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Atlantic City: The World's (New) Favorite...Arts Destination?

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Superstorm Sandy and her little sister Athena recently wreaked havoc across the northeast, including on the bay-facing boardwalk of Atlantic City, but that hasn't deterred the East Coast's Las Vegas from unveiling its latest initiative, ARTLANTIC, a five-year multi-phase public art project that is overtaking large, abandoned lots of leased land along the boardwalk and converting them into open green spaces and impressive public art installations.

Presided over by San Francisco- and New York-based curator Lance Fung, in collaboration with the Atlantic City Alliance and Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, the first $3 million phase of the project, ARTLANTIC: wonder, was unveiled last Saturday, giving visitors to the beachside city something to explore beyond slot machines and nightclubs.

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The project takes place on two sites within walking distance of each other. Adjacent to the former Claridge casino, the first sits on seven acres of land that has remained vacant for six years following a stalled development project. Surrounding a figure eight-shaped park of man-made undulating hills built to replicate the twists and turns of the Crazy Mouse roller coaster at the Steel Pier, are large light boxes shaped into words like "Believe," "Imagine" and "Inspire," which glow in the dark–Robert Barry's riff on the bright lights that illuminate Atlantic City's iconic boardwalk at night.

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A red garden created by Kiki Smith features plants with red leaves, berries and flowers, which will be in full, scarlet bloom in mid-April next year, and promises to be spectacularly vivid. At the center of the garden stands Her, a sculpture of a woman embracing a doe–or humanity embracing nature–by the artist, who is best known for her figures depicting the female body. Opposite the garden, is Ilya and Emilia Kabakov's sunken pirate ship which alludes to the shipwrecks that date from the 19th century and line the ocean floor just a few miles off the coast. Eye-patches and parrots not included. 

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About one mile south along the boardwalk, next to the former Ritz-Carlton, Atlantic City is the second installation: the 8,500-square-foot Étude Atlantis by John Roloff—a series of geometric grey, white, and black stripes that create the illusion of a spiral. At the center of the piece lies a burbling cistern which references Atlantic City's perfect geographical antipode: the sea floor off the southwest coast of Australia, near the underwater Naturaliste Plateau, often referred to as the southern hemisphere's very own Atlantis. How's that for conceptual symmetry?

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Marguerite A. Suozzi is associate research editor at Travel + Leisure

Photos courtesy of Peter Tobia

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