Miami's Public Art Spaces Offer Respite from the Chaos
Going to the massive Miami art fair Art Basel that happens every year in December can be a headache of gargantuan proportions. You are met not only with the snobbish art world coterie, but with streets teeming with art tourists, hangers on, and curiosity seekers. It's ugly, harsh, and mostly without any cultural context. So, when an invitation to get out of the craziness of South Beach—where most of the action is—to see public art come in, you jump at the opportunity.
Leaving the screechy incalculable commerce in the dust, I drive down a canopied road in suburban Coral Gables, and when I get out of my car, I take a deep breath. The clean air belongs to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens, which sprawls out over 83 acres of horticultural and artistic diversity. There are sculptures everywhere, ranging from classic to Zimbabwean to very contemporary—the latter works, a partnership between mega-gallery Gagosian and the Gardens, being the focus of our tour. Kara Vander Weg, a director at Gagosian Gallery in New York, describes getting two large-scale works by the late sculptor John Chamberlain to their green down a grassy path at the edge of an alligator lake, where they will rest until April. “Chamberlain had a studio in Sarasota,” Vander Weg tells me in the shade of an oak tree. “They were installed in the Seagram Plaza, and we wanted to see them in a more natural location. We wanted to see them in counteraction to the rigidity and urbanity of the city.”
I'm reminded of the various contexts for public art. There are things like Chris Burden's “Urban Light” (the old-timey lampposts seen in the Ashton Kutcher / Natalie Portman romcom No Strings Attached) outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of art, or Anish Kapoor's “Cloud Gate” (or “The Bean” as is it's called fondly by Chicagoans) in Chicago's Millenium Park. These fall into the category of ubiquitous urban landmarks. On the more ephemeral side, the New York-based Creative Time and the Los Angeles Nomadic Division and organizations throughout the world dedicate themselves to promoting art in the public space. Oftentimes, these non-profits organize installation exhibitions or performances that are open to the public, and allow artwork to be taken outside of the commercial or institutional space. There's an important problem in the art world: galleries and museums can feel intimidating or unfeeling. Bringing work into the public sphere is almost always rewarding in it's immediate engagement. The Fairchild, while primarily being a public botanical garden, and secondarily serving as a Florida International University affiliated biodiversity and conservation lab, serves a tertiary purpose as a sculpture garden. The land itself is so diverse and varied that it seems like art peeks out from the most unexpected corners, and enmeshes itself with the wooded, pastoral beauty of the park.
Chamberlain's sculptures are crinkled metal knots—like French horns that have been run over by a Hummer—one green and the other copper. “They are up for a good long time for them to weather,” Vander Weg jokes. “Actually, they're pretty hardy; they were installed during the hurricane at Seagram Plaza, and they were fine, so that's why we were like, 'Ah! We can leave them for months and they'll be fine.'” The Chamberlains glint in the warm Miami winter sun—a certain type of sculpture is perfect for this type of specific site.