“In general, all entertainment is what you can’t get at home. That’s almost a definition,” said Jack Morey, a partner in the his family’s business, Morey’s Piers. One of its properties, Adventure Pier, is known for its high-adrenaline attractions, like an all-wooden roller coaster that swirls above and below the pier, a giant swinging arm that whips its passengers in a circle, and a system of pullies and ropes that suspend riders, face-down, 30 feet in the air.
To this melange of graviety-defying thrills, Morey has added art.
“Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? It goes together like lamb and tuna fish,” said Morey with a laugh. “Adventure Pier is about extreme rides, it’s about a quirky sense of art and culture, and it’s about music. Mix those things together, you get a live, only-in-Wildwood product.”
The art installation is called artBOX, a assemblage of 26 shipping containers piled on top of each other on the pier. Eleven of the steel cargo boxes have been converted into artist studios, where five artists have painting, blowing glass, and carving wood all summer. Other containers were made into a stage where teenage rock and roll bands from School of Rock have played every weekend.
“It has definitely become a home,” said painter Ed Peahota, who shares a studio with his wife, Hong. “The people have made it a family environment. Everyone that’s working in the artBOX, or as part of the pier, have been nothing but positive.”
Peahota is a speed painter — his painting craft is a live performance set to music. In the time it takes “Freebird” to play itself out (either by a cover band or the original nine-minute recording by Lynard Skynard) Peahota can paint an American flag fronted by a bald eagle. When “Barracuda,” by Heart, comes on he launches into the iconic image of Jaws.
“It’s an exciting song, it’s fast music, it’s dramatic. That’s what I need,” said Peahota. “Speed painting to Beethovan might not be a good idea.”
Most of the time, the music of Adventure Pier is a cacophony of hawkers, barkers, and screams.
“If you want a feel of this place, yeah – those sounds,” said Pete Beiling, a painter set up opposite a basketball carnival game called Moneyball, featuring very loud game buzzer when a contestant’s time has run out. “That’s what stands out the most. Moneyball. And nobody wins.”
Beiling has been painting murals and canvases and backdrops for carnival rides in Wildwood for decades. In small ways, his work has helped define the Wildwood aesthetic, which has been described, proudly, as tacky with a capital “T.”
“People use tacky the wrong way sometimes,” said Beiling. “Tacky is sort of like passé style. The 60’s style is an extremely elevated style, derived from Bauhaus, and all that stuff. It might look simplistic, but it’s actually very complicated. Not really tacky. People call it tacky, but it’s not. The tacky stuff is T-shirts with stupid sayings, and jeans with stupid sayings on girls’ butts. That’s tacky.”
Beiling says he did not sell very much artwork in the ArtBox this summer, his canvases were priced a little too high for impulse buying. That was not the point. The native of Florence, N.J., wanted to make new contacts, and spend the summer on the beach.
On the other hand his son — Pete, Jr., blowing glass in the shipping container next door — did quite well. He attracted crowds by sculpting glass with a propane torch and selling tchotchkes at low prices.
The whole artBOX concept, which includes a sushi vendor and a retail store, was not very profitable this year. That will not keep Morey from trying it again next year.
“Hopefully artBox will grow organically. In the long turn it will be profitable,” said Morey. “Ultimately, it has to be profitable to sustain. But to be sustainable we have to touch an interesting chord that can reinvent itself every year, or we fall back into being a commodity – and that’ what we don’t want to do.”