Thursday, July 1, 2010

Art review: All Florida show at Boca museum is rich and rewarding

The bed‭ (‬2010‭)‬,‭ ‬by Carolyn Schlam.

By Gretel Sarmiento

I have never been a fan of having artists explain their work with their own words,‭ ‬but with a show as diverse as the‭ ‬59th Annual All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition it might just prove useful.

The competition,‭ ‬the oldest of its kind,‭ ‬gives new and established artists residing in the state a chance to expose their work.‭ ‬Of‭ ‬about‭ ‬1,400‭ ‬entries submitted this year,‭ ‬92‭ ‬works by‭ ‬81‭ ‬artists were selected.‭ ‬Juror Linda Norden,‭ ‬who has taught at‭ ‬Yale‭ ‬University and‭ ‬Columbia and‭ ‬served as the first curator of contemporary art at the Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum,‭ ‬did the picking.‭ ‬The works,‭ ‬representing painting,‭ ‬photography,‭ ‬sculpture and video,‭ ‬are now showing on the ground floor of the Boca‭ ‬Raton Museum of Art until Aug.‭ ‬8.

On opening night,‭ ‬four awards were given to the four artists behind the most intriguing pieces,‭ ‬such as a‭ ‬24-minute video of an orange being sewn back together after being peeled‭ (‬the end result looking like‭ ‬an orange baseball‭) ‬and an installation of various kinds of chairs in front of the museum.

But more awards should have been handed out.‭ ‬After all,‭ ‬an art show derived from a competition should praise not only the shocking and the beautiful but also the childish,‭ ‬the absurd and the meaningful,‭ ‬along with the new and the old.

Dagwood‭ (‬2009‭)‬,‭ ‬by John Pack.‭

And so it is that here we get the traditional self-portrait,‭ ‬the striking landscape,‭ ‬the photographed orchid,‭ ‬the‭ ‬window sweating with raindrops and the incomprehensible sculpture,‭ ‬which here comes in the form of a dirty mirror and flag mount titled‭ ‬Err,‭ ‬by Tom Scicluna‭ ‬of Miami.‭ ‬An error would be a nice way to describe it.‭ ‬Less sympathetic viewers might call it a joke,‭ ‬an insult.

There are also humorous pieces that don’t pretend to be serious,‭ ‬such as‭ ‬Dagwood,‭ ‬a tall hamburger‭ ‬that greets us at the beginning.‭ ‬It is by John‭ ‬Pack,‭ ‬an artist from‭ ‬Fort Lauderdale currently busy with creating sculptures of food from materials collected from‭ ‬Florida beaches.‭ ‬Here,‭ ‬seashells,‭ ‬coral debris and minerals give the illusion of lettuce,‭ ‬tomato,‭ ‬meat and bread.

Fashion Evolution I‭ (‬2010‭)‬,‭ ‬by Jean Hutchison.

The fun continues as you go on,‭ ‬toward the left,‭ ‬and two primate ladies strike a pose.‭ ‬Both are wearing floral dresses,‭ ‬black gloves and fashionable hats.‭ ‬They have that mean/serious look models usually adopt for the runway.‭ ‬The one to the right,‭ ‬also the tallest one,‭ ‬is wearing lipstick.‭ ‬She nails the feminine look that her friend,‭ ‬on the left,‭ ‬can’t pull off despite the ornaments.‭ ‬This is‭ ‬Fashion Evolution I,‭ ‬by‭ ‬Delray Beach artist Jean Hutchison.‭ ‬Having seen it,‭ ‬I‭ ‬now‭ ‬can’t think of fashion seriously.

The first photographs of the show appear on the opposite wall facing‭ ‬the primate‭ ‬ladies.‭ ‬There are four of them on the wall,‭ ‬and yet‭ ‬Cypress Harvest-Reaching Out seems‭ ‬to me to be‭ ‬the only one.‭ ‬Wellington photographer Allison Parssi has chosen to depict only a part of the subjects,‭ ‬and not the face,‭ ‬or the eyes or the legs.‭ ‬We see hands,‭ ‬in action,‭ ‬and not a violent one for a change,‭ ‬but rather performing the natural instinctive act of reaching out.‭ ‬The hands seem to perform this motion so easily,‭ ‬and in the abstract sense,‭ ‬it reminds us that asking for help,‭ ‬coming closer,‭ ‬reaching out,‭ ‬saying a word,‭ ‬is only human.

Cypress Harvest‭ – ‬Reaching Out‭ (‬2008‭)‬,‭ ‬by Allison Parssi.

Another photo that,‭ ‬again,‭ ‬asks more than answers is‭ ‬Dream Walking,‭ ‬by photographer Jim LaRocco of‭ ‬Highland‭ ‬Beach.‭ ‬Imagine typing‭ “‬girl‭” ‬into a Google image search and getting in return a really bad‭ ‬result.‭ ‬That’s what this is:‭ ‬a blurry image not even of an entire figure,‭ ‬just a segment of a girl.‭ ‬LaRocco’s wears a black short skirt,‭ ‬black shoes and black socks up to right below the knee.‭ ‬We are right behind her although we don’t know where she is heading.‭ ‬We are not even sure she knows she is being followed.‭ ‬It’s nothing we haven’t seen before,‭ ‬but the image retains our attention longer than the real version of the event would.‭ ‬This is the power of photography:‭ ‬to give mundane every-day acts a second chance at being noticed and considered even beautiful.

But as much as I like LaRocco’s photo,‭ ‬it is‭ ‬My Father,‭ ‬by Kim Kuhn of‭ ‬Port Orange that is my personal favorite of the show.‭ ‬Humble in size,‭ ‬this piece is like a secret:‭ ‬unique‭ ‬and yet universal,‭ ‬like one’s individual story of discovering the truth about Santa Claus or having sex for the first time.‭ ‬It depicts Kuhn’s father in a dark hotel room.‭ ‬He is sitting on the end of the bed facing a closed curtain from where a shirt hangs.‭ ‬We can’t see his face.‭ ‬Shoes rest under the bed and a roll of paper towels is on the table.

My Father‭ (‬2009‭)‬,‭ ‬by Kim Kuhn.‭

The man is either meditating or watching television.‭ ‬It’s not sad because it shows a sad father.‭ ‬It’s sad because it’s a reduced father,‭ ‬a human one,‭ ‬and it’s real.‭ ‬This is Kuhn’s father after‭ “‬the divorce,‭” ‬reads the description,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it‭ ‬goes on‭ ‬to say that‭ ‬“there comes a point at which the perception of a parent transitions from unsurpassable being to mere mortal.‭ ‬Inevitably,‭ ‬I’ve learned to accept the fact that parents are not devoid of flaws.‭” ‬His photo is whispering:‭ ‬Parents are fragile beings,‭ ‬but shhh‭ ‬… don’t tell anyone.‭

When it comes to painting,‭ ‬small is sometimes better,‭ ‬as in the case‭ ‬of‭ ‬Hamptons Room,‭ ‬a‭ ‬14-by-11-inch oil‭ ‬with lots of emotion and energy.‭ ‬The lack of action is compensated‭ ‬for by‭ ‬the impulsive/aggressive strokes taking over the bed and suitcase depicted.‭ ‬In this painting,‭ ‬by Natalya Laskis of‭ ‬Miami,‭ ‬it’s not color that gives life to the canvas,‭ ‬but the thick visible strokes.‭

Close by,‭ ‬on another bed,‭ ‬sits a nude woman.‭ ‬She is refined,‭ ‬slender and beautiful.‭ ‬One wonders if her brain is as sharp as her jaw.‭ ‬The colored,‭ ‬stripped‭ ‬bedsheets reflect on her pale skin.‭ ‬The bed looks done.‭ ‬It’s not certain whether she is going or coming.‭ ‬And the fact that both of her hands concentrate on her right ear doesn’t explain anything,‭ ‬except that the task of putting on/taking off an earring is a tricky one.‭ ‬The bed is by Carolyn Schlam of‭ ‬Miami‭ ‬Shores,‭ ‬and should have gotten a prize just for creating something that feels new with traditional materials and approach.‭

War‭ (‬2009‭)‬,‭ ‬by Roberta Schofield of Tampa.

The idea of arriving at‭ ‬“new‭” ‬through‭ “‬old‭” ‬ways brings us to another piece in the right side of the room.‭ ‬It’s easy to distinguish because of its contrasting dark colors:‭ ‬red and blue.‭ ‬To touch a rising hero,‭ ‬by Maria Sonia Martin of‭ ‬Miami,‭ ‬has‭ ‬a‭ ‬certain innocence to it.‭ ‬It seems to have escaped the laws and principles of art to give us a simple,‭ ‬child-like piece in which subtle variations of blue are the only signs of sophistication.‭ ‬A child reaches up to touch a creature,‭ ‬a dog or a horse,‭ ‬above him.‭ ‬Half of his body is red.‭ ‬The other half is blue.‭ ‬Same goes for the animal.‭ ‬One will fade faster into the background.‭ ‬Will it be the creature that loses its dreamer‭? ‬Or is the child who will lose its dream‭?

The darkest of the pieces is right by the end of the show,‭ ‬and‭ ‬like rising hero,‭ ‬it’s more concerned with expression.‭ ‬Sight,‭ ‬by Cecilia Bedin of Weston,‭ ‬is mostly a dance of blacks and white that inevitably turns gray at times,‭ ‬and surprises with a touch of purple and green and orange lines.‭ ‬I personally call these types of pieces‭ ‬“unafraid abstraction.‭”‬ You can tell them apart from the‭ “‬afraid‭”‬ ones because they contain and project lots of emotion as opposed to feeling flat.

Florida Gator Fairy‭ (‬2008‭)‬,‭ ‬by Pamela Fessel.

Going after the‭ ‬M.C.‭ ‬Escher effect was Pamela Fessel of‭ ‬Vero Beach,‭ ‬with‭ ‬Florida Gator Fairy,‭ ‬a fine piece with an incredible amount of detail that really pushes the artistic abilities of that old friend of civilization:‭ ‬the pencil.‭ ‬In Fessel’s piece,‭ ‬a thin brunette fairy sits by the gator’s nostrils and caresses or heals its thick skin.‭ ‬They blend in with the dense vegetation so well that,‭ ‬if we are not careful,‭ ‬they might disappear right before our eyes.‭

The good news about the show is that there is no right or wrong way to go about seeing it.‭ ‬The works being shown are in no particular order,‭ ‬which makes it more exciting,‭ ‬less predictable.‭ ‬Photography appears next to oil painting,‭ ‬small pieces share the same wall with huge ones,‭ ‬and self-portraits are followed by abstractions.‭ ‬One thing seems common among the pieces.‭ ‬They are more about what the artists feel and see rather than what they do and how they do it.

I found plenty of likable and relatable pieces,‭ ‬good creations that are not necessarily unique,‭ ‬and unique ideas that could have had better execution.‭ ‬But even those lacking skill don’t suffer,‭ ‬if we keep in mind that this is a show about purity of feeling,‭ ‬which can’t be taught,‭ ‬and not so much about technique,‭ ‬which can.‭

Chairs,‭ ‬Found and Fixed‭ (‬2010‭)‬,‭ ‬by Kerry Phillips of Miami.‭

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