Every year on the first of September, the greater Boston area celebrates the running of the U-hauls: when masses of pilgrims come from faraway lands to settle in to their off campus housing.
The aftermath of move in day is called Allston Christmas, for the copious bounty of discarded items left on the curb. It is not just bedbug-ridden mattresses and broken poang chairs that riddle these unclean streets. Among the castoffs, discards, refuse, and detritus are a handful of aesthetic gems.
Presenting: The Art of Allston Christmas.
This fine specimen was discarded in a parking lot near boxes containing about a gross of travel size Caress bodywashes. It is of unusual quality for an AoAC, with studied use of color and deliberate brushstrokes. The subject matter—a tribute to alt rock band The Cure—de-elevates what might have been a legitimate artistic endeavor into more gauche territory.
This framed baseball painting exhibits a similar level of artistic endeavor, but has more commercial hallmarks despite not being associated with any particular team. The type at the bottom, blank face of the ball player, and the dreamlike motion of his bat amongst the flashing lights place this firmly inthe category “motivational poster.”
A crucial genre in college dorm art is the wall poster. Always unframed, these posters fall within narrowly-defined parameters, often based on themes of hedonism: for example, the Tanya Chalkin Kiss poster, the drug humor poster, or the art deco alcohol poster.
It is worth remembering that both of these, pleasing as their compositions are, were advertisements, and would not have been considered display-worthy art in their contemporary day. Vintage status confers a lot of merit as far as art goes.
On the subject of hedonism and advertising, another popular form is the “favorite movie poster.” Often these are movies steeped in hedonism themselves: Animal House, Fight Club, The Hangover. Music posters are common as well, though this Styrofoam mounted vintage Bob Dylan print is more graphically clean and high brow than, say, a psychedelic Bob Marley.
Next up on the music scene is this folk art collage to “The Dirty Dirges,” a band whose Facebook tagline is “Beer in Allston basements with duct tape-covered mics.” This piece of art certainly complements the band’s underground, DIY aesthetic.
Have we provided enough evidence yet that the Art of Allston Christmas is heavily centered around drugs and alcohol? This is a large scale example of a more ephemeral style of college dorm art: the whiteboard. Note the vintage, sophisticated cocktails this chart details.
Stenciling is a common graffiti art, especially in artist and student neighborhoods. These are not necessarily affiliated with the celebration of Allston Christmas.
This elaborate stenciled sign, on the other hand, is heavily integrated with the AoAC scene. So integrated that it could not be excavated from its installation in a large dumpster. The Greek letters spell “Sigma Alpha Mu,” a disgraced BU fraternity from which a pledge died of alcohol poisoning last spring.
Most Allston Christmas art is found in single pieces, but this colorful hieroglyphic entry is a series of 20. Note the duality of the medium: these are spray painted on pristine moving boxes, then discarded when the artist moved.
This fan is an unusual example of 3-D art, originally with moving parts. Most sculptural installations during Allston Christmas are purely stationary/disfunctional found objects. (See “Three Televisions” and “Deconstructed Ambiguous Furniture” below)
This statue is an example of Maneki-neko, a lucky waving cat. Though certainly kitsch, it shows evidence that multiculturalism is a minor trend in Allston Christmas Art.
Here we have some multicultural outsider art, the outsider being clearly a Texan. The choice of a blue palate is unusual, though maybe we can infer that this artist was limited in their materials, and had no other colors, no ruler, no map of Texas, etc.
Which brings us to the showpiece of the Allston Christmas collection:
Graffiti, art, and discarded furnishing in one. A mirror to reflect its surroundings. Truly an embodiment of all that Allston Christmas signifies.
(While I was scouting this piece, a porch-sitting denizen of the house offered it for sale. I declined before he quoted a price, unfortunately.)
So what have we learned? Allston Christmas is not just about creating giant public piles of junk. It is a vibrant art scene, made all the more intriguing by the fact that these are the piece of art Allstonians chose to have in their homes—before they chose to discard them.