Art for the People

Museum quality art collection is more than mere decoration inside (and outside) of one of Miami’s most visited malls.

By Michelle F. Solomon

Jackie Soffer
Jackie Soffer

Jackie Soffer has a theory about America and its relationship to shopping malls. Rather than merely a venue in which to make purchases, her view is that malls are the 21st-century equivalent to a town center.

This notion has led to Turnberry for the Arts, a museum quality art collection inside Aventura Mall. With 28 million visitors a year, Aventura Mall, which is owned by Turnberry Associates, is the second most-visited mall in the United States, according to statistics gathered by Travel + Leisure magazine.

The collection contains 10 contemporary works of art by established and renowned international and Miami-based artists, placed throughout the mall. The world-class collection incorporates a range of mediums, which includes sculpture and installation. Several of the works are site-specific commissions that were produced especially for the mall.

“One of the main reasons we created the collection was really because — unlike lots of town squares and places in Europe, for example, where people gather and where there is art in public places — people here do spend their leisure time at the mall,” says Soffer, principal of Turnberry Associates. “I had a conversation with someone who said to me, ‘You know, you kind of have a social responsibility to put a good art collection within the property so that you are exposing lots of people to art that otherwise wouldn’t be exposed.’ “

Jorge Pardo Untitled.
Jorge Pardo Untitled.

And, Soffer says, that putting art in a mall setting also makes it very accessible to the public and enhances the customer’s experience. “It adds another level of interest, and it’s something that gives personality to the property,” she says. “When you’re coming to Aventura Mall, you’re not just coming to shop; we feel that you’re coming here for the experience, to be entertained in some way.”

Unlike a gallery or a museum, art in public places is meant to blend in with the environment and the Turnberry for the Arts collection at Aventura Mall lives up to that expectation.

Daniel Arsham’s Columns (2007) is one of the mall’s site-specific commissions. The Miami artist replicated the columns in the mall, creating a surreal work of art made of steel, wood, and drywall that appears as if it is growing and eroding, simultaneously. He has been quoted as saying about his work that it allows for “a fantasy within the structure of what we have been provided.”

Pass by FriendsWithYou’s mixed media Rainbow Valley, and it may just look like a children’s playground in the middle of a mall. But the 2006 immersive art installation — by the fine art collaborative of Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III — is South Florida’s first indoor children’s playground, designed by contemporary artists as a site-specific commission.

Rainbow Valley.
Rainbow Valley.

Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale Director and Chief Curator Bonnie Clearwater says part of the beauty of the Turnberry for the Arts collection is that many of the works, such as Rainbow Valley and Columns, were created for the space itself and purposefully “respond to the site and are not just pieces plopped in the space. Because of this, the art transports the visitor out of the every day and into the realm of art and aesthetic,” she says. Clearwater has an affinity for Rainbow Valley since she was instrumental in FriendsWithYou having their first solo exhibition in 2005 when she was director and chief curator at Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Entitled Cloud City, the exhibition included an oversized interactive playground, the foundation for Rainbow Valley.

While Soffer says it is difficult to choose a favorite among the works, she is drawn to Julian Opie’s Suzanne Walking in Skirt and Top (2005) and Julian Walking in T-Shirt and Shorts (2005). The double-sided LED walking portrait monoliths by the London-based artists have become iconic symbols of the Aventura Mall.

“The woman has a great stride and an attitude. You can see them from upstairs, downstairs, from close, and from far. I love them because they are in motion — they are active,” says Soffer.

Lawrence Weiner’s beam installation near Bloomingdale’s with words in both English and Spanish — “Acquired, Required, Desired, Admired, all within the realm of possibility” — catches some visitors off guard, since they are sometimes not aware the words are part of a conceptual art piece. “Someone once thought that a graffiti artist had gotten into the mall,” reveals Soffer. The New York-based artist is credited as being one of the trailblazers in the 1960s to present art as language.

Jaume Plensa - Florida’s Soul.
Jaume Plensa – Florida’s Soul.

Soffer also points out the integration of Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s stainless steel and stone sculpture, Florida’s Soul, that sits in the middle of a fountain that has been turned into a koi pond. Letters created from stainless steel form the framework of the contemplative figure in the sculpture. Seated on a rock, Plensa’s universal man — whom the artist based on himself — reflects upon the world around him.

“I believe this is the piece that is enjoyed the most because we turned an existing, old-fashioned fountain into a pond with the sculpture in the middle. It creates a really nice atmosphere, and people do gather in that area,” muses Soffer.

Other works in the collection include the bronze sculpture Large Version of Leaping Hare on Crescent and Bell by Barry Flanagan, which can be found outside of the mall near Cheesecake Factory.
The gravity defying hare energizes and lifts the spirit, as he leaps over the thin sliver of a crescent moon and the weighty dome of a bell.

Another bronze sculpture by Donald Baechler is one of the most whimsical in the collection. Baechler’s art consists of the most simple gestures and shapes, inspired in a large part by the art of children. In his Walking Figure, Baechler presents the image of a young woman striding forward as if caught in mid-step.

British painter and sculptor Gary Hume’s Back of a Snowman (White) is a 10-foot-tall, half-ton, faceless snowman that stands outdoors amid palm trees. Before finding his final resting place in Aventura, Back of a Snowman was exhibited at London’s Royal Academy, the Irish Museum of Art, Germany’s Kunsthaus Bregenz, and New York’s Battery Park City.

Louise Bourgeois - Eye Benches.
Louise Bourgeois – Eye Benches.

Shoppers can take a rest on Louise Bourgeois’s surreal Eye Benches, made from black Zimbabwe granite. Her work is important to the collection because of her notoriety — she holds the distinction of being the first woman artist to be given a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Los Angeles-based artist Jorge Pardo’s Untitled installation, another site-specific work, hangs from a skylight in a three-story atrium near Macy’s. Ninety-six lamps take the form of butterflies radiating from a central bulb. Pardo told The New York Times in an interview that his installation has taken on a more definitive role than he imagined when he created it.

“A lot of people want to take pictures of themselves in front of the butterflies. In that sense, it’s really cool because it works like a traditional monument.” Clearwater furthers the conversation about the pieces becoming landmarks. “You might say meet me under the Jorge Pardo or at the Daniel Arsham  — this is part of the awareness that the art provides for the visitor — the art helps establish where they are at a certain time and place.” She agrees that the incorporating of “strong works of art” in the property have become a way for Aventura Mall to distinguish itself. “There are many commercial places that are recognizing the importance of art, but it only works when the people involved have a passion for the art to begin with.”

There’s no limit to the amount of art that can be part of the Aventura Mall collection, although there is a prerequisite: “Any additions to the art collection happen organically,” says Soffer. “We don’t put pressure on ourselves to select new art. We’re out in the market, and if we discover something that we think is a good fit, we go for it. We increase the collection when we find something that is the right fit.”


Pg72_FIM_Art_Soffer_1.6Inside the iconic Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Jackie Soffer has amassed a strong collection of visual art. Like the Turnberry for the Arts program at Aventura Mall, The Art of Fontainebleau has the same mission. And Soffer believes that because of its location, “We made a decision that art is important in Miami, and we wanted to be in that world,” she says.

The multi-million-dollar collection, The Art of Fontainebleau, is skillfully integrated into the resort’s architecture and design — so much so that in one instance, three massive chandeliers in the main lobby look like originals. However, they were created for the hotel by controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Miami Chandeliers (2008) are an installation made of stainless steel, glass crystal, and lights. “The pieces act as contemporary updates of architect Morris Lapidus’ original designs,” says Soffer.

Also noteworthy and embedded in the update of the Fontainebleau, while preserving its history, are six pieces from James Turrell. His most technologically advanced series of light works were specially commissioned for the lobby area of Fontainebleau. These Tall Glass works are historic in three ways: they are the first horizontal Tall Glass works created by Turrell; the single work in the VIP Alcove is the first-ever curved Tall Glass work; and the remaining five pieces — one triptych and one diptych behind the main reception and concierge desks, respectively — are the first multi-panel Tall Glass works. No other installations of Turrell’s are integrated with such drama into a commercial space. Fontainebleau Miami Beach thus stakes its claim in art history.

Pg72_FIM_Art_Soffer_1.7“The opportunity to build an art collection within a space that is, itself, a work of art is incredibly rewarding,” says Soffer, principal of Turnberry Associates which owns the Fontainebleau. “And the idea is to give Fontainebleau’s global guests and Miami locals the chance to see some of the foremost talents of contemporary art at every turn during their visit.”

Other artists in the contemporary collection include Darryl Pottorf, Karl Benjamin, Rosalyn Drexler, Thomas Ruff, Liza Ryan, Sol Le Witt, Doug Suggs, Tracey Emin, John Baldessari, Lonneke Gorgijn and Ralph Nauta, Julian Opie, Damien Hirst, Doug Aitken, Rob Wynne, Donald Baechler, Arturo Herrara, John Reynolds, Enoc Perez, and Elmo Gideon.

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