Visual Arts

Passion flower sculptures about to bloom in Coral Gables

One of the sculptures under construction on the Segovia traffic circles in Coral Gables.
One of the sculptures under construction on the Segovia traffic circles in Coral Gables. South Florida News Service

Two flower-like sculptures on Segovia Street, one more than 30-feet high, are scheduled to be unveiled this summer, the first public artwork commissioned by Coral Gables since the 1920s.

The majority of the funding for the art installation — $1 million — was provided by the city's Neighborhood Renaissance Program. Another $40,000 was given by the National Endowment for the Arts while the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden provided $35,000 worth of horticultural services.

The two traffic circles on Segovia where the sculptures are placed, Biltmore Way and Coral Way, serve as a busy gateway between the business and residential sections of the city, said Catherine Cathers, an arts and culture specialist for the city of Coral Gables.

The work, likely to be completed in early July, was approved in 2014 as part of the Coral Gables Art in Public Places Program. The program’s mission is to maintain the city’s historic art while commissioning and exhibiting new public artworks.

The permanent aluminum and stainless steel sculptures are the work of New York-based artist and sculptor Alice Aycock. When complete, the pieces will resemble passion flowers, put together with more than 4,000 pieces of metal.

Inspiration for the sculptures, said Aycock, came from 20 years of gardening experience and the flora’s relationship to “less organic” objects such as satellites and robots.

“They have an alien quality to them,” she said. “They suggest something about the age we are entering in terms of how we respond to life and nature.”

Carol Damian, who served on the judging panel, said Aycock was chosen from nearly 200 submissions due to her international reputation and experience. Damian is the former director of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University.

“The way she works with metal you’d think you’d be looking at paper or something less strong,” said Damian, “because it does whirls and swirls, it always seems to be alive and moving.”

The stop-action feel of the sculptures is intentional, Aycock said. She has a partiality to certain compositional systems that tend toward asymmetry, curvature and radial balance.

Working with art designed to be seen from a moving vehicle is not a novelty for Aycock. In 2014 she unveiled the Park Avenue Paper Chase along the busy street of the same name in New York City. However, working in South Florida had its challenges.

“It was all done according to the strictest engineering standards,” said Aycock. “[It is] engineered to resist winds of 175 mph — the worst hurricane that can be thought of.”

Coral Gables Museum is planning an exhibition later this year about the process of bringing the sculptures to life. Damian said the pieces have the potential to be more than just works of art.

“The city was looking for the something that would be almost like a destination art work, so significant that it would represent the city, and people would say ‘Wow,’” Damian said.