Off By Christopher Sproat

“Two pieces of public art that have been years in the making have been installed in two of Boston’s more conspicuous spaces in the last week or so? and Christopher Sproat’s neon sculpture in the Red Line mezzanine of South Station. Sproat’s piece, which cost about the same and has been in the works for an entire decade, has not, to my knowledge, caused a fuss.  People seem to appreciate it, and for the right reasons- for what it does to enliven an otherwise drab space”?  “Public art has a responsibility to engage people who don’t necessarily read Art forum and talk in an art speak, but public artists have to refrain from under estimating these folks too.  They don’t necessarily want art that is tame.  You couldn’t call Christopher Sproat’s  “Red Lightning” in South Station-another newly installed public art piece in another major urban space-tame.  It’s a piece of neon art, a medium that still inspires skepticism in some quarters.  But it’s a challenge the people I encountered in the station the other day seemed willing to meet.  An attendant in the station was admiring the piece, saying it made her proud to work there.    An electrician who had helped install it, and was working on fixing a small blinking problem it had developed, said it made the otherwise undistinguished space seem warm and homey? ” Red Lightning is a 70 by 38 foot spread of red neon tubing on the ceiling of the magazine area where you buy the Red Line subway tickets.  The artist has literally put red lines on the Red Line.  The neon lines zigzag purposefully, angling

under beans and darting to avoid collision with the recessed lighting fixtures.  Their active, antic motion echoes that of the rumbling trains below.  The maze of lines also suggests a subway map, a distillation and symbol of the real thing.

“Red Lightning” does indeed warm and unite the space.  It serves to bring the ceiling down, giving the impression of making it closer to the people underneath.  And it casts a comforting glow on the reddish quarry tile floor.  Despite the brightness of the neon, it’s a tactful piece rather than a screamy one.  It simply does its job-which is to pep up a nothing space, to show that someone cared about it.  In the impersonal to-and-fro rush of a subway station, that sort of caring is wonderful to find.

Sproat, by the way, used to live in Boston and now divides his time between New York and Vermont.  His South Station commission dates from 1980, and his perseverance and entitles him to a Public Art Hero Award.”