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'Parallel Park' celebrates third anniversary in Fort Myers' River District

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In most places, utilitarian concrete parking garages blight rather than enhance urban environments, but Parallel Park has transformed the 5-story Lee County Justice Center Parking Garage into a work of fine art that has first time visitors asking “Is this the fine art museum?” Today is the third anniversary of the 30,000-square-foot public art installation's dedication.

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Parallel Park consists of 23 open-weave Kevlar and fiberglass fabric panels that have been attached to the exterior of the Lee County Justice Center Parking Garage by 10,000 lineal feet of aluminum tubing. Each panel stands an astounding 33 feet tall by 22 feet wide and the abstract expressionist images change right before the viewer’s eyes as the sun carves its daily arc and clouds scurry across the bright blue Florida sky. Each panel is a blow-up of an abstract painting created by New York modern artist Marylyn Dintenfass, whose work is found in public and private collections in Italy, Denmark, Israel, Japan and the United States. More than 30 public collections hold her work including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Art in Houston, the Flint Institute of Art, New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Among the myriad benefits associated with public art is its ability to enhance and define a city's identity, burnish the city's image to the outside world and enable a community to attain recognition as a regional and national leader in the visual arts. By these measures, Dintenfass' Parallel Park is an unquestionable success.

The installation has been featured in ARTNews and NY Arts magazines, was featured on the cover of The Parking Professional, and played an key role in public art registry cultureNOW's decision to select Fort Myers as its featured public art collection in May of 2013. The making of Parallel Park is also the subject of a book by Aliza Edelman that was published in 2011 by Hard Press Editions in association with Hudson Hills Press. Titled Marylyn Dintenfass Parallel Park, the 140-page monograph has placed Fort Myers in the public art spotlight worldwide.

Parallel Park received the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network 2011 Year in Review Award. It was selected by curators Gail Goldman, Kendal Henry and Richard Turner out of 430 projects submitted by public art programs and artists nationwide. The project was undertaken in 2010 by Lee County in partnership with the Fort Myers Public Art Committee. Local architect Kevin Williams of BSSW Architects gets credit for coming up with the idea of using art panels on the building, and his design concept was implemented by a team consisting of the artist, a fabricator in Orlando, a printer in North Carolina and the Fort Myers Public Art Committee, with the assistance of Fort Myers Beach art consultant Barbara Anderson Hill.

The installation's 23 panels metaphorically express the spirit of the automobile, a favorite motif of the artist, who was known to sneak out of the house at night as a teenager to drag race Detroit muscle cars with the boys. “The circle shapes conjure tires, headlights, dashboard instrumentation and steering wheels,” Marylyn explains. “Linear patterns are emblematic of roads, ramps, directions and parking designations.”

Dintenfass’ iconography of postwar American automotive culture directly integrates her interpretation of mobility and space with the fundamental purpose of a parking garage. It’s an apt simile given that Fort Myers’ was the winter home of Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, two of the leading pioneers of the American automobile industry.

The artist has been featured in more than a dozen solo exhibitions across the Unites States, including the Queens Museum of Art, the Katonah Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Art (an exhibition underwritten by the Andy Warhol Foundation) and her one-woman show in January 2011 at the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery on the Lee campus of Edison State College in Fort Myers.

Parallel Park is a favorite stop during the Sunday afternoon public art walking tours offered by True Tours. If you'd like to learn more about the piece and some of Fort Myers' other 45 public artworks, call 239-945-0405 or visit www.TrueTours.net for tour times and reservations.

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