But after seeing this year’s All Florida Invitational, I think sliced bread wins.
Five Florida-based artists acting as curators conducted the statewide search that led to the 25 emerging artists who are now featured through Sept. 25. The curators, whose work is also on display, selected five artists each. Though smaller in size — previous All Florida shows had more than 100 artists — museum officials believe that the new approach went further than before.
“By presenting fewer artists, we were able to show the selected artists in greater depth, allowing for a more comprehensive exhibition,” said Marisa Pascucci, the museum’s curator of collections.
“We selected pieces we felt would not only work well with one another but also were the best representation of work from the selected artists,” Pascucci said.
That is a responsible line of thought and the result could have served as a loud yell to the rest of the world saying “Look here, Florida has serious good art.” This could have been a powerful soundbite of our state’s artistic voice. Inexplicably, we went with dull.
It is possible that all the hype built around this new format set the stage for disappointment. We were told the curators were established artists deeply rooted in the community and working in different mediums, all of which is true.Filmmaker Christopher Harris, an associate professor at University of Central Florida, has used film as a means to explore everything from the cosmic consequences of the sun’s collapse to a theme park performance of Christ’s Passion. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Condon, who is based in Tampa and Brooklyn, is a painter who likes to combine influences from Chinese scrolls, American postwar abstraction and wallpaper patterns.
Sergio Vega, in turn, is a multimedia artist living in Gainesville and originally from Argentina. Vega addresses both contemporary and historical representations of earthly paradise in the Americas and is fascinated by a 1650 theory that locates the Garden of Eden in South America.
His El Sueño Americano (The American Dream) piece, consisting of a broom, is the most provoking here. It calls for those museum visitors who are Hispanic to sweep the gallery rooms with this “work of art.” The work is clearly sarcastic and it is too easy to get offended by it. I would suggest you do the opposite. Have fun with it.
“Collectively, their knowledge is far deeper than an open call,” Pascucci said. But the guest curators also seem to have picked very close to their hearts. It is understandable. After all, this is their one chance to play judge.“Next time, someone else will make the choices,” said Carol Prusa, a professor of visual art at Florida Atlantic University, whose work Clouded was among the highlights. Prusa fabricates acrylic domes and orbs that are later covered in intricate patters resembling the cosmos or microscopic organisms. These meticulous drawings are executed in silverpoint and enhanced with graphite, dry pigment and on occasion LED lights that twinkle from within.
Carlene Muñoz’s drawings strongly resemble Prusa’s. Here we are introduced to Muñoz’s Unseen Matter, a small, graphite drawing featuring an abstract, delicate composition. Though the image is not as symmetrical and orderly as Prusa’s patterns, the result is equally enigmatic and elaborate. The Miami-based artist was indeed chosen by Prusa.
Also in Miami, painter and sculptor Edouard Duval-Carrié produces pieces referencing the Vodou religion and the culture and history of Haiti, where he was born before moving to Puerto Rico as a child. Emilio Martinez, one of Duval-Carrié’s selections, documents a very honest and personal journey of assimilation through his Basquiat-like paintings.Originally from Honduras, Martinez suffered a culture shock after arriving in Miami in 1994. Luckily for us, he began expressing his passions and fears by drawing and painting. Among the works of his on display are three highly energetic and colorful works titled We-R the Future, American Me and We Can Do It. They are loud, childish and have a primal quality.
Questionable artworks were there, too, back when All Florida saw hundreds of submissions come in and one judge narrowed them. It’s always good to have a few pieces that feel as though they don’t belong. They are the coffee beans at the fragrance counter offering to reset our notions and make distinctions.
The messages conveyed through this year’s All Florida are probably no less important and no less personal than those from previous years. Unfortunately, whether it is the environment, immigration, or politics, they get lost on pieces that are too puzzling for their own good. Too often during the show we are preoccupied trying to decipher the uncertainty and the bizarre.
The following is an exchange with two of the guest curators/artists who shared their thoughts on the process.
Harris: It wasn’t particularly difficult to settle on the artists. There were other very interesting artists as well but, in some cases, they had already been in the show. I wanted to find worthy artists who hadn’t had that kind of visibility in Florida.
Prusa: When asked to come up with five artists to recommend I decided to, first, search online for artists particularly from this area. I Googled. I searched for artist databases. I made long lists of artists by finding local shows. What I realized is, there are a tremendous number of excellent artists to celebrate locally and it is hard to create a comprehensive list. I suspect many artists who are quiet and insular don’t get their work seen and we are likely missing out on seeing a lot of wonderful art. So, in the end, I resolved my five artists based on who I felt worked diligently, quietly, and rigorously and weren’t particularly good at getting their name out there, yet made something I have never seen quite that way before.
By doing away with the open-call format and letting five artists serving as curators do the selection, don’t you think the exhibition was less inclusive?
Harris: On the contrary, just the opposite. There is certainly a great deal of geographical diversity as noted by the museum curators. I was certainly conscious of selecting artists that worked in different mediums and selecting work that was in different mediums or radically different approaches even in the same medium. For example, Anthea Behm and Jay Flynn both showed photo-based work that was conceptual but radically different in conception, materials and execution.Prusa: This format is more professional. I can tell you that to have my work in a curated museum exhibition is significant; far more important than to enter my work into a juried show. Additionally, the selected artists were treated professionally by the museum. Instead of individual artists having to ship their work to and from the museum, museum professionals had conversations with the artists about what to exhibit. I found this exhibition to be more inclusive in that many arts professionals were included in the process that resulted in this selection, not one judge.
Aside from coordinating the logistics of a show, the role of a curator is to select art of certain value before presenting it to the public. In that sense, the curator prevents bad art from “getting in.” Several times while walking the show, I felt that this “weeding out” process failed. I’m not saying I would have done better, but I think the public might miss the point. What are you hoping viewers take from the show?Harris: I think a show of this nature will inevitably be a hit or miss for most visitors. Hopefully the “hits” are greater than the “misses.” Even if they are not, I hope they are the kind of misses that provoke. I hope that the viewer comes away with at least a few new ideas about the world.
Prusa: I think we could spend the day discussing the question of what makes some art good and some bad and not resolve an answer that holds for all people. I think there are many amazing artists who don’t have lines on their résumés and I don’t think that makes them bad. So the credential and consensus argument is useful but not perfect. Some people offer that it is good if you like it — that it is a personal, subjective thing. What I hope viewers take from this show is an appreciation for the vibrant range of art being produced in Florida from quite distinctive artists.
The All Florida Invitational runs through Sept. 25 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Admission: $12; seniors: $10; students (with ID): free. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. first Wednesday of the month; 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays and holidays. Call 561-392-2500, or visit www.bocamuseum.org.