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Kiki Smith, “Her,” (foreground), Trump Taj Majal (background) (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey — At a windswept press conference Monday morning, two Atlantic City consortiums announced a new waterfront sculpture walk, an initiative to be curated by the Noyes Museum of Art at Richard Stockton College. The sculpture walk, in the city’s Marina District, follows the larger Artlantic project, a vacant lot formerly occupied by the Sands Casino turned public art park under the auspices of curator Lance Fung.

Artlantic is a five-year, $13 million project featuring local, national, and international artists, an experiment in public art as an instrument of urban renewal. Whether or not it materially improves Atlantic City’s economic fortunes remains to be seen, though John Palmieri, executive director of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) believes that “enhancing non-gaming amenities” will draw lucrative cultural tourists and bring a “thriving arts community” to Atlantic City.

As British artist Peter Hutchinson, left, prepares to toss his rope, New Jersey artist Robert Lach, right, speaks to a journalist.

The event was covered by a number of broadcast media outlets, including a Philadelphia CBS affiliate and local radio host/totem of the airwaves Pinky “Mr. Atlantic City” Kravitz, whose arrival provoked much fanfare. Palmieri went on to note that it’s possible to find a “glorified bingo hall” in any corner of the state, but Atlantic City has a unique confluence of gaming and family tourist attractions.

Citing the existence of a nearby neighborhood called Chelsea along with some less tongue-in-cheek factoids — there are “over 118 million” cultural tourists and they spend “36% more” than their non-cultural counterparts — the assembled authorities from CRDA and the Atlantic City Alliance (ACA) revealed the sculpture walk will host 25 artists in its first year, and will be fully open to applications via an online call for submissions. 

John Roloff, “Étude Atlantis” (click to enlarge)

As a product of local curatorial efforts, the announced Sculpture Walk is distinct from Lance Fung’s big-ticket installations over at the seven-acre Artlantic space, which currently includes extensive Robert Barry signage, a Kiki Smith sculpture, a wooden ship by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, and landscape features produced by Peter Hutchinson’s thrown-rope technique. Away from the large greenspace, a larger work by John Roloff, “Étude Atlantis,” directly abuts the boardwalk.

Curator Lance Fung tells Hyperallergic that he is free to pursue this project “in a vacuum,” with complete curatorial independence from the CRDA and ACA. He hopes to create a space that “invites you to sit and reflect,” stressing that his curatorial approach is “holistic.” He desires to create a space pleasing to the community but also provocative of discourse among artists, critics, and curators.

Asked to define his metric of success, Fung said, “For me, it’s ‘What does the art world think?’” Though he hopes that public engagement will take place — he was visibly excited when a children’s toy sword was found by the Kabakov ship — the related benchmarks of attendance are not his concern, “Ultimately, that’s something to ask the ACA, though there are lots of reasons why Artlantic should be beneficial [to the community].”

The assembled press were taken on a tour through the Artlantic park, following Peter Hutchinson as his tossed rope gave way to marking lines spray-painted by assistants, which in turn almost immediately gave way to rows of shrubbery and other landscape features planted by rapid-response horticulturalists. As we walked around the park, I couldn’t help but overhear a local couple lounging on a nearby bench comment, at the prodding of a correspondent from The Aesthete, that they didn’t quite understand the function of what to them was publicly-funded esoterica. “If they wanted to build a park, they should have just built a park.”

New Jersey artist Jedediah Morfit discusses an aluminum chair sculpture of his in front of a Barry piece

It’s a fair criticism, though in the scale of Atlantic City’s ersatz, verdant Artlantic is a literal breath of fresh air. One of the two New Jersey artists whose work Fung has selected, Robert Lach, prepared a series of “interactive nest sculptures” cast in fiberglass from found objects he collects from beaches throughout the Jersey coast. The nests will be three to four feet in diameter and painted in bright primary colors to connote their function as structures for playful children, though Lach tells Hyperallergic that he hopes adults too “will be able to sit in them and contemplate nature, and their own relationship to the world around them, from a different perspective.”

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Mostafa Heddaya

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.