The Carter Project at NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
Text Hilary Lewis
Photos Steven Brookme
When artist Christopher Carter and his wife Tracey Robertson Carter purchased property in Wynwood in 2016, what they acquired was just under four-tenths of an acre of land and a somewhat unremarkable three-bedroom house not far from I-95. This hardly sounds like the canvas for an artwork; but in the hands of Carter, a Miami-based sculptor, this real estate purchase turned into a platform for artistic expression that embraced the environmentally sensitive reclamation of materials, from shipping containers to spiral staircases. Carter, over several years, innovatively utilized existing objects to create something not only new, but very much his own. The Carters now inhabit an airy, light-filled architectural complex of over 8,700 square feet that combines studio and living space in a beautiful way. Despite the substantial size of the project, there are spaces that provide privacy, as well as large, high volumes perfect for entertaining and exhibiting art.
Even though part of the home is created from former shipping containers, its entirety nevertheless connects with the jungle-like nature of its surroundings.
The project caught the attention of Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator of the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, who chose to celebrate it with an exhibition at the museum, The Carter Project, which is on view through January 9, 2022. While Carter needed to create architecture, his intent was nonetheless a work of art, which Clearwater picked up on for this multi-media show that presents the project through video, photography, drawings and even a 3D-printed model. Similar to Carter’s approach to sculpture, the house embraces found objects and existing materials, reimagined and reconfigured to breathe new life into what others might not have noticed or might even have discarded. Carter’s eye sees possibilities in what others might miss and as he combines these materials and objects in new ways, the result is a signature environment.
Carter’s approach echoes his art-making, which is marked by the use of wood, metal and glass, often integrating recycled or discarded pieces. So his entire practice is marked by respect for sustainability. According to the museum, Carter’s work references Afrofuturism and also the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic, an approach that celebrates imperfections. This attitude leads to a celebration of uniqueness and the patina of use and age. Texture is key here, whether that be of a warped pane of glass, the natural grain of wood or the scratched surface of metal.
The complex is a home that fully connects with nature. Like many innovative house designs in Florida, the program integrates indoor/outdoor living. At purchase, the property already had plenty of mango, oak and avocado trees, so it was obvious that the landscaping should verge towards lush, tropical greenery. Just because you have easy access to the highway and the vibrant Wynwood art district doesn’t mean you can’t have your own personal jungle-inspired landscape ––– truly the best of both worlds. The Carters are protected from noise and city grit in their personal oasis. According to Carter, “I think of it as an adult treehouse or fort for the different facets of my art practice.”
With an expansive great room, complete with rolling, commercial-sized garage doors, the house may represent the zenith of the live-work movement.
As an artist, Carter did reach out for architectural assistance to realize his vision, working with Gary Williams of Fort Lauderdale, an architect the Carters had met through the local Florida art scene. Working jointly, Carter and Williams incorporated the existing containers that Carter had already placed on site, and went on to transform these into a more finished design that includes an extraordinary great room that is 26-feet high and a massive awning for needed shade.
Clearwater underscores that she is attracted to the way in which artists have engaged in architectural projects, citing Julian Schnabel and Frank Stella as renowned examples. So when she learned of the Carter house, she immediately considered how this could be presented as an exhibition. It’s inspiring indeed to see how art can be infused not only throughout the home but quite literally as the home.