Juris Imprudence

"Boca Museum Artist Guild Juried Competition and Exhibition" and "49th Annual All Florida Competition and Exhibition"

Museums and galleries get inexplicably overexcited about the word juried, as if a juried exhibition is somehow more legitimate or worthy than an ordinary show put together by a museum curator or gallery director. But as we all know from real-life civil and criminal trials, a jury's verdict is subject to scrutiny and skepticism. And in the case of two juried shows now at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the verdicts on display should be overturned on appeal.

Take the top three winners in the "Boca Museum Artist Guild Juried Competition and Exhibition," a once-every-two-years event, judged this time by Morgan T. Paine, an associate professor of art at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. Paine awarded third place to Hanne Niederhausen's Sense and Sensibility, a clunky, downright ugly "book assemblage" mixed-media piece that, if it's indeed meant as an homage to Jane Austen, must have the great writer spinning in her grave.

Gwendolyn Rose's Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall, in second place, is an even more garish mixed-media piece. It takes the form of a display case in which bits of colored mesh, plastic, glass, and other ingredients conspire to create a semblance of a female portrait.

Slow down for Karen Phillips' Snail Town Dream: It's one of the most agreeable pieces in the show
Slow down for Karen Phillips' Snail Town Dream: It's one of the most agreeable pieces in the show

The first-place winner, placed about midway through the long, narrow middle gallery the museum has given to this show, is a truly baffling choice. The small oil pastel by Janet Gold called LiquidThought consists of little more than a field of drab olive green and black accented by a slender horizontal dash of orange just above its center. It's like a failed version of the stark but luminous little canvases featured in the Boca Museum's Janet Siegel Rogers show of 1998-99.

The Rogers exhibition was an adjunct to the museum's landmark retrospective of op artist Richard Anuszkiewicz, and two of the better pieces here echo that show. Martin Schreiber's Transfiguration is an op-worthy acrylic that mingles a concentric series of circles and squares seeming to emanate from the small, radiant orange square in its center. Cecily Hargen's Shadow and Substance, a 34-inch-square, diamond-shape acrylic, with its undulating lines set on blocks of mostly bright colors, also revives the spirit of op.

As these two pieces point out, the Boca Guild show isn't a total wash. Among its 28 pieces are a nicely juxtaposed grouping of three abstracts -- Sally Cooper's acrylic Music, Hilda Stahl's mixed-media The Beginning, and Eleanor Clarke's watercolor collage The Great Chain of Being -- that complement one another beautifully.

And the color photograph Road Test, by Gary Kornheiser, is a wry trompe l'oeil reminiscent of Magritte. Our attention is first drawn to a realistic view of a country road that takes up most of the image, which turns out to be a photo of an artist in a parking lot painting that road, with fragments of cars visible beneath the big canvas.

Next door in the museum's main gallery, the "49th Annual All Florida Competition and Exhibition" gives us a larger but not much more coherent collection of pieces. Juror Janet Kardon may be director emeritus of the American Craft Museum in New York and an associate professor at both the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Pratt Institute, but some of her 43 selections here, chosen from more than 800 entries statewide, are as questionable as Professor Paine's Boca Guild winners.

For Best in Show, Kardon has settled on Thirty Layered Paintings by Diana Shpungin of Deerfield Beach, an assemblage of linen, gesso, acrylic, and ink. The title is a bit disingenuous: What the piece resembles more than anything else is 30 unmounted, unframed canvases tacked to the wall like so many swatches of wallpaper or paint samples in a hardware store.

The three Merit Award winners are highly variable. Karen Phillips' Snail Town Dream, a watercolor on paper, is a more or less agreeable semiabstract in soft pastel shades. Obelisk Altered, on the other hand, is a mess -- a 40-inch-tall hideous tangle of wires and fibers by Jacquie R. Fort of Vero Beach that looks like the aftermath of some sort of industrial disaster.

The best of this trio is Tectonic Gesture by Miles Laventhall of Boynton Beach. It's an irregular-shape mixed-media construction made up of steel and resins applied to paper, and the overlapping fragments of browns, beiges, and tans, set off here and there with bits of pale green, are a raw distillation of the notion of plate tectonics -- it's as if Laventhall has ripped a chunk of the earth's unstable crust from its context and mounted it on the wall.

Kardon's bias in favor of craftsy items is much in evidence. Fantasy is nothing more than a life-size pair of clay chairs painted in floral patterns by Estelle Tieman of Miami Beach. Little Easy, by Christopher Poehlmann of Naples, is also just a chair, although an extremely clunky one fashioned out of aluminum. And while the aptly titled Folding Screen, a wood, paper, and fiberglass construction by Peter King Vaccino of Boca Raton, is appealing, it's as a piece of interior design rather than a work of art.

Some of the other works in the show feel like a halfhearted attempt to cover all the bases. There are two uninspired installations: La Tienda de Animas, by Roberta Weinstein of Miami Beach, re-creates a little girl's closet with a rack of dresses topped by a shelf covered with shoes, seashells, stuffed birds, and other miscellany; and Boca artist Aaryn Goldbaum's Untitled is literally a collection of dozens of empty liquor and wine bottles, each of which contains a slip of paper that supposedly has the Serenity Prayer written on it.

Minimalism gets a nod in Inside/Outside, in which Carolina Sardi of Miami Beach takes 24 square steel frames and mounts them at irregular intervals on the wall. Karen Rose of Delray Beach contributes Lilies of the Lake, a mixed-media canvas that's a feeble attempt to capture the unsettling surrealism of Dali. A wall of six lackluster photographs seems to have been included just to make sure photography wasn't slighted.

Once you get past the filler, there are several fine works. The simplicity of Haze -- a large oil and acrylic on canvas by Alan Urban of Miami that's made up of 12 rectangular panels blanketed with spidery networks of purple lines -- is a refreshing contrast to some of the show's more cluttered pieces.

Invisible Man, by Norman Lebeau of Palm Beach, is an amazingly evocative sculpture consisting of a pair of empty bronze jeans perched on a wooden stool. Another nearby sculpture -- Bridge Over Troubled Waters, No. 2, by Tampa artist Paul Larned -- is an unsettling conglomeration of a distorted glass foot resting on a dozen or so disembodied glass fingers, all set on a slab of stone.

A pair of pieces near the entrance to the show coolly demonstrate that less very often is more, especially in the context of an exhibition as busy as this one. With the medium-size oil on canvas Evening on the Chain, David Loughtry of Mount Dora captures the fiery glory of a Florida sunset, with its grand cloud formations and a low-flying bird punctuating the wide-open spaces.

John David Hawver of Islamorada has a similar take on the drama of the South Florida sky in From One Time to Another and This Time in Between, a large, impressionist-style oil seascape in dappled blues, peaches, and lilacs, with a tiny string of Florida Keys just barely visible in the distance. Long after the visual noise of so much of the rest of this show has subsided, the serenity of these two paintings hangs in the air like the clear tone of a bell.

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