Radka Salcmannova – “Artlantic”: Boardwalk Public Art Project Brings Attention to Art in Atlantic City

Artlantic is a public art project commissioned by the Atlantic City Alliance and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (ACA and CRDA). The ACA in conjunction with the CRDA built two parks for this public art project in an effort to foster social interaction through art. The landscape is designed by New York-based landscape design studio, Balmori Associates. The project is an ambitious five-year, outdoor, public art project, which, this year, has been nominated as one of the fifty best public art projects in the US. ACA and CRDA are trying to re-imagine Atlantic City as a vibrant, dynamic, cultural destination instead of its established image as gambling hub of the east coast.

The project, located next to the historic Atlantic City Boardwalk, is curated by Lance Fung of Fung Collaboratives. Fung is well known for his his innovative approach to public art. With this public art project in Atlantic City, along with his other projects elsewhere, he is dedicated to reinvigorating the city’s tourism base through cultural programming. The mission is to transform large, underused parcels of land into public art spaces, which will open to the locals and tourists alike to experience and enjoy year-round.

The idea behind turning these previously vacant lots into lively municipal parks is to encourage social interaction through exhibits of public art by both emerging and established contemporary artists. This not only brings attention to art in Atlantic City, which is lacking, but it also brings to the city the artists themselves. Fung has curated a spectacular show of major artists such as Kiki Smith, Robert Barry, Peter Hutchinson, John Roloff, and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Artlantic is indisputably an extraordinary collection of high-level art.

It is an admirable effort to revive the completely unused space to bring culture to the city outside of the beach and gambling scene; consequently pushing the community to consider different aesthetics and serious culture. Instead of tourists promenading the strip for cheap trinkets like T-shirts, key chains and other empty artifacts and cheap backdrops, the public is practically forced to also take in the art and possibly be affected just from its very presence alone.

It is a fascinating and almost overwhelming thing to consider that we are witnessing the genesis of Atlantic City’s art scene. Atlantic City is notorious for its beaches and casinos. This is the main reason why people take trips there. Atlantic City’s entire economy relies on these features, and that this large-scale art project will be the first of its kind, without tests or trials to gauge its outcome or the reaction of the people, it is possible that the casinos and the beach will overshadow, or, rather, eat the nascent art world. While an impressive feat, it is also a risky endeavor. Will it work?

Is this effort to make a change in this kind of place really possible? Consider the aforementioned trinkets of Atlantic City, that which is their organic art. You have typical souvenirs, and then you have the decorative art such as replications of Renaissance sculptures and tableaux in the lobbies of hotels; images of art which might come to the layman’s mind. These are superficial ideas of art, and observers fail to take a deeper look at what the art is saying or why it was created. That this impressive lineup of artists is featured in Atlantic City’s first art show, will the community go down to the art’s level of deep reflection, or will the art be forced to float to the surface of vapid and empty ideas of what art is, i.e., decoration. The community or the art will have to conform to the other. With this concept, the importance is not only the placement of the art in the public venue as the public art it not just an aesthetic filler. It is the exposure of a new situation, a new influence on the viewer. It draws crowds. However, this high-level art is next to the filler art which is already in Atlantic City. The public might view this new, high-level, legitimate art as just more filler.

What does art mean now to this society or any other society for that matter? It’s definitely a controversial topic which brings to mind a recent project by Marina Abramovic and Jay-Z at Pace Gallery. The combination of commercial art with deep art, this hybrid approach, is making almost a new movement of Pop Art, version 2.0, not to be confused with the 20th-century movement in modern art associated with Andy Warhol. What does it say about our society and the relationship to art in general?

We try to make art more accessible for the audience, society at large. We are supporting art and cultural institutions. We learn and educate ourselves and try to go forward and be better. But are we doing that in the right way? Are we answering the question properly and strongly? Under certain conditions, definitely yes, it is right to put two radically different institutions or genres next to each other in order to help and encourage the culture of the population who still do not attribute with clarity the serious emphasis of art.

In this case and from this point of view, yes, Atlantic definitely has its place. It is important, and it will hopefully allow the public to approach art in general.

Radka Salcmannova

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