Art in Atlantic City. Real art? By internationally acclaimed artists?

You bet. That's what Artlantic, the Atlantic City Alliance's multimillion-dollar, five-year plan to transform vacant land in the city into fun, accessible "art parks," is all about. It's a series of temporary, outdoor installations by top artists.

Sure, we know what you think when you hear the words "art" and "Atlantic City" in the same sentence - paintings on black velvet of dogs playing poker, available at Boardwalk schlock shops. But that's not Artlantic.

Nor is it particularly fair. In 1929, Atlantic City hosted an exhibit of works by Georgia O'Keefe, Edward Hopper and 64 other American artists. Heinz Pier had an art salon featuring approximately 150 paintings, including a famous 11-foot-by-20-foot piece titled "Custer's Last Rally" by artist John Mulvany. And the Boardwalk Art Show, which started in the late 1950s and ran into the 1980s, was always a big draw, even attracting the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to Atlantic City.

And the idea is that Artlantic will do for the resort what those earlier exhibits and shows did - create one more reason for people to visit Atlantic City. Actually, there's even more to Artlantic than that, because its installations will enhance the city for residents and visitors alike.

The Atlantic City Alliance, Atlantic City's marketing arm, has recruited Lance Fung to curate the project. Fung and his company, Fung Collaboratives, have curated exhibits all over the world. He specializes in temporary, outdoor exhibits that incorporate the work of several artists in one space and that are designed to reflect the surrounding environment. And Fung has recruited five acclaimed artists for this Atlantic City project - Robert Barry, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Kiki Smith and John Roloff.

The overall goal of the project - the big picture - is to turn vacant lots, which Atlantic City has an unfortunate number of, into attractive "art parks." It's a smart way of turning one of the city's negatives into a positive. It will dress up what are otherwise eyesores without taking the vacant land off the market. If a developer comes along, the art will come down.

The project debuted Friday at two sites - on the lot bordered by Martin Luther King Boulevard, Kentucky Avenue, the Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue, where the Sands Casino Hotel once stood, and at a section of vacant Boardwalk frontage at California Avenue.

Artlantic is edgy. That makes it risky in today's Atlantic City, which is a long, long way from the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington and New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum - all of which have displayed works by the artists involved in the project.

But that's the idea. To be different, whimsical - OK, maybe even a little odd. All in the interest of generating some buzz about Atlantic City. "We want to get people to reassess what they think about Atlantic City," says Liza Cartmell, the head of the Atlantic City Alliance, which is doing the project in collaboration with the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Sounds like a good plan. Unattractive vacant lots will get dressed up. And if it really works, it will get people thinking and talking about Atlantic City in an entirely new way.


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