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Hallowed Habitat

April 1999 was the last time a public peep was heard from George Sanchez -- or maybe it was more like a squeal. That year the artist, who likes making big statements, mounted "monumento," an installation commemorating the 38th anniversary of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Housed in the former Pan Am Clipper airplane hangar in Coconut Grove, the work featured a multitude of model airplanes, a string quartet playing danzones and boleros, and a 30-foot-long helium-filled pink pig, which hovered over the proceedings.

Now Sanchez has taken his artistic agenda outside, tackling monuments of a different sort. Beneath the I-395 overpass near NW Thirteenth Street, he's created an 80 percent-scale model of architect Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye. Originally built in the late Twenties in Poissy, France, the white concrete house, elevated on spindly columns, seems to float over its surroundings as well. Dubbed "The Blessing," Sanchez's project, sponsored by the Downtown Development Authority and the Community Redevelopment Agency, debuted on December 13, with the artist shuttling attendees in a ten-seat golf cart from a party at the nearby Ice Palace to the site. "Art can serve a greater purpose: to be a blessing for a community," Sanchez says. "Villa Savoye has come to represent the quintessential Modern home, and Modernism in itself represented promise for the future -- of inexpensive housing, an opportunity of using the industrial movement to reach more people with great clean living." Granted the Overtown/Park West area is not the best or cleanest neighborhood. One is more likely to spot a woman flashing a homeless man than any work of art. But where people see blight, Sanchez sees potential. His aim is to raise awareness in the art and production worlds and work on transforming the old Firehouse No. 2 into a contemporary arts exhibition space and community facility. "At least something will have been made and documented that is demonstrative of the city's support of the arts," he notes about the installation or "drive-by exhibit," as he calls it.

"An economic development of the arts community is a positive thing for any neighborhood," offers Sanchez, separating himself from the idealistic artists who move into a district, revitalize it with their ideas and mere presence, and then find themselves being run out by greedy landlords cashing in on rising land values. This time the artist is an owner. Sanchez recently purchased property in the area.


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