Atlantic City Alliance

November 15, 2012

Phase 1 of new public art project in Atlantic City, New Jersey curated by Lance Fung
Artists: Robert Barry, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, John Roloff and Kiki Smith

On November 9th, some of the most important names in the world of contemporary art came together with hundreds of enthusiastic members of the Atlantic City community to get a sneak preview of ARTLANTIC: wonder, the first phase of a five-year project that is transforming this seaside town into an important center for public art. Just as importantly, they were there to celebrate the resilience of this storm-ravaged city and the power of great art to sustain communities through good times and bad.

In ARTLANTIC: wonder, acclaimed artists Robert Barry, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, John Roloff, and Kiki Smith, in collaboration with landscape design firms Balmori Associates and Cairone & Kaupp, have transformed two large, underused parcels of land near the city’s famous Boardwalk into striking public art spaces that will be open to the public year-round. Despite being directly in the path of Hurricane Sandy, many of the city’s most iconic structures escaped relatively unscathed—the casinos along the waterfront and the city’s historic Boardwalk reported little damage—and the ARTLANTIC: wonder installations survived intact.

The layout of the first site—housing works by Barry, the Kabakovs, and Smith—occupies over seven acres. With its two looping, curved mounds of grassy hillside, it evokes the city’s famed roller coasters, whereas the illuminated text of Robert Barry’s piece—embedded in the landscape, weaving through the site, and unifying the art with the landscape design—will come alive at night and mimic the bold signage that adorns the Boardwalk.

Inside the earthworks, two open spaces house installations designed by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and Kiki Smith. In the former, a pirate ship named the Devil’s Rage rises from the ground, referencing the sunken ships that line the ocean floor off of New Jersey’s coast; visitors are encouraged to explore the secrets of the partially excavated vessel. Opposite the ship is a lush garden designed by Kiki Smith, composed entirely of brilliant red foliage. The garden centers around Smith’s sculpture Her, in which a woman tenderly embracing a doe alludes to an embrace between humanity and the natural world.

At the second site is John Roloff’s Étude Atlantis, an elaborate, illusionistic space composed of bold stripes that converge into a spiral pattern, evoking a vortex of water. Roloff’s stage-like site will provide the backdrop for a series of performances, concerts, and public events that will continue year-round at both locations.

The project is the vision of curator Lance Fung, who has a reputation for ambitious, innovative approaches to public art that reach out to and reinvigorate local communities. Long before the storm, his curatorial plan for ARTLANTIC had captured the public imagination, receiving backing from government and business leaders and drawing support from local groups that ranged from arts associations to labor unions. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that support has only deepened, and ARTLANTIC: wonder has become a source of pride and a potent symbol of survival. Paradoxically, the storm and its aftermath have underscored the importance of ARTLANTIC’s mission to provide a public space in which individuals can come together to celebrate and reaffirm their sense of shared community. If the success of the opening is any indication, the fundamental premise of the ARTLANTIC project—that art has the power to bring people together, to enrich communities, and to change life for the better—has been confirmed. At the preview events this weekend, art world luminaries, community volunteers, and local artists came out in large numbers to support the project and to let the world know that ARTLANTIC: wonder—and Atlantic City—are not simply recovering, but are moving forward with renewed vitality.

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