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A sculpture to life in Miami

Christopher Carter regularly uses reclaimed wood, faded rope, tarnished metal, and other found materials to create his large-scale sculptures. When the Miami-based artist needed a new studio and dreamed of building a live work space, he knew it would be a lot of repurposed components. What he didn’t realize was that at some point it would be the subject of an exhibition, “The Carter Project,” which opens on May 15th at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale.

“I was sketching some ideas with a friend of what my ideal space would look like,” said Carter, 54. “And it was like turning a gas station into a loft living space.”

He had some reclaimed parts to work with as he was already experimenting with old shipping containers and spiral staircases in his art. “I thought they would be really fun to play with like Legos with them,” he said. “Stack them up, move them around and see what I can come up with.”

Mr. Carter looked for a rundown warehouse or other commercial property he could imagine, but tried hard to find one that seemed right. Then his wife, Tracey Robertson Carter, 52, a board member of several organizations focused on music, the arts and sustainability, found a corner off Interstate 95 in the Wynwood neighborhood and suggested that he take a look.

The property had a boring three-bedroom house and a go-kart track that needed demolition, but it was surrounded by mature avocado, mango, and oak trees that made it feel like a lush garden. And when Mr. Carter studied the property, he found that it was almost four acres larger than it looked – enough space to build not just a house and studio but a showroom as well.

The couple bought the property for about $ 450,000 in early 2016, and Carter stepped up his sketches. Ms. Robertson Carter knew that her husband would need someone who knew structural issues and building codes and who was open to unconventional ideas. So she called Gary Williams, an architect and creative thinker in Fort Lauderdale whom the couple had met at a few art events.

At first, Mr. Williams refused and offered to help them find another architect. But after meeting Mr. Carter and hearing his vision for the project, he was convinced.

“He had some bins on studs so he had already tried to move forward,” said Mr. Williams. “He had a plan. He just didn’t know how to get there. “

Over the next seven months, the two worked closely together developing drawings for an 8,755 square meter living and working area. In the center of the complex is a hangar-like large room with a 26-foot ceiling and two huge steel-and-glass doors that roll up to open a wall to the courtyard. Outside, an industrial-scale awning supported by steel trusses provides shade.

Most of the time, the great room is furnished with a sectional sofa, chaise longues, a pool table, and a 15-foot dining table that Mr. Carter made from redwood boards and beams salvaged from a paper mill in Rhode Island. Two large voids in the concrete floor covered with more reclaimed wood can store the furniture if the couple wants to remodel the space for an exhibition or event.

Connected to the large room is a somewhat more intimate, albeit still large, living area with a living area and a kitchen with walnut cabinets. NanaWall folding glass doors connect the kitchen to an outdoor cooking area and patio, and a staircase of glass and reclaimed redwood leads to the master suite.

On the other side of the large room, a composition of six shipping containers and two spiral staircases houses a library, a fitness room, a studio and a workshop. A cantilevered container peeking out from between the treetops is a suite for the couple’s daughter, Skylar (20), who uses it when she visits. Outside in the yard, an Airstream trailer that served as Mr. Carter’s temporary office is waiting for further renovations.

The house was largely completed in late 2018 for a total of about $ 1.5 million, and the couple moved in on Christmas Eve of that year. But even before construction was complete, Bonnie Clearwater, director and chief curator of the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, decided that it was fascinating enough to warrant a special exhibit. The resulting show will be on view through the fall, with a virtual reality experience, 3D printed model, and drawings showing Mr. Carter’s live workspace along with other examples of his work.

“His sculptural work would all be described as an assemblage – bringing together found materials in a unique way,” said Ms. Clearwater. “When he started talking about repurposing shipping containers and other materials for the house, I could see how it affected his practice as a sculptor.”

Mr. Carter’s attempt to build habitable spaces reminded her of the work of other artists who have experimented with architecture, including Frank Stella, Julian Schnabel, and Jorge Pardo. “There is a very different way of working with architecture as an artist than an architect who creates architecture,” she said.

Mr. Carter seemed to agree. “I consider this my largest sculpture,” he said.

But Ms. Robertson Carter made it clear that the building is much more than an art installation. “Even with the shipping containers, reclaimed items and all,” she said, “it’s our home at the end of the day.”

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