Artificial reef in Keys features underwater art gallery

Posted: 08/25/2011 in all marine news

Cammy Clark –

Divers who venture 100 feet below the ocean’s surface to explore the USS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg , Key West’s behemoth 523-foot shipwreck never know what they will see. Perhaps colorful parrotfish, curious barracuda and for the fortunate, a 300-pound goliath grouper hiding in a dark room.

But California tourist Jon Mann never expected this sight: two men kickboxing under the missile-tracking radar dish.

“It was very surreal, kind of strange at first,” Mann said after a recent dive trip to the Vandenberg, the second largest ship in the world to be intentionally sunk as an artificial reef.

 The kickboxers are featured in one of 12 digitally composed photographs displayed in a temporary underwater exhibit by Austrian artist Andreas Franke. It’s called: Vandenberg: Life Below the Surface.

The images are encased between sheets of Plexiglas with a stainless steel frame. A silicone seal keeps out the water. They hang along a 200-foot stretch of the steel ship’s weather deck, attached by strong magnets on the starboard side.

Southpoint Divers boat captain “Tropical Mike” Hall said his favorite picture is the guy with unruly hair sitting in a wheelchair wearing a straitjacket.

“It’s a little bit creepy, a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest type thing,” Hall said. “But I thought it was a bit interesting. It’s unique, and you can tell the artist had a sense of humor in choosing the things he did.”

Last year Franke photographed the Vandenberg, which had been used to transport World War II troops, bring refugees to freedom, spy on Russians during the Cold War and serve as the set of the sci-fi thriller, The Virus. The decommissioned military ship was sunk 61/2 miles off the shore of Key West in 2009.

Franke was intrigued with its intricate architecture, but despite all the fish and other marine critters, he thought his pictures lacked life. He returned to his commercial art studio in Vienna and had an idea on how to bring more activity to his moody images. He photographed a variety of people doing a variety of things: hanging laundry, riding exercise bikes, buying movie tickets.

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