Mall or museum?


Shoppers at Aventura Mall in Miami walk past a Julian Opie artwork installation which is a light display of walkers on the lower level of the mall in this Nov. 20, 2007 photo. The dozen or so pieces that make up the mall's permanent collection were either commissioned or acquired by the shopping center's owners especially for the public. It is part of an effort to make the mall a cultural destination for locals and tourists.

J. Pat Carter/The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 2:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 2:43 p.m.

AVENTURA, Fla. - Shoppers at the Aventura Mall get to see something far more unusual than the latest shoe or clothing trend: museum-caliber high art.

The dozen or so pieces that make up the mall's permanent collection were either commissioned or acquired by the shopping center's owners especially for the public. It is part of an effort to make the mall a cultural destination for locals and tourists.

Displaying art in the public domain has been going for centuries beginning with ancient Greece and even later in Italy during the Renaissance. But even though no hard statistics exist, experts say the fact that mall owners, Turnberry Associates, are commissioning the pieces from well-known artists is new to contemporary American malls.

"It makes sense," said Gary Hoppenstand, director of the undergraduate program in American Studies at Michigan State University. "The fact that you are going to have a permanent collection, that is an interesting twist to it."

The art is another draw to get people into the mall, Hoppenstand said.

"It's something that is actually strategic ... a destination for people to go to beyond shopping," he said.

Jacqueline Fletcher is director of Turnberry For The Arts, the program purchasing the art and organizing the mall's art collection. She says the idea to integrate the art into the mall was decided during an ongoing $22 million renovation.

"We wanted to create a visually enjoyable environment," Fletcher said. "Now we hope they (shoppers) will come here to have a cultural experience ... It's really more about the impact it will have on the public rather than money."

So, Fletcher has spent the last two years combing art fairs, museums and talking to experts to find the best art to fit her parameters, which include cost which she won't divulge durability, appeal, size and other environmental factors. She says she focused on contemporary art and never thought of picking anything from another era.

"We try to give each artist their own breathing space," Fletcher said.

Artist Lawrence Weiner came, walked around and decided where he wanted his installation to be placed. It is on ceiling beams of the second story of the mall.

The words "ADMIRED DESIRED REQUIRED ACQUIRED" are each painted in red paint on each ceiling beam. On the last beam the words "All Within a Realm of Possibility," are written in gray. The Spanish translation of the words are written on the facing beams.

Weiner, who is having a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art through Feb. 10, said using both languages was "self-evident" in South Florida because the Hispanic population.

"I felt that it would make it what it is, which is public art in a sense," Weiner said.

Weiner said the words he chose are all actions that people do with objects.

"It's a matter how we give value to things," he said. "Everything that can be admired is within the realm of possibility."

Weiner said that being a New Yorker, he personally doesn't like malls, but he was pleased with the piece and hoped shoppers would take with them "an understanding of their own place in the world in terms of value."

"To be able to put yourself in a physical situation about materials ... your entire relationship to objects that are for sale and most things are sale," Weiner said.

Shoppers may not know who the artists are, but they do know that the art is special, Fletcher said. The display will eventually include a self-guided walking tour.

"These are works people would see in a museum. They don't expect to come upon them while shopping," Fletcher said.

Los Angeles-based artist Jorge Pardo created the 96 hanging acrylic and wood butterflies especially for the atrium they are displayed in. He said art must engage the viewer.

"We don't have a very good tradition of letting artists work in the public in a progressive way," Pardo said.

Advocates said the idea of displaying high art in malls connects to a larger trend across the United States of making art more assessable to the masses beyond galleries and museums.

"I think that art and creativity are becoming much more prevalent in the everyday lives of American citizens," said Anne L'Ecuyer, associate vice president for field services for Americans For The Arts, a national organization for advancing arts. "I think there are many catalysts. One is that we are going into a new era of economy that really values the creativity."

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