Art

Illuminate Coral Gables Transforms the City's Downtown to an Outdoor Museum

Cai Guo-Qiang’s Fireflies was commissioned by the Association for Public Art with Fung Collaboratives. It was first presented in Philadelphia in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Fusco Photography/Cai Guo-Qiang/Fung Collaboratives/Illuminate Coral Gables
Cai Guo-Qiang’s Fireflies was commissioned by the Association for Public Art with Fung Collaboratives. It was first presented in Philadelphia in 2017.
Illuminate Coral Gables is a public art exhibit that’s perfect for these times.

Opening February 12, this incandescent-and-interactive project is transforming downtown Coral Gables into a free outdoor museum — with newly commissioned and existing works by local, national, and international artists curated to engage with some of the city’s most preeminent landmarks.

“Unlike all other blockbuster museum shows right now that had to be postponed because they could not be presented because of indoor restrictions, ICG is meant to be a free, outdoor, high-quality contemporary art exhibit,” says its chief curator, Lance Fung.

Pedestrians through the downtown area will spot the work of Cuban-born, Miami-based artist Carlos Estévez, who is developing video content on people’s movements, interactions, and sense of community. His first technology-based artwork, the video-mapped projection will be cast over the entire surface of the historic Coral Gables City Hall building.


Another technologically and artistically intricate work: Kiki Smith’s Blue Night, commissioned by the city specifically for Illuminate Coral Gables. The 40-by-190-foot installation will create a wonderland of constellations in Giralda Plaza.

Other works that use video mapping and projections will be found in Gables International Plaza (AKA the Davidson Building) on Le Jeune Road; Actors’ Playhouse on Miracle Mile; and Coral Gables Museum’s façade on Aragon Avenue.

Planning for Illuminate Coral Gables began in January 2019. Exhibit cofounder Patrick O’Connell says the idea was brought to light by the city’s mayor, Raúl Valdés-Fauli.

“He started talking about this a few years ago. He had seen other public art and light-based exhibitions on his travels and thought this would be great for the Gables,” says O’Connell.

The mayor and Venny Torre, president of the city’s Business Improvement District and now president and cofounder of Illuminate Coral Gables, got together and started thinking about ways to make it come to life, O’Connell says.

The initiative is a city project, in collaboration with the Business Improvement District as well as the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, Coral Gables Community Foundation, and Coral Gables Museum, and in partnership with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. It has received funding grants from the Knight Foundation and the Kirk Foundation, other multiple family foundations, private companies, and in-kind sponsorships, according to O’Connell.
click to enlarge David Gumbs’ Echos of Souls, 2021 will be shown on what is known as the Davidson Building on LeJeune Road. - PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID GUMBS/LLUMINATE CORAL GABLES
David Gumbs’ Echos of Souls, 2021 will be shown on what is known as the Davidson Building on LeJeune Road.
Photo courtesy of David Gumbs/lluminate Coral Gables
The overall costs for resources in this first year are a little under $1 million, O’Connell says. But the first Illuminate Coral Gables exhibition is worth well over several million dollars based on the artistic works alone, Fung adds. Six of the works were commissioned specifically for the show, while two others — Cai Guo-Qiang’s Fireflies and Sandra Ramos’ 90 Miles — have been shown in various forms in two other exhibitions.

"Illuminate Coral Gables is really about focusing and enhancing the Coral Gables profile in the fine arts community and bringing more artists to the Gables,” O’Connell says.

To bring a show of such a scope together, the board of Illuminate Coral Gables conducted a search for a chief curator. With more than 40 responses from local, national, and international curators, it selected Fung, of California-based Fung Collaboratives. Then Fung added a curatorial team, which includes Catherine Cathers, Coral Gables’ arts and culture specialist;  Jennifer Easton, art program manager collection for California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit; and Rosie Gordon-Wallace, founder of the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator.

Fung’s specialty is curating large-scale, public art exhibitions. Before he even began working with the board of Illuminate Coral Gables, he wanted to make sure he was the right fit for the project. He wasn’t just presenting art plunked down in various places. He and the board agreed that this was going to be a public art exhibition of international scale.

“I work on large scale shows where the work is easily accessible and visually captivating, socially aware and conceptually driven,” he says. “I work with artists whose work can stand equally inside a museum in Miami, for instance, or in front of a museum, or in a public space, and it is still the same artwork.”

"Illuminate Coral Gables is really about focusing and enhancing the Coral Gables profile in the fine arts community."

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Truth be told, the original iteration of Illuminate Coral Gables was to have included 20 installations.

“Many of them were static sculptures and art that would require people to gather around,” O’Connell says.

The question for all those involved was: How would that work during a pandemic?

So, that number has been culled to eight for the first year, Fung says. He believes the eight works by 16 artists will not only speak to visitors, but also engage them in conversation, and  —  of course — impress, all at the same time.

“My first criteria for all of the pieces was to have the works be super-compelling in the daytime and, at night, have them come alive in a different way,” he says. “Daytime, they may be more intellectual or more obvious, but the subtlety comes alive at night. That’s when it’s a little more magical, sometimes even spiritual.”

Martinique-based artist David Gumbs’ work will appear in Gables International Plaza and at the Miracle Theatre. Movements will trigger random, computer-generated animations and patterns. The work is a “token to lost souls due to the COVID pandemic and to social injustices,” Gumbs says.
click to enlarge Carlos Estévez’s Urban Universes, 2021 was created specifically for Illuminate Coral Gables. The work will be projected on the façade of City Hall. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CARLOS ESTÉVEZ/MAI SHIRAI/JOHNNY SIMS/ILLUMINATE CORAL GABLES
Carlos Estévez’s Urban Universes, 2021 was created specifically for Illuminate Coral Gables. The work will be projected on the façade of City Hall.
Photo courtesy of Carlos Estévez/Mai Shirai/Johnny Sims/Illuminate Coral Gables
In storefront windows along Miracle Mile, artist Joseph Clayton Mills will project archival footage from Coral Gables and other communities through an array of rotating mirrors.

Jonathan Perez, Florida International University’s digital arts faculty member in the Art + Art History Department, along with students Jennifer Hudock, Heather Kostrna, L’nique Noel, Maria Daniela Maldonado, Tara Remmen, Ari Temkin, and Emily Silverio-Williams, created an interactive video mapping display, which will transmit sound elements of Coral Gables’ residents telling a story as imagery floods the walls of the Coral Gables Museum.

Ruben Millares and Antonia Wright created site-specific sculptural light installations. Through their barricade installations placed in different locations, the artists will transform a utilitarian object into a work of art that viewers can interpret in ways personal to their own experience.

Visitors will find Ramos’ 90 Miles: De-construction, 2021 at the Hotel Colonnade on Aragon Avenue. The divided 32-foot walkway is composed of 12 lightboxes representing the journey between Havana and Miami.

Guo-Qiang’s Fireflies was first commissioned by the Association for Public Art and presented in Philadelphia in 2017. A series of American-made pedicabs are transformed into interactive sculptures through handmade silk Chinese lanterns. Previously an interactive work where visitors could enter the pedicabs, this time around, Fireflies has selected volunteers riding throughout the exhibit.

“We could not figure out a way to have people ride these safely during COVID-19,” Fung says. “Maybe next year.”

The lanterns, made in the artist’s hometown village in China, are collaged onto the bicycles. “At night, when they flit around downtown, it will look like a mirage,” Fung says.

While it has been a year and a half of fits and starts because of the pandemic, Fung assures that this exhibit is the start of something. Organizers are nothing short of proud of their new benchmark and what they hope will grow to become an annual, internationally recognized, public art exhibition.

“You know, seeing even one or two of these site-specific works would be phenomenal, but the fact that there are eight scattered throughout, it’s nothing short of amazing,” Fung says.

–  Michelle F. Solomon, ArtBurstMiami.com

Illuminate Coral Gables. Friday, February 12, through Sunday, March 14, throughout downtown Coral Gables; illuminatecoralgables.org. Admission is free.