Vizcaya is Restoring its Grotto Swimming Pool by Pioneering Modern Artist Robert Winthrop Chanler
Although Vizcaya Museum & Gardens was designed from the start to look old, ancient even, the estate from the beginning was always a showcase for cutting edge art. Some of the most exquisite, and provocative artists of the 1910s and ’20s were commissioned by James Dearing and his artist director Paul Chalfin to create adornments for Vizcaya, including a number of artists that exhibited at the famed Armory Show, which introduced European modernist and experimental artistic styles to the American art scene in 1913. It was one of the most important moments in all of art history. Included in that group was Robert Winthrop Chanler, who created ten extraordinary screens for the Armory Show, and the grotto-like interiors and ceiling of Vizcaya’s swimming pool.
The pool interiors depict surreal underwater worlds and sea life. An already fragile environment from the beginning (it was created with water-based paints even though an artist as acclaimed and talented as Chanler was should really have known better than to use them to decorate a pool) the partially enclosed swimming pool has taken a hundred years of abuse and is undergoing a restoration to maintain its beauty, reports the Miami New Times. Although the hope is to revert the piece to how it originally looked when completed in 1916, just three years after the Armory Show, the museum’s restorationists will have to satisfy themselves with the limitations of the years. “Removing the overlay of paint that has been done through the years isn’t possible,” curator Gina Wouters explains to the New Times. “Right now, the urgency is to stabilize it. The structure itself is now safe, so now it is about keeping what we have here in one piece, like the clay structures.”
Next comes historical documentation with a pair of graduate students in the fall, figuring out how to protect it from hurricanes, and finally creating a trajectory that leads to the proper display of the interior, which right now can only be seen from a few vantage points. “The thing is,” Wouters says, “how you’re supposed to be experiencing it is within. That’s our next challenge. “Vizcaya is all about sensory experience,” she told the New Times. “It’s not just about coming here and looking at art. It’s about touching, tasting, smelling, seeing, and feeling — and at the same time, learning about Chanler and bringing awareness to this challenge of preservation too.”
Vizcaya also recently reopened its marine garden, a space which had been closed tot he public for long over ten years.