Curator of mocked yet acclaimed Art Parks in A.C. takes an early exit


Lance Fung, we hardly knew you. Well, some in Atlantic City would say that we knew the acclaimed San Francisco curator of public art installations too well, or at least his vision. Originally commissioned by the  Atlantic City Alliance for a five-year residency, with one large art park to be delivered each year, Fung Collaboratives announced the end of that arrangement with a statement and a tweet Monday night declaring "The end of Artlantic and our farewell to Atlantic City" after "3 projects in 2.5 years." Its next project, commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, is called "Nonuments." Lots of luck, Lance!

It had been a bit of a rocky collaboration, with some criticizing the Alliance for devoting so much money to the projects and others praising the casino-created and funded marketing group for trying to bring some sophisticated culture to a town that still relies on Bert Parks and Miss America as artistic muses. In all, $12 million was spent on the public art, but that amount also included the popular Boardwalk Hall light show, the creation of volleyball courts out of a vacant lot near the Revel, and a work-in-progress sculture walk near the marina casinos. Tom Ballance, chair of the Alliance board, said the organization was moving on from art commissions. 

Fung's vision was noble and in the art world, lauded: he transformed an empty lot at Indiana Avenue (the former site of the imploded Sands casino) into a rolling greenscape of unusual, provocative and world reknowned sculpture, including works by Kiki Smith (above, photo by Tom Gralish), and other works by Robert Barry (lighted words like BELIEVE, PURPOSE, UNKNOWN). Art journals praised it, but it suffered from being hard to spot from the Boardwalk and not that inviting a space in general (the symbolically interesting but obscuring landscaping, plus stubborn dune grass that never grew, leaving the outer edge looking raggedy). Although Fung claimed the park was embraced by locals, tourists and tweeters alike, it never seemed to attract too many people. (The whale that was anonymously spraypainted with purple fraternity letters (Tau Epsilon Phi) after washing up on the beach got much more attention.) Fung's statement said they were looking forward to seeing the parks "grow in nature and activites" so it seems the park will stay past Fung's exit. The park was always considered temporary, as the land is privately owned. But future development in the waning economic climate in Atlantic City seems less likely than ever, so the art park seems likely to hang on for awhile. Fung's statement said that Artlantic allowed Kiki Smith to "realize her poetic red garden which was initially envisioned in the 80s but had never had the opportunity to be created before." It is poetic, though the possiblity that it represented blood around the nude female carrying a doe was not the most popular sculptural metaphor in town. 

Jeff Guaracino, a spokesman for the Alliance, said the Alliance had planned on another public installation in a lot adjacent to Boardwalk Hall but that lot is now being developed into retail shops by the Toll Brothers, which, Guaracino noted, was a good thing. He said all major spaces along the Boardwalk had been completed with public art. Most recently, Fung brought artist Mitsu Overstreet to create a series of digitally produced ocean scape murals filling the arches on the side of Boardwalk Hall's West Hall bordering Florida Avenue (see below). Fung also curated "Etude" a pop art installation by John Roloff (with WiFi) on the Boardwalk near California Avenue that was more readily embraced by visitors, skateboarders and Zumba classes alike. "The Boardwalk Hall project completed Lance's scope of work," Guaracino said.

Since its initial enthusiasm for public art (and an arts district in Ducktown, now represented mostly by the very cool and worth a visit Arts Garage galleries on the ground floor of the Wave Parking Garage near the Walk outlets), the Alliance has become more event-focused. This summer, it is sponsoring two free concerts on the beach, a pro Volleyball tournament, and promoting the resort as a daylife/nightlife party destination. Where, for the time being, you can still see some impressive, if under appreciated, public art..