Last week, KAWS made headlines after sending COMPANION, his now iconic sculpture, in to space. It’s rare that an artwork finds itself that far off the Earth’s surface, but what about artworks that are popping up in another unusual place on Earth: underwater. These unique underwater museums are often either historic or environmentally conscious and you might want to add them to your list of places to visit once you shake the dust off your suitcase – and flippers – after the pandemic.
“Parthenon of shipwrecks” | Greece
Just off the coast of the island of Alonissos, Greece has opened its first underwater museum that features a vast trove of amphorae dating back to the fifth-century. Discovered in the mid 1980s by a fisherman, thousands of amphorae cover the floor of the Aegean Sea and have become known as the “Parthenon of shipwrecks,” for its age and importance. In a consolidated area that marks out the footprint of a vessel, believed to have been an Athenian merchant ship carrying wine, the wreckage is significant because most of the vases are still intact. “This wreck lies at 21-28 metres depth near the shores of the Peristera islet and contains 3,000 to 4,000 amphorae,” said Lina Mendoni, culture minister of Greece in a statement, so it’s an ideal place for divers. The diving attraction opened on August 3rd and is welcoming divers to join diving tours until October 2nd, as a trial run for the museum. If you can’t dive, though, you can take a virtual tour of the wreckage at the information centre for Alonissos. Greek officials hope to open another four diving sites featuring ancient shipwrecks in the future.
Museum of Underwater Art | Australia
The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia has been a diving attraction for decades; however, in recent years, it has become more and more endangered due to the rising temperature of the ocean, pollution, and coastal development. Australia is home to the only underwater museum in the southern hemisphere that is working to highlight threats to our oceans and the Great Barrier Reef as well as creating a base for new coral to grow. The Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA) sits off the coast of Queensland in several locations. The museum features 20 “reef garden” sculptures, either fully or partially submerged, created by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who is also a marine conservationist, scuba diving instructor, and underwater photographer. Installation of the MOUA began in December last year with the debut of its first work known as the Ocean Siren. Standing above the surface of the water, Ocean Siren depicts the figure of a girl who serves as a beacon for the coastal city of Townsville, Queensland. The colour of the sculpture changes along with the temperature of the water, allowing people onshore to observe the way the ocean is changing. The installation of the newest underwater sculpture was set to mark the opening of the MOUA this past April but that was delayed due to COVID-19. The MOUA looks forward to welcoming guest with official tours to explore the ghostly structures and static figures that serve as a folly for ocean life and home to corals. Phase two and three of the MOUA are still expected to begin in 2021.
Museo Subacuático de Arte | México
Perhaps the largest and best known of the underwater museums is Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) off the coast of Mexico spanning Cancun, Isla Mujeres, and Punta Nizuc. Hundreds of contemporary sculptures rise out of the sandy ocean floor made of specialized materials that promote the growth of coral. From a small army of life-size human sculptures, modeled after a local fishing village, to a massive hands grouped in a circle, the sculptures create an underwater gallery that is ever-changing as new life grows on them. Jason deCaires Taylor’s works are also a part of the MUSA alongside those by Karen Salinas Martinez, Roberto Díaz Abraham, Rodrigo Quiñones Reyes, Salvador Quiroz Ennis, and Elier Amado Gil. The MUSA is open to divers and snorkelers as well as to those less keen on diving through tours by boats with glass bottoms. Beautiful in its own right, MUSA not only serves as a haven for sea life but also as a diving spot meant to draw some of the 750,000 divers who annually flock to the coral reefs of the Yucatan peninsula away so that the natural reefs have space to thrive.
Baia Underwater Park | Italy
Not too far from Naples lies Baia, which, in its heyday was essentially the Las Vegas of the Roman world but today, it’s partially underwater. Somewhat overshadowed today by Pompeii, which was covered not by water but by volcanic ash, Baia was once a flourishing coastal resort city famous for its healing hot springs and was about three times as large as Pompeii. The city hosted notable Romans, including Caesar, Cicero, and Nero, but in the eighth-century, Baia fell to a Muslim army, and was soon thereafter abandoned. Now, though, divers, snorkelers, and sometimes people by boat get a stunning glimpse of a what the city was like. Like the “Parthenon of Shipwrecks,” it’s an incredible underwater archeological site that boasts statues, mosaics, and the footprints of buildings. Although fairly shallow waters cover much of the city, it’s still best-viewed by scuba diving.