Many who have visited Bicentennial Park through the years have wondered about a sculpture that was once located on one of the hills toward the rear of the park, but was later moved to the main entrance off Biscayne Boulevard as part of the reconfiguration of the green space in the early 2010s. When it is dedicated in 1977, the artwork was described by attendees of the ceremony as an ‘industrial staple’, a ‘very large tack’, or an ‘upside down set of bookends.’ Regardless of the interpretation of its appearance, the sculpture is one of the few original items that remain dating back to the early years of the park.
Although the sculpture has a long history of being a part of the park, it was not originally commissioned for the green space as it was originally planned to adorn the Interama Cultural Center. Interama, which was also known as the ‘Inter-American Cultural and Trade Center,’ was planned as a permanent exhibition center focused on culture, education, and trade activities for the Americas. It was described as a combination of an amusement park and trade fare. However, despite years of planning, Interama never materialized as projected and was winding down as an initiative by the mid-1970s.
In 1972, Mayor Maurice Ferré appointed a small committee of people who were well known in the art world to review ideas and select an artist to create a sculpture to be placed at Interama. The group included artist Joan Lehman, wife of Congressman William Lehman, Florence Knoll Bassett, a well-known art critic, and the mayor’s wife, Mercedes Ferré. The committee was not only responsible for the selection of the artist and artistic concept, but was also tasked with applying for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help pay for the project.
After getting approval for the grant, the committee selected internationally known artist David von Shlegell to create a large abstract sculpture to capture the essence of Miami as a new world metropolis that would be the centerpiece of Inter-American trade. Von Shlegell became the head of the Yale School of Art in 1971, and was known for large scale outdoor sculptures, which made him the perfect artist for what the selection committee and city envisioned for the project.
The municipality leaders approved a bid of $90,000 for a sculpture called ‘El Nuevo Mundo’, Spanish for ‘The New World’, submitted by von Shlegell. The artwork was to symbolize the region’s desire to brand the city as the ‘New World Center.’ The mayor, chamber of commerce, and other political and business leaders believed that Miami was on its way to become the epicenter of Inter-American commerce and culture, and felt that the moniker of ‘New World Center’ captured the city’s vision to revitalize Miami’s image as the future hub of international trade.
As the concept of Interama was fading in the mid-1970s, Miami was selected by President Nixon as one of four municipalities in the country to become a Bicentennial City. This meant that the federal government would help pay for projects commemorating the country’s 200th birthday. The conversion of the former Port of Miami location to a park was one of the projects sponsored by the Bicentennial celebration initiative, which gave Mayor Ferré a venue to redirect the sculpture which was earmarked for Interama to Bicentennial Park.
Since the federal grant, which was allotted to pay for half of the $90,000 cost of the sculpture, was tied to Interama, it had to be approved for its new home. The request for that change was made in October of 1975 and took more than a year to get approved. Once all of the paperwork and details were settled, the sculpture was installed on a man-made hill in the park.
The dedication ceremony for the sculpture took place on May 19, 1977. News coverage of the dedication took a tone of skepticism and cynicism regarding the amount of money spent for an abstract sculpture. It was referred to as a “stainless steel monster” derisively, and Miami’s mayor was criticized for sponsoring the project.
This prompted Maurice Ferré to submit an editorial to the Miami Herald, which was published on June 24, 1977, where he defended the investment in public art and the decision process to select the artist and sculpture concept. Ferré contextualized the rationale for using public money to invest in art projects for the benefit of a municipality by comparing the von Schlegell commission to other public art projects around the country including the La Grande Vitesse in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Picasso Sculpture in Chicago, Illinois.
The mayor ended his letter to the editor asking the following question:
What would your opinion be of Calder’s Grand Rapids work, or Picasso’s Chicago work, who certainly, in your vernacular, are more monstrous than von Shlegell’s “stainless steel monster,” which graces the entrance of the New World Center – Bicentennial Park?
Despite changes in the park’s name and configuration through the years, the El Nuevo Mundo sculpture still graces the entrance of the green space that was recently rededicated to honor the man who believed in the value of art in public places and sponsored the von Shlegell artwork. The late Mayor Ferré is remembered for many things during his lengthy tenure in office, but one of the most visible artifacts of his legacy can be found at the northernmost entry to what we now know today as Maurice A. Ferré Park.Click Here to Subscribe
- Miami News: ‘Thanks Interama’, October 21, 1975.
- Miami Herald: ‘New World’, May 19, 1977.
- Miami Herald: ‘Mayor Defends City’s Art’, June 24, 1977.
- Miami Herald: ‘Brave New World’, November 21, 1977.
- Cover: El Nuevo Mundo sculpture in Bicentennial Park in 1977. Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum.
- Figure 1: El Nuevo Mundo sculpture on May 19, 1977, in Bicentennial Park. Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum.
- Figure 2: El Nuevo Mundo in Maurice Ferre Park on July 4, 2023. Courtesy of Casey Piket.