ARTLANTIC: wonder,the first of a series of five projects, featuring works by acclaimed artists Robert Barry, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, John Roloff, and Kiki Smith in collaboration with New York landscape design firms Balmori Associates and Philadelphia-based Cairone & Kaupp.
ARTLANTIC: wonder consists of two separate sites on former empty lots the world famous Atlantic City Boardwalk at Martin Luther King Boulevard and Pacific and Kentucky avenues. The first exhibition site is situated on seven acres and includes works by Barry, Smith, and the Kabakovs. The design consists of two open spaces walled by 14-foot high undulating terraces covered in indigenous grasses and wildflowers. The design is intended to evoke the roller coasters of the iconic Steel Pier.
The brilliantly colored and brightly illuminated text of Robert Barry’s piece, embedded in the landscape, will come alive at night, engaging in an informal dialogue with the glittering city lights and the bold signage that adorns the Boardwalk. When a visitor enters the space encircled by the two giant earthworks, they will find a serene natural environment, sheltered from the noise of the city.
Within the walls of the earthworks, a playful pirate ship rises from the ground, evoking the sunken ships that line the ocean floor off of New Jersey’s coast. The ship is designed by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, pioneer artists who have been credited as the founders of large-scale contemporary installation art. Visitors are encouraged to climb over and explore the secrets of the half-submerged vessel.
Opposite the ship blooms a lush garden surrounding “Her,” a figure of a woman tenderly embracing a doe designed by Kiki Smith, a renowned sculptor known for her various depictions of the female form. The garden, also designed by Smith, is entirely composed of brilliant red foliage—plants with red flowers, red berries, or red leaves—and is intended to change with the seasons. Together with “Her,” the installation alludes to an embrace between humanity and the natural world.
The second exhibition site comprising ARTLANTIC: wonder covers 8,500 square feet and features an elaborate space that uses LED lights and bold linear stripes converging into a spiral pattern. The pattern eventually leads the visitor into the center of the space, where an embedded cistern of trickling water appears to be alive and weeping. Named “Étude Atlantis,” the installation echoes the landscape of ARTLANTIC: wonder and is designed by John Roloff, a pioneer of large-scale environmental installations that investigate geologic and natural phenomena.
Roloff has used the idea of “finding Atlantis” to connect the Atlantic City location with the opposite side of the world—the sea floor off the southwestern coast of Australia. The stage-like environment of Roloff’s site may also provide an elaborate backdrop for a series of performances, concerts, and public events that will possibly continue year-round at both locations.
The visionary behind the Atlantic City project is curator Lance Fung, who has a reputation for ambitious, innovative approaches to public art. Fung is perhaps best known for The Snow Show, a series of exhibitions that teamed world-renowned artists with cutting-edge architects to design ephemeral, large-scale installations from ice and snow; however, he has also been deeply involved in exploring public art’s potential to engage with and revitalize urban neighborhoods. In 2009, he organized Wonderland, a public exhibition in San Francisco’s Tenderloin that brought nationally and internationally known artists into a collaborative relationship with local artists, neighborhood organizations, and community members and remade the economically challenged neighborhood as a playground for the imagination.
The five-year scope of the Atlantic City project will enable Fung to realize a similar vision on a much grander scale and with correspondingly greater impact. In the process, the limits of what public art can be will be tested, and new standards will be set for the transformative power of a truly collaborative, inclusive curatorial vision.
To date, the project has moved forward with incredible rapidity, particularly given the scale and ambition of the overall conception. Fung made his first exploratory visits to the site in March 2012, and the participating artists had submitted finished project designs by August. Work on the initial phase of the project begins in early September, with completion scheduled for late 2012. The intention is for another exhibition at a third site to reach completion in May 2013, with a new project to follow every year thereafter through 2016.
For more information, visit www.fungcollaboratives.org.