As Miami continues its evolution into an international art destination, public art projects — organized by both private and public entities — seem to be everywhere at once. The art is used both as a tool for promotion, civic betterment and ambition, and for true aesthetic expression.
For some time, Bal Harbour Village has been changing its image from a refuge of stuffy Old Money to new, young, artistically minded means; along the way it has become an interesting cultural destination. Bal Harbour’s newest art initiative is Unscripted. Arranged by independent curator Claire Breukel (who has organized exhibitions from South Africa to Vienna) and advisors that include Hernan Bas (a nationally recognized former Miami-based artist who lives in Detroit), Unscripted recently launched with Pax Americana by Miami artist George Sanchez-Calderon.
The idea, says Carolyn Travis, executive director of tourism for Bal Harbour Village, is “to give artists that live and work here a unique platform, a Bal Harbour platform. Great art is part of what makes Dade County so desirable, and we think it’s our civic responsibility to support what’s going on in the visual arts here.”
In front of the new St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, Sanchez-Calderon has installed six-foot-tall stainless steel letters that spell out “Americana”, an homage to the Americana hotel designed by legendary architect Morris Lapidus that once occupied this site. Sanchez-Calderon’s work is an interesting post-modernist construct that addresses the American dream and the old Americana, a wistful nod to a hotel that once symbolized it.
On Founder’s Circle, in the 9700 block of Collins Avenue, Sanchez-Calderon also is installing Levittown House, a 10-by-14-foot nod to a Levittown tract house. A silk-screen photograph of an original Levittown house covers the structure, made from a prefabricated shed. The work and location are bookends of a sort: Bal Harbour was founded in 1946, and like Levittown — which launched in 1947 in Long Island — it was one of America’s first planned communities, a forerunner of the post-war housing boom that was to come. The original Levittown was a uniform mass experience; Bal Harbour is anything but.
On the mainland, Opa-locka has long struggled with poverty. But its early days were devoted to public art and whimsy as a civic construct, beginning with the historic Moorish-style Old City Hall built in 1926 by city pioneer Glenn Curtiss and devoted to the theme of The Arabian Nights. Now the city is seeking to come full circle by embracing contemporary art as an avenue of civic transformation.
For instance, the new Kings Terrace development, put together by Pinnacle Housing Group, features several art installations, including the metal sculpture Genesis by Clayton Swartz, a local artist whose work entails layered biomorphic shapes. The nonprofit Opa-locka Community Development Corp., headed by former state legislator Willie Logan, recently kicked-off a “Community Gateways” revitalization plan, with help from Miami-Dade County’s Art in Public Places program and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The idea is to turn the rough section known as “The Triangle,” formerly isolated by barricades, into Magnolia North, with art installations replacing the barriers.
In sync with urban planners, landscape architects, and historic preservationists, four artist teams are at work. Miamians Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, who also have created works for the Design District, have drawn up a public art master plan. Los Angeles-based artists Jennifer Bonner and Christian Stayner, who have exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale, are working to transform empty houses into community art centers. And an Oakland, Calif. artist and designer, Walter J. Hood — who has earned a Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award — is retooling Sharazad Boulevard.
Gale Fulton Ross, winner of a Rockefeller Fellowship and based in Sarasota, is creating an epic public sculpture for Opa-locka that will contain a time capsule filled with writings from local residents. The piece, titled One Story, is a 30-foot-tall sculpture of a woman’s head created from steel rods: on the top of the head is a time capsule, set to be opened in 2038. To Fulton Ross, the work is about Opa-locka itself. “I met so many women who were heads of households, nurturers who had good and bad memories of the city, and this piece is a kind of tribute. Art transforms neighborhoods, and one day, Opa-locka might be full of artists’ studios.”
To the south and east, Little Haiti is marked by the wonderful work of muralist Serge Toussaint, who has brought images from Serge Pepsi to Martin Luther King Jr. to various storefronts. His work is absolutely engaging, playful and popping, on storefronts like hyper-realist paintings.
In the Design District, the newest public art is a mural by RETNA, the noted graffiti writer, on the facade of the temporary Louis Vuitton store. The work of RETNA and 39 other muralists, including such nationally recognized artists as Kenny Scharf and Shepard Fairey, is also part of Wynwood Walls, created by the late developer Tony Goldman. Wynwood, of course, has become a national model of how public art can transform a neighborhood, and both Fairey and Scharf are creating tributes to Goldman within Wynwood Walls.
In downtown Miami, the InterContinental Miami has launched two 19-story-tall Digital Canvas installations on the east and west facades of the hotel, LED screens that include lighting and art images. DWNTWN Art Days, a public art program organized by the Miami Downtown Development Authority, has created DWNTWN Art Windows featuring displays in storefront windows.
On Flagler Street at the historic Alfred I. DuPont building, Miami artists Michelle Weinberg and Justin Long have created installations: Long’s piece is Einstein on the Beach (Metropolitan Interlude), a reference to Philip Glass’ famed musical composition. Long, who will be part of pop-up exhibitions in the Design District during Art Basel Miami Beach, envisions his installation as a break from the business world, with a panorama photo of a beach scene that is intended to evoke irony and a sense of escape, given its downtown setting.
On Eighth Street in Little Havana, the Barlington Group has adorned one of its buildings, a Goodwill store, with work by such international street artists as Space Invader. A patchwork mural titled The Good Wall, was created by assorted artists, including Miami-based Brandon Opalka. The work started with a single section created during a previous Art Basel by French muralist Blek Le Rat. “Now we have 45 artists, each doing a three-foot-by-three-foot square of the mural,’’ says Bill Fuller, a partner with Barlington, who sees the work as shifting the mindset of the neighborhood. “It’s an ever-evolving piece, a work of art that Goodwill and Little Havana love.”