At the Reopened Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico, Themes of Ruination and Rebirth

After witnessing nature’s devastating power, the Ritz Carlton property launches its next act with an ephemeral sculpture evoking impermanence by artist John Kenneth Melvin.

Artist John Kenneth Melvin’s most recent sculpture was literally born on a layover. Returning to the United States from Cambodia—where he had unveiled Curbing Entropy, a work made of 10,000 upcycled plastic bottles—the artist learned that he’d been awarded a new commission, installed last month at Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a resort in Puerto Rico. “I drew a blob on my iPhone while sitting in the airport,” Melvin recalls. He later used software to digitally engineer the drawing, which hints at a human form escaping a rocky enclosure, into three dimensions so it could be sliced up and fabricated as plywood slats, to be fitted together on-site. The result, which Melvin calls ManMtn, is a monumental 12.5-foot sculpture that will be installed this month across from the resort’s main entrance, marking its official reopening a year after Hurricane Maria forced it to shut.

The airport origin story is fitting for an artist who considers himself a nomad, having given up a permanent studio in favor of bouncing between residencies and commissions in places as far afield as China, Nevada, North Carolina, and the South of France. “My work tends to explore the relationship between nature and culture,” says Melvin, who was inspired by the geology of Puerto Rico to consider ideas about absence and presence. “Much of the island is riddled with limestone caverns, so it’s essentially hollow,” he says. “Also, the Puerto Rico Trench, just offshore, is actually the deepest point in the world after the Mariana Trench. In a way, the piece became about otherness—changing perceptions of what Puerto Rico is and what it isn’t.”

Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, is a member of The List, the destination for all things Surface-approved. Want to join The List? Contact our team to find out how to apply.


Dorado Beach has been shuttered since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017.

Melvin scorched the plywood but otherwise treated it minimally, with the intention that it will weather over a one-to-two-year period and eventually succumb to the tropical elements. The piece was commissioned by Arte_FITS, a local arts organization founded by Carolina Stubbe, whose husband Federico developed the resort, and devoted to ephemeral art in particular. Impermanence is apt for a place that has witnessed nature’s devastating power, and rebuilding with the awareness that climate change will bring more storms. “Nothing is truly permanent, even metal or stone,” Melvin says. “But public art that’s designed to be permanent is very old-school. It doesn’t make room for anything new. Ephemeral art makes room for others in a world that doesn’t need any more visual clutter.” That’s a sentiment shared by Stubbe, a collector who regularly switches out the works in the couple’s home on the Dorado Beach property, a glass cube designed by architect Heriberto Carbia. On an island marked by cycles of ruination and rebirth, art—and life—must be lived in the moment.



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