Hortt No More

In history-bereft Fort Lauderdale, Museum of Art director Kathleen Harleman stamps out a popular tradition

Many local artists were angry. They felt the exhibit included a disproportionate number of installations. "It was almost insulting," says painter Genie Appel. "The last Hortt, I just didn't feel it was representative of this community." She says the show was the last and most severe in a series of affronts to the local art community, demonstrating the museum is more out of touch with artists than ever. "Many of us have not been happy with the Hortt over the years. We feel they've largely ignored painters for conceptual work almost exclusively."

Hortt 41 seemed to prove this point. The Best in Show winner was The Lintball Project, an installation by Miami artist Westen Charles. It was a working dryer that produced laundry fluff studded with hospital waste. "[The Hortt] had really become a darling for the avant-garde," Appel says.

It also cost the museum. Harleman estimates the show's price tag was in the high $20,000 range, with $12,000 recouped in entry fees. The Sun-Sentinel provided free advertising, but the museum made up the difference. "On its old model, [the Hortt] could cover the costs." Harleman says. She just didn't want to use the old model: "If I was going to do it, I wanted to change it."

Museum of Art director Kathleen Harleman (left) was underwhelmed by the reaction when she suspended the Hortt. Broward Art Guild executive director Sue Buzzi's phone rang for weeks.
Joshua Prezant
Museum of Art director Kathleen Harleman (left) was underwhelmed by the reaction when she suspended the Hortt. Broward Art Guild executive director Sue Buzzi's phone rang for weeks.

Harleman felt using warehouse space in addition to the museum would fit her vision of a museum that engaged the public while showcasing cutting-edge talent. While lauded by some artists, her efforts were panned by the Sun-Sentinelas proof the Hortt had become irrelevant.

And then, after much soul-searching, Harleman ended it. She contends poor attendance during the show's six-week run, not criticism, signaled it was time to suspend the Hortt. Artist David Maxwell doesn't buy that. "Their reasons for cutting the Hortt are lame. When things didn't go so well with the Hortt, I think [Harleman] took it personally." After all, he reasons, "she's the boss." Moreover, Maxwell says attendance is a poor criterion for judging a show. "I don't think any of the shows have been well attended," he comments.

In the meantime the museum will incorporate local artists in other exhibitions throughout the year, while the markedly unglamorous, proudly grassroots BAG will now host the only Hortt in town. And the BAG show will accept original works, Buzzi promises, just like the beloved Hortts of yore.

Buzzi is unsure of the fate of the Salon Des Refuses, however, and as for the new show, it may not even be called the Hortt and may not be permanent. The museum could decide to reclaim the show, which puts both the BAG and Broward's art community in a paradoxical position. "We've been here 50 years," says the BAG's Dagmar Crosby. "We're trying to start a tradition."

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