Atlantic City is taking big steps to beautify and re-imagine its vacant spaces.
The Atlantic City Alliance is behind ARTLANTIC, a five-year project that involves taking empty lots and turning them into giant works of art. Two of those spaces are just two to three weeks away from completion.
The purpose of ARTLANTIC is to create not just works of art, but public meeting spaces where guests and locals in Atlantic City can congregate for free.
“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” ARTLANTIC Curator Lance Fung says. “We want to shift what the art world is about … it’s about giving back. Art can have healing and holistic properties to a community.”
One space, which is adjacent to The Ritz and sits at the corner of South California Avenue and the Boardwalk, was designed by world-class artist John Roloff. The giant piece of artwork features vortex-like black stripes on the ground and along a giant wall, which flows into a “cistern” in the middle, a mirrored feature in the project.
But the space is more than just a piece of art. As the Atlantic City Ballet showed as they opened the sneak preview Friday, Nov. 9, the walkable mural also serves as a performance space.
“What really made it real was to see the dancing and to see the space activated,” Roloff says. “What has sort of occurred in a way is that the entire environment has become a stage; you’re walking into a painting in a sense.”
“It’s just so exciting to kick it off with a live performance showcase in this art park to show the spirit of Atlantic City,” ACA President Liza Cartmell says. “Hopefully, local talent will come here and perform.”
Cartmell added bringing people together was their purpose all along.
“Our main goal of the project was to … enhance a few great public spaces for the community,” she says. “The parks were really designed to engage the public and provide a respite.”
Cartmell says that once electricity is distributed back to all of Atlantic City, the art spaces will be hooked up with free WiFi for the public. This will help allow people to spend more time in the spaces, relax and enjoy the art surrounding them.
Roloff’s space, called Etude Atlantis, has been dedicated to the first responders after Hurricane Sandy swept through Atlantic City.
“We are a lot farther along in the way of restoration and getting back to some degree of normalcy (compared to other cities),” Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford says. “I’m proud of the herculean efforts of our first responders.”
The second space takes up more than 7 acres of land next to the Claridge tower at Bally’s Atlantic City at the corner of Wabash and Pacific avenues.
This space is comprised of works by three different artists. Two tall grass hills made up of more than 28,000 tons of dirt are hollowed out and facing each other. One end holds a sunken pirate ship, the work of Ilya and Emilia Kabakov; and the other features a sculpture by Kiki Smith and will be surrounded by red plants and foliage.
“(Atlantic City) was created out of nothing and suddenly … it was like a dream,” Emilia Kabakov says. “People come to Atlantic City to find a better life.”
She described the ship as a way people could get to Atlantic City and how it’s part of a journey for the viewers. At the preview, children were already enjoying climbing over the giant ship.
At the opposite side of the park, Smith’s sculpture stands in the middle of red foliage that will change with the seasons. As the year goes on, different sections and patterns of the surrounding areas of the sculpture will be in bloom, making it a great spot for nature lovers.
The sculpture itself is of a nude woman clutching a deer to her chest.
“I like the idea of having something static and something active around it,” Smith says of her artwork. “I had the sculpture in my neighborhood and thought it would be nice for here. There is a kind of formal singularity and austerity and severity that we rarely see in American public spaces.”
Surrounding these two grass mounds are the words of artist Robert Barry, who takes words such as “Passion” and “Glorious” to draw out emotions from viewers. These lightbox words will illuminate the site at night and offer art to transcend into the night.
“There’s no way I can predict how (people) will react,” Barry says of his project. “I put it out there and their reaction is unpredictable; it’s meant to be a personal reaction.”
The site will be open from dawn to dusk daily, but patrons will still be able to walk around the fencing to view Barry’s work when night falls.
The next project is set to debut in 2013, and work has already begun on that site, Cartmell says. That project space is located at the corner of S. Florida and Pacific avenues and adjacent to the Boardwalk and Trump Plaza Casino Hotel. A smaller space is scheduled for 2013 and also is along S. Florida Avenue and the Boardwalk.