In the era of the coronavirus, public spaces enable us to socialize and connect, across the masks. And public art is a powerful way to bring more people together safely, spark new connections, and add even more value to our public spaces. Illuminate, a free public art exhibition, brought world-class light and interactive art to Coral Gables, Florida, a community of nearly 50,000 southwest of downtown Miami over this past winter. One of the country’s first planned communities, the Mediterranean Revival-style development features a two-mile-long downtown strip that hosted eight new interior and exterior art installations. Working with the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the city, and other partners, a team of curators led by Fung Collaboratives sought to “produce a proper museum-quality group exhibition rather than a ‘light festival.’”
Blue Night by contemporary artist Kiki Smith featured 42 suspended art works inspired by late 17th century drawings of constellations of the zodiac by Johannes Hevelius and others. Smith said: “In ancient times it was believed that the sky was somewhere between heaven and Earth. It’s great to be able to present light, hope, and joy for so many to experience.”
A companion augmented reality (AR) app enabled visitors to interact with the aerial astrological signs. Visitors who aimed their phone cameras at the artworks saw ghosted images of the animals, along with the stars and asterism that make up each constellation. There’s also a fantastic free coloring book for kids (and adults).
On the facade of the Coral Gables Museum, the video art projection You Are Here was the result of a course artist and professor Jonathan Perez taught at Florida International University (FIU) Art & Art History Department that took “an inclusive and historical look” at the city. Perez states that the installation is “heartfelt, relevant, and another time capsule for the city to treasure.” Students that participated in the course were also credited on the final artwork.
Echoes of Souls and Echoes of My Skin by David Gumbs are a dynamic diptych video installation. Visitors passing below triggered “random computer-generated animations and patterns inspired by David Gumbs’ Caribbean cultural, fauna, and flora heritage,” the curators write. His work is also a “token to lost souls due to the COVID pandemic and social injustice.”
At Coral Gables City Hall, Cuban-born and Miami-raised artist Carlos Estévez worked with animators Mai Shirai and Johnny Sim and projection mapping artist Clifford Walker to create the mesmerizing Urban Universes. Estévez transformed his paintings and sculptures into animations that move across the surface of the historic building.
And on street corners throughout downtown Coral Gables was Yes/No by Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares. The artists state that metal barricades were once viewed as providing safety for events, but because of waves of protests have become ubiquitous in downtowns. They can now symbolize repression and control. By lighting them up, they hope to focus our attention on their complex role in the built environment.
Illuminate, founded by Venny Torre and Patrick O’Connell, is a project of the Coral Gables Community Foundation and includes partners such as The City of Coral Gables, The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the Business Improvement District (BID), and the Coral Gables Museum, along with numerous public and private sponsors.