Fair takes art to the street with outdoor exhibits

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The Miami Herald

December 3, 2004

By Daniel Chang

From colorful murals on highway underpasses to towering sculpture on oceanside parks, dozens of artists are striking up community conversations through public art projects for Art Basel Miami Beach, which runs through Sunday at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Much of the effort is motivated by the third annual fair, with some artists creating works specifically for Art Basel and others eager to give voice to their hometown at a moment when tens of thousands of residents and visitors are focused on art.

Some of the most visible works will be part of Art Projects, a showcase of bronze sculpture, mosaic murals, video projections and other original work produced by 13 artists specifically for Art Basel.

Independent artists, both local and out-of-town, also have chimed in to the dialogue with murals, interactive exhibits and other creations.

Taken together, these projects create a patchwork of public art laced with the individual perspectives of artists from South Florida and abroad.

Miami muralist Xavier Cortada has been busy transforming dingy highway underpasses in Allapattah, Miami and Little Havana into Miami Mangrove Forest. His past public art projects include mosaics and murals at the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Nike Town at Sunset Place, the Miami-Dade Department of Juvenile Justice and elsewhere.

With every public art project, Cortada said, he aims to start a community conversation, usually about who we are, where we come from, and what we aspire to become.

To that end, Cortada designed nearly 300 unique mangrove seedlings — representative of the individual — and several idyllic murals of manatees and alligators in psychedelic swirls.

Cortada called mangrove seeds “the perfect metaphor for an immigrant and the perfect metaphor for a Floridian.”

Mangroves establish roots, he said, but they also grow in clusters symbolic of a community. And because the seedlings were painted onto concrete columns by volunteers from Hands On Miami and students from Miami International Art University, Cortada sees yet another metaphor — of volunteers connecting neighborhoods like the intertwined roots of the mangrove.

Cortada chose to create his murals on freeway underpasses, he said, because these are often the concrete barriers that divide neighborhoods.

”I needed to come up with . . . a way of unifying these disparate places,” he said, “unifying these people and honoring the volunteers that helped paint these.

“This is about giving Miami its own voice.”

DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

Art Basel’s public art exhibits, Art Projects, combine a variety of perspectives from international artists exploring universal issues, said spokesman Peter Vetsch.

The works, most of them near the Miami Beach Convention Center, provide people with a chance to ”walk around the city and discover art,” Vetsch said.

Among the works in Art Projects: Sculpture by the Cuban duo Los Carpinteros (The Carpenters), whose work explores issues of surveillance with three, 12-foot-high watchtowers that will be placed on the beach behind Collins Park.

Brazilian artist Raul Mourao describes his sculpture Casa/Trincheira (House/Trench) — made from 2,070 sandbags stacked into a 9-foot-high, 12-foot-wide, 18-foot-deep building — as “a house that doesn’t shelter, a trench that doesn’t protect. A house without an inside, just an outside.”

And artist Simon Lee of Brooklyn will cover the rear section of a bus with black, plastic sheeting peppered with small holes. As the bus moves, the holes create images that flow into each other and create a two-dimensional image of the world outside.

”Some of them are funny. Some of them are more serious,” Vetsch said of the works. “People can discover.”

Discovering communities is a central theme in Yellow Arrow, an interactive public art project by New York artist Michael Counts.

The project invites people to place specially coded yellow arrow stickers (available through yellowar row.org or at some local art galleries) on favorite places and objects — a view of the city, an unusual fire hydrant, a local bar — and create a text message, via cellphone, using the sticker’s code.

Persons who place stickers are also encouraged to photograph the object and upload it to the website, where Counts is building a global gallery.

When someone encounters a yellow arrow sticker, they call 646-270-5537, enter the unique code on the arrow sticker and receive the text message associated with the arrow.

Jesse Shapins, a creative collaborator on Yellow Arrow, said the objective of Yellow Arrow is “to say the city of Miami is an artwork, to curate the city itself.”

Counts launched Yellow Arrow in New York City in the spring and has taken it across the country and around the world.

The Miami version of Yellow Arrow premiered Thursday, with Counts curating an exhibit at the former Versace Mansion, Casa Casuarina, with 75 large light boxes placed throughout the Mediterranean marvel on Ocean Drive for a party hosted by Piaget jewelry and an international group of art collectors and personalities.

Beginning today, the lightboxes will be placed on prominent buildings and locations in Miami Beach, the Design District, Wynwood and downtown Miami for the remainder of Art Basel, which closes Sunday.

On Saturday, Counts will present an outdoor slide show of Yellow Arrow stickers placed around the world — from Basel, Switzerland, and Berlin to Miami, New York and San Francisco — at Glottman Anteprima, a gallery on 270 NE 39th St., Miami.

Perhaps the best part about Yellow Arrow, Shapins said, is that it will remain in Miami and other cities indefinitely.

”It’s creating a structure where every person has an opportunity to be an artist,” he said, “and be part of an artistic act.”