Gator in the Bay: Giant Art Invades Miami

As the story goes, a teenager visiting a Florida tourist trap bought a baby alligator and flushed it down the toilet. Months later, it emerged from the sewers, as big as a school bus, to stalk unsuspecting humans.

Well, Lloyd Goradesky's gargantuan Gator in the Bay was never dropped into the john, but the football-field-length floating reptile is set to prowl the waters off the Miami Yacht Club on Watson Island when Art Basel in Miami Beach rips into town December 5 through 8.

It's one of the first public art projects announced for this year's monster art fair and also one of the strangest — just the kind of thing to augment the Magic City's reputation as a mecca for artistic lunacy.

"I've been photographing wildlife in the Everglades for more than two decades," Goradesky says. "When someone approached me a few years back and offered me the barge to use during Basel, that was how this project got its start."

The floating gator is intended to raise awareness of the fragile nature of the Florida Everglades and reflect the cooperation between industry and the local environment. Goradesky explains he chose the iconic reptile for his Basel opus because the creature is a barometer of our ecological health.

With a head that towers as high as a three-story condo, the gator will have a massive maw built around the boom of a crane that will snap open and closed. The skull, created from steel and recycled materials, will be a sculpture that stands on a barge.

The body will consist of 102 tiles, each four feet wide and eight feet long, made of highly buoyant material Goradesky calls "floating art tile."

Each of the 102 sections of the animal's body will be emblazoned with 5,000 unique, postage-stamp-size images that will create the illusion of an alligator when seen from afar. "I used more than 100,000 digital images I shot in the Everglades for the gator's body," Goradesky says. "It's one of the largest photo mosaics ever created in the world. If you look closely at the images, you'll see turtles mating, otters eating fish, and panthers taking a shit."

Goradesky was born and raised in Miami Beach and attended North Miami Beach Senior High. He says growing up in South Florida inspired a deep appreciation for the state's wildlife habitats, and as an adult, he began volunteering during Miami Beach "Clean Up Days" to photograph the event.

"My father, Arnold, was from New York, where he worked on developing the electron microscope at NYU," Goradesky says. "He was also a bridge expert, and that brought him down to South Florida for work, where he met my mom, Phyllis Goldstein, who was the first parks director for the City of Miami Beach."

Goradesky became an artist after he graduated with an MBA and a law degree from Nova Southeastern University. "I went through a life change in my early 40s. I began volunteering to photograph local, public clean-up efforts, and I also shot a lot of pictures of injured animals.

The experience led him to write the book Caged Free: Animal Survival in Captivity. "I discovered there was a lot of hypocrisy in the conservationist and animal activist world," he says. "The conflict surrounding the Everglades Restoration Plan has been ongoing since a hurricane nearly wiped out Lake Okeechobee back in 1928."

Goradesky mentions that his Gator in the Bay project has been nearly four years in the making and has cost $700,000 to develop. He partially funded the project himself and received help from sponsors including Vern and Marie Nix (V & M Erectors) and Warren Fronte (Fronte Crane Service). The artist hopes to recoup the money by selling the tiles during the December art fair.

"Last year, we showed the head during Basel," Goradesky says, "but now the public can experience the completed Lego-style shape of the alligator as it floats on Biscayne Bay."

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Carlos Suarez De Jesus