Graffiti-fueled street artist Shepard Fairey's retrospective in Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art inspires hope (the iconic Obama campaign image) and challenges authority (starkly conveyed through his "Obey the Giant" campaign in the 1990s). Get there fast -- before the exhibit closes Aug. 16. Its defiant, yet often subtle, messages and images interpreting pop culture, revolution, commercialism and dirty politics will stick with you for a long time afterwards. Fairey is a controversial figure with Boston authorities, who gave him some unexpected publicity when they arrested him for previous graffiti vandalism on the way to the exhibit's opening party in February. This week he was in the news again when he received two years' probation.
The 200 posters, stencils, screen prints, collages and more represent a huge output of a very focused artist in the past 20 years. The collective impact is all the more jarring via his bold signature colors of red, black and white.
The new ICA building, which opened in late 2006 on the South Boston waterfront after a presence dating back to 1936, is definitely worth a trip whenever you go, with its compelling galleries and bayside computer theater, where visitors can gain deeper access into its artistic riches. We trekked via the T (Metro) and a few blocks on foot on a drizzly day, followed by a warm and welcoming lunch at the modern Italian diner Sportello at 348 Congress St. (And, by the way, classically prepared Bolognese sauce with milk.)
Boston is always about food for me, since my brother Steve Johnson is the owner of the three-year-old dining hit, Rendezvous Central Square in Cambridge. So I'm a biased enthusiast (full disclosure duly noted). But the restaurant stands on its own reputation, with seasonal menus that maximize local produce and seafood matched by culinary invention. Two of us dived into the June menu -- appetizers (1) fried softshell crab with stone-ground grits and chipotle pepper puree and (2) grilled Portuguese sardins with a Meyer lemon-fennel vinaigrette (best ever); entrees (1) Paella Valenciana and (2) his popular braised pork and veal meatballs; and for dessert (1) lemon-buttermilk pudding with huckleberry sauce and (2)a cherry-rhubarb crostada with honey-lavendar ice cream. Incidentally, Steve and his team make the ice cream with herbs grown on the restaurant's roof (note the the urban garden here).
The next night we went to R.F. O'Sullivan's Pub in Somerville for what are said to be some of the best burgers in Boston, and we weren't disappointed. It's small, it's local, it's loud and it's sports TV (Red Sox, natch, this time of year) and the yummy half-pound burgers (with dozens of topping options) are fat and drippy. (You can order low-carb options, but why bother here?) "People come in and they get mad, but I explain to them, it's not your everyday place. It takes time to cook," explains the voice of the menu notes. "To cook a burger this thick and juicy takes patience, and about 20 minutes." So we started with a big plate of onion rings along with our drinks. The #1 lesson for cooks -- advises the same menu voice -- "don't squish the burgers." Also don't wear your finest -- each rounded mound of burger (from the 400 pounds of fresh ground sirloin cooked each week) can be a bit messy to handle.
Winding up the 48-hour tour, we took a day in Westport on Buzzard's Bay 90 minutes south of Boston. I've previously chronicled a day on the Westport River and its surroundings here. It is a fertile region -- watermen and leisure travelers mixed with the local wildlife, like the osprey protecting their young in the nest and clams raked froom ankle-deep beds. An early dinner at the waterside Back Eddy restaurant (defined as a "current that runs counterculture to the mainstream") delivered a one-pound "chicken lobster" among other fresh local seafood and produce from southeastern Massachusetts and coastal Rhode Island.
The distance from water and land to the table is not far in these parts, and you recognize, respect, honor and savor that unvarnished experience.