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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.