Artist Kiki Smith is drawing while we FaceTime our interview. She's at her home in the Catskills where she says the snow is "up to here."
She asks me if I mind if she does. Draw. "Not at all," I say. Why would I mind? Frankly, I was hoping she'd show me what she was creating. (I forgot to ask at the end of our interview.)
Smith is an icon in the art world, known for helping to revive the figurative art movement in the 1980s. Her 40-year career as a multidisciplinary artist has her works in permanent and museum collections everywhere.
And so it is quite amazing that Smith ended up creating an original installation for the debut of Illuminate Coral Gables.
I pretty much ask her straight out. "Do you have a connection to South Florida?"
"No," she says, "I don't think I've ever been there," she says. She has this kind of whispy voice that is in line with what I think the drawings on her paper might look like.
Here's where the link to the Gables comes in: The German-born artist who grew up in New Jersey, had had worked with the California-based curator, Lance Fung, who the Illuminate Coral Gables board had selected to helm the public art exhibition.
In 2004, Fung asked Smith to be part of an outdoor endeavor, The Snow Show, a bold public exhibition at the cusp of the Arctic Circle. "He invited artists and architects to work together," she says. Smith worked with architect Lebbeus Woods creating a frozen pond that, at night, revealed shadowy figures hovering over streaks of light, according to the New York Times.
Her original work in South Florida, "Blue Night," was commissioned by the city of Coral Gables specifically for Illuminate Coral Gables. It's a 40-feet wide by 190-foot installation that creates a wonderland of constellations in Giralda Plaza.
"Visually captivating is key," says Fung about all of the 8 works in the show.
Smith said she was interested from the get-go because of being up North and in the midst of a pandemic. She wanted to work on something playful — something where she didn't feel like she had to create anything that had to be "provocative."
"I didn't need to make it about anything. I was just thinking that 'I'm not trying to make something for the art world.' It was nice to create a work that a 10-year-old could find amusing."
She pictured Giralda Plaza having a Mediterranean feel since she wasn't able to visit the site of the installation — COVID-19 and not wanting to fly and all that. "The Mediterranean: that's where things are happening in the streets." She remembers work she created, too, in Munich, that would inspire the Illuminate work. "I made three dimensional lights that were lanterns of animals." This had the same notion, she felt.
Smith's "Blue Night" has more 42 illuminated animal constellations that hang between the palm fronds above Giralda Plaza. It is the most interactive of the 8 works, with augmented reality built in to the work. Fung says she embraced AR as an artistic tool.
The suspended mirrored renderings of animal constellations from both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres reflect light through transparent blue plexiglass with holographic vinyl stars that denote the constellations. An Augmented Reality (AR) component will enable viewers to see ghosted constellation images on mobile devices throughout the day and night.
- The link to the amazing augmented reality: click here
- The link to the downloadable "Blue Night" coloring book is here
"I haven't had that many opportunities to make things in public. When I was 50, I thought I needed to be a 'citizen.' That I had to make work for people that was out in the public not just in private homes or museums."
At 67, she said she has done that about five times and another reason to be part of Illuminate.
She also welcomed the collaboration between the city, arts organizations and everyone that was involved in making the pieces come to life, she said.
As far as all of the works, Fung says each should be viewed individually. "The idea is not for Illuminate Coral Gables to be a group show, but rather 8 different solo shows happening simultaneously."
The board of the ICG wanted to have a curator who would understand that what the city wanted wasn't just a light spectacle but a bonafide public art exhibition. Fung was that curator.
"We have a great balance of gender, age, ethnicity, and philosophy. Anyone who goes to Illuminate doesn't have to like all 8 of the works, but we want you to leave with an experience of 8 different philosophies in artwork."
The planning for Illuminate Coral Gables began in January 2019, according to Patrick O'Connell, co-founder of Illuminate Coral Gables. The initiative is a City of Coral Gables project in collaboration with the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce, the Coral Gables Community Foundation, the Business Improvement District of Coral Gables and The Coral Gables Museum, in partnership with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It took us a year and a half to get here and I am very proud of 'Illuminate,' " Fung says.
He's already begun curating Illuminate 2022 and is hoping it can be as original realized before the pandemic scaled down the show. Expect at least 20 works next year, he promises.
Illuminate Coral Gables, Feb. 12 through March 14, illuminate nighttime displays and "Fireflies," Wednesday through Sunday, 6 to 10 p.m. Throughout downtown Coral Gables. Free. www.illuminatecoralgables.org