The new art park on the Atlantic City Boardwalk inspired an even newer bit of art Sunday morning.
“Optical illusion,” 11-year-old Olivia Sebastian sang as she walked up to it, raising her arms for dramatic effect — in the style of a pop-music diva. “Optical illusion.”
But that catchy little tune led to a lively artistic discussion among Olivia and her sisters, Victoria, 12, and Bella, 10.
Olivia was first to spot the creator’s intention to fool the human eye with “Etude Atlantis,” the extra-large work of art fronting the Boardwalk at California Avenue. The Sebastian girls, from Ramsey in Bergen County, discovered the tricky bit of art as they strolled down the boards during a family trip to town for the state wrestling championships at nearby Boardwalk Hall.
The Atlantic City Alliance — the casino-funded marketing group — commissioned artist John Roloff’s three-dimensional-appearing work as part of the alliance’s “Artlantic: Wonder” project, which plans to transform a series of vacant lots around the city into public art displays.
“Etude Atlantis” was installed in the fall, and while it’s still not fully open or explained to visitors, it has been generating lots of curiosity and discussion ever since.
From his perspective as manager of the Bungalow Restaurant Lounge, a Boardwalk neighbor of Roloff’s art, Dino Dounoulis sees a huge aesthetic step up in class for the area.
“It’s a lot better than what was there before,” said Dounoulis, who expects the benefits of art to be more than an illusion to businesses in the area, especially when the weather warms up. “I’m hearing they’re going to have events there, like dance groups and things. ... People just have a dire need now to get out and relax after the winter we had.”
And the Bungalow has plenty of outside tables, some of which stayed full in this weekend’s sunshine. Dounoulis said the restaurant’s owners have talked to their landlords about the possibility of turning the roof of the building into a seating area, which could provide the best public views for the optical illusion the artist created with the series of black, white and gray stripes painted onto a blacktopped lot and a wall next to it.
From above, the entire piece appears to be 3-D — as if all those lines are beams of steel or wood or some other solid material, instead of just precisely painted stripes. Many residents of the Ritz Condominiums, next to “Etude Atlantis” on the opposite side from the Bungalow have discovered that pronounced 3-D effect as they gazed down on the art from their windows.
But everyone isn’t in on what’s up with the art that has appeared at California Avenue — and at an even bigger “Artlantic: Wonder” site farther uptown, off the Boardwalk on the spot where the old Sands Casino Hotel used to stand.
“I have no idea what it is,” said Sam Wolf, of Ventnor, as she stopped for a quick break from one of her regular runs on the boards in front of the striped piece. Wolf figures she runs there as much as four or five times a week, and “I have had that thought: ‘What is that? And how come I haven’t heard of it?’”
Still, she likes what she sees as she goes by, and she knows she isn’t alone.
“Anything that gets people talking and excited about Atlantic City is a good thing,” Wolf added, before she continued her run.
Jeff Guaracino, the ACA’s spokesman, said last week that the alliance is waiting for the final permits it needs to open the art parks and install signs on them. He expects the parks to have their formal openings sometime this spring — and said the process was delayed by Hurricane Sandy, which struck Atlantic City last October shortly after the California Avenue site was finished.
The young art critics in the Cassio family, from South Plainfield, Middlesex County, also liked what they saw as they took a break from their cousin’s wrestling tournament to stroll past “Etude Atlantis.”
“I think it’s really cool,” said Joey Cassio, 8, who figured the art only got cooler when he heard that the 3-D effect is designed to include a mirrored hole in the center of the piece — in which he and his twin sisters, Avery and Riley, 6, could see reflections of the clouds overhead. Roloff, the artist, hopes that hole will be a suggestion that viewers can see through the piece, and even through the Earth, to a spot somewhere in the Indian Ocean.
That reminded the children of trying to dig their own hole to China on another family adventure. They also liked the benches that will be open to people sitting there when the site opens — because another part of the plan is to make the art a community meeting spot. This minipark will also include free computer Wi-fi, although even Joey, the family computer whiz, couldn’t figure out how to get online with the Cassios’ iPad there Sunday.
But Jen Cassio, the mother of the three, was already enjoying one obvious advantage of Atlantic City’s newest bit of public art. She explained it to her husband, Greg, as he called on her cell phone to try to catch up with the rest of the family.
“Trust me,” she said, describing the landmark where they stopped to wait for him. “You will see the big, black-and-white art exhibit. You really can’t miss it.”
Contact Martin DeAngelis: