Trading Places

Gretchen Scharnagl's Cognitive Mapping I: My House goes a step further, taking what looks to be a two-dimensional canvas, unframed, and suspending it in midair to allow access from both sides, which turn out to be very different. There are autographed outlines of hands, rubbings of leaves, and figure drawings on one side, intricate stamped designs and metallic washes of color and texture on the other, all vying for attention. And, once again, a jarring element takes the image to another level: two small, irregularly shaped panes of plastic that serve as windows through the piece.

Even the show's Best in 3-D/Mixed Media award winner, an untitled installation piece by Earl Bronsteen, has its own cracked charm. It's more or less an empty cell with walls and ceiling of chainlink fence, with one video monitor planted at the open door, another on the outside of the rear wall, both showing what's being taken in by a video camera mounted in one corner of the cell. The catch is that if you're standing in front of the camera, you can't see the screens on the monitors, which face away from the cell.

Deeper into the exhibition are a couple of the Hortt's most mordantly witty works, one in mixed media, the other in oil, which comment on the relationship between the sexes. Joanna Thomas' Enduring the Inventory of His Previous Loves consists of a dozen acrylic boxes hung on a wall with thin wires. Each contains an antique black-and-white photograph of a woman, with her eyes scratched out and a small color image (a flower or insect) covering her mouth.

Kate Kretz's How to Act, Not React, When He Makes You Crazy, p. 52 is a similarly cynical take on gender politics: A woman with bloodshot eyes lies stretched out on a bed, her two cats oblivious to her misery. The image is skewed at an angle like a hastily snapped photo, but it's painted in supersaturated bright colors and bathed in an eerie yellowish light (from a TV?) that throws the details into harsh relief.

The exhibition includes an impressive array of more-traditional painting, although, again, the best examples tweak their material in one way or another. Among the group of paintings on the curved wall to the right of the gallery's entrance are Alette Simmons-Jimenez's Boy Boy PingYino, a Lucian Freud-style closeup of a boy's face with, unaccountably, lots of little penguins in the background; Victoria Gitman's Variations on a Theme by Vermeer: Self-Representation #26, in which the artist puts a contemporary spin on Vermeer's famous luminosity; and Martin Oppel's wry Relative Size, which juxtaposes a realistically painted young man with an ant.

A few sculptures and a wall's worth of mostly ordinary photos are also included in the show. Given the technology available for manipulating photographic images, surprisingly few of the photographers, in particular, seem interested in pushing the envelope. And I'm completely baffled by the juror's choices for Best in Show and Best in Photography, two C-prints -- Fran Bitett Beck's Carol and Shirley and Joseph Tamargo's Valparaiso, Chile -- that are interesting but nothing more.

No matter. This year's Hortt goes a long way toward dispelling the notion that it's an elitist, aesthetically conservative show, even if it does so at the expense of the would-be maverick status of the Salon Des Refuses.

The 40th Annual Hortt Competition is on display through October 16 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-5500. The 1998 Salon Des Refuses Exhibition is on display through October 15 at the Broward Art Guild Gallery, 530 NE 13th St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-523-4824.

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