafood classic No Name Restaurant, and a Tatte Bakery and Cafe. We were significantly spoiled for choice, obviously.
Considering Boston’s comely cityscape and harbor, it’s still a little light on rooftop venues. Which partly explains the wild popularity of the Envoy’s spectacular Lookout lounge/bar. But we also loved the clever cocktails like the Fizz Bump (Hendricks, Lavender & Earl Grey Simple, lemon, egg white) and the Cereal Keeler (Keel Vodka, Americano Bianco, pineapple, orange, cherry bitters). The skyline and waterfront views, of course, are eminently Instagrammable. But with colder temps upon us, the Lookout also features glowing fire pits, out of the way ceiling-mounted heaters and cozy blankets for keeping nice and toasty while sipping a hot Teeling Frisky whiskey cocktail.