Doing Things Off Script…this is UNSCRIPTED
Claire Breukel is the curator of Unscripted, Bal Harbour public art projects. Unscripted, Bal Harbour commissions a series of ambitious and site responsive contemporary art pieces throughout the public areas of Bal Harbour Village. Breukel shares her behind the scenes insights of the selection, artist installation and programming as each project progresses.
Improvisation is exciting because it’s unpredictable. It offers both improviser and audience a chance to interact in a spontaneous and often unexpected way. As a result, improvisation offers the possibility to charter new territory, push boundaries and share dialogue in a way that is unfiltered and honest.
In many ways, a semi-permanent public art commission functions the same way.
What do I mean by this?
Public spaces offer an artist a direct and unmediated interface with its audience. Loosing the filter of a four-walled gallery, the artwork is quite literally sharing the space and surroundings as its onlooker. How does this impact how artworks are perceived? Surely the dialogue between artwork and onlooker is more direct and therefore honest.
George Sánchez-Calderón’s winning project “Pax Americana” is exactly that. When I looked at the proposal with the advisory team it was evident that the language of a large text-based “Americana” sign that Sánchez-Calderón had proposed was unabashedly honest, immediate and making use of a familiar and accessible advertising idioms. The second component to his project referenced the single-family Levittown homes of the 1940’s and carries the same honest sentiment offering a simple visual gesture—a closed life-size recreation of the home with its image screened on its surface. However as with improv, the layered references that lie within its surface lingo transcend face value.
I have always, and still do, believe that the most successful public art projects are ones that can operate on a variety of levels—from the statue of liberty (arguably the first major public art commission) to Christo’s “Surrounded Islands” to Olafur Eliasson’s “The New York City Waterfall Project”. Despite Sánchez-Calderón offering simple visual gestures, both projects are conceptually complex in their reference to the sites geography and history—some of which include the iconic hotel Americana, questioning what it means to be an American both then and now in lead up to the Presidential election, and also poking a proverbial stick at what is encompassed by the term “The American Dream.” His project in this way has both aesthetic value to ensure an immediate dialogue and offers a bevvy of clever, provocative and social and political metaphors for the mind to dance around, leaving a long lasting impression that is largely interpretive.
When there is scope for interpretation there is risk that an artwork may be perceived and received in unexpected ways. This is why the advisory group’s extensive public art and contemporary art knowledge proved invaluable at helping to troubleshoot every aspect of the project and make sure that the artworks selected could withstand scrutiny from everybody and anybody and prove interesting and even provocative. That being said, the two final projects that were selected—in addition to George Sanchez Calderon’s “Pax Americana”, Christy Gast’s “Self Portrait of a Barefoot Mailman” will be created for March next year— have come from an honest, immediate and ambitious place.
Claire Breukel, Unscripted Curator
“Americana” and “Levittown House”; sketches for the upcoming public art commission “Pax Americana” by George Sanchez Calderon. Graphic courtesy the artist.