Fancy Those Flamingos

In nature (and on lottery tickets), flamingos seem perfectly happy being pink. On South Beach, of course, fabulous fashion rules. There flamingos sport high heels, hats, and bikinis. Such creativity ensues when dozens of South Florida artists apply their talents to seven-foot likenesses of the tropical icon. Separate public art projects in Miami Beach and Coral Gables will showcase jazzed-up fiberglass flamingos from May through October. The individual birds shall perch proudly at various outdoor locations -- as did pigs in Cincinnati, fish in New Orleans, cows in New York and Chicago.

A sneak peek at the South Florida projects is possible since several artists have been publicly converting their flamingos into quirky characters. Coral Gables strollers can peer into a storefront at 212 Miracle Mile and watch the work. South Beach denizens can stop at the Nest, a vacant space at Ocean Steps on Collins Avenue that serves as a studio for several participating artists.

"It's an instant Kodak moment. Everybody seems to reach for the camera,'' says Miami Beach artist Em Kuker. His designs were selected by sponsors in both Miami Beach and Coral Gables. Two of his flamingos are basketball players, complete with Miami Heat and Miami Sol uniforms, actual sneakers, and fancy headdresses. The Heat's flaming basketball logo blazes in one bird's eyes.

"It's watching art in action," notes Beth Ravitz of Coral Springs, who also slogs away at the Nest. Glazed ceramic pieces that form mosaic-like images -- including buff and beautiful bikini-clad sunbathers -- adorn her Florida Fantasy Flamingo. The outstretched wings, she says, are designed to resemble a 1959 Cadillac El Dorado's fins. Katie Jansen of Miami Beach is using Smith & Wollensky, the restaurant that commissioned her flamingo, as inspiration for the project. She'll paint her bird pink, then dress it to match the restaurant's servers -- tan jacket, white shirt, and green tie.

So far about 60 individuals and corporations have paid the $2000 fee to sponsor a flamingo. The Miami Beach birds will be returned to their sponsors after the display. The Coral Gables sculptures will be donated to the Charlee Homes for Children, a nonprofit organization that provides services to abused and abandoned children, for a future auction. But Gables sponsors can keep their birds for a $500 donation to the group.

The artsy flock is expected to create an interesting attraction for tourists and locals. In fact the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau is working on maps that point out the various flamingos' locations.

And they're sure to be a sight to see.

"It's very interesting, the different interpretation that each artist gives the bird,'' says artist Ravitz. "They're very funny. They're very comical, a lot of them. They're beautiful."

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Patti Roth
Contact: Patti Roth