Christopher Carter regularly uses reclaimed wood, faded rope, tarnished metal, and other found materials to create his large-scale sculptures. So when the Miami-based artist needed a new studio and started dreaming about building a live workspace, he knew it would involve a lot of reused components. What he didn’t know was that it would eventually be the subject of an exhibition, “The Carter Project,” which opens May 15 at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale.
“I sketched out some ideas with a friend of mine, on what my ideal space would be,” said Carter, 54. “And it was a bit like converting a gas station into a loft.”
He had a few salvaged pieces that he wanted to work with, as he was already experimenting with old shipping containers and spiral staircases in his art. “I thought it would be really fun to play with them like Legos,” he said. “Stack them up, move them around and see what I can find.”
Mr. Carter searched for a run-down warehouse or other commercial property to reinvent, but struggled to find one that he felt was right. Then his wife, Tracey Robertson Carter, 52, a board member of a few organizations focused on music, art and sustainability, found a street corner stuck against Interstate 95 in the Wynwood neighborhood. and suggested he take a look.
The property had an uninspiring three-bedroom house and a go-cart track in need of demolition, but it was surrounded by mature avocados, mango trees and oaks which gave it the impression of a lush garden. And as Mr. Carter surveyed the land, he realized it was bigger than it looked, at nearly 0.4 acres – enough space to build not just a house and a studio, but also an exhibition space.
The couple bought the land for around $ 450,000 in early 2016 and Mr. Carter stepped up his design. Ms Robertson Carter knew her husband would need a collaborator fluent in structural and building code issues who would also be open to unconventional ideas, so she called Gary Williams, an architect and creative thinker in Fort Lauderdale, to whom the couple had met at a few artistic events.
At first, Mr. Williams objected and offered to help them find another architect. But after meeting Mr. Carter and listening to his vision for the project, he was convinced.
“He had containers on crampons so he had tried to advance before,” said Williams. “He had a plan. He just didn’t know how he was going to get there.
Working closely over the next seven months, the two developed designs for an 8,755 square foot live workspace. At the center of the complex is a large hangar-like room with a 26-foot ceiling and a pair of huge steel and glass doors that roll up to open a wall to the courtyard. Outside, an industrial-scale canopy supported by steel trusses provides shade.
Most of the time, the great room is furnished with a sectional sofa, lounge chairs, a pool table, and a 15-foot-long dining table that Mr. Carter made from planks and wood. Redwood beams salvaged from a Rhode Island paper mill. But two large voids in the concrete floor, covered with more reclaimed wood, can store furniture when the couple want to transform the space for an exhibition or event.
Connected to the great room is a somewhat more intimate, though still spacious, living space with a sitting area and kitchen with walnut cabinets. NanaWall folding glass doors connect the kitchen to an outdoor cooking area and patio, and a reclaimed glass and redwood staircase leads to the master suite.
Across the Great Hall, a composition of six shipping containers and two spiral staircases houses a library, gym, studio, and workshop. A cantilevered container peeking out among the trees is a suite for the couple’s daughter, Skylar, 20, who uses it when she visits. In the yard, an Airstream trailer that served as Mr. Carter’s temporary office awaits a further transformation.
The house was largely completed by the end of 2018, for a total of around $ 1.5 million, and the couple moved in on Christmas Eve that year. But even before construction was complete, Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator of NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, decided it was intriguing enough to warrant a dedicated exhibit. The resulting show will be on view throughout the fall, featuring a virtual reality experience, a 3D printed model, and designs that showcase Mr. Carter’s live workspace, as well as as other examples of his work.
“Her sculptural work would all be described as an assemblage – the assemblage of materials found in unique ways,” Ms. Clearwater said. “So when he started talking about reusing shipping containers and other household materials, I could see how it relates to his practice as a sculptor.
Mr. Carter’s foray into building living space reminded him of the work of other artists who experimented with architecture, including Frank Stella, Julian Schnabel and Jorge Pardo. “There is a completely different way of working as an artist with architecture, as opposed to an architect who creates architecture,” she said.
Mr. Carter seemed to agree. “I consider this to be my biggest sculpture,” he says.
But Ms Robertson Carter made it clear that the building was much more than an art installation. “Even with the shipping containers, scraps and stuff,” she says, “at the end of the day, it’s our home.”
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