Impeach the Judge

Challenge authority. Pick your own winners at Hollywood's Biennial.

There's nothing like a feisty group exhibition to usher in another long, hot South Florida summer, and so the "Hollywood All-Media Juried Biennial"is as welcome as a tall, tart glass of ice-cold lemonade. The competition was established just two years ago by the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood's ever-resourceful curator of exhibitions, Samantha Salzinger, and already she's tweaking it. This year, artists working in film were eligible to compete, with awards given for Best Short Film and Best Feature Film as selected by juror Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez, a filmmaker who's currently an artist in residence at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach.

I was off by a day to see the winning feature, director Mark Moorman's Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, which screens Saturdays at 1 p.m. (it runs an hour and a half). The winning short, Kinesis -- First Movement, repeats on a loop in the small gallery just off the museum lobby, which has been cordoned off and darkened. It's an eerie little piece of work, not quite four and a half minutes long, in which darkness is punctuated by glimpses of a slow-motion kiss and a would-be suicide. A crisp soundtrack that includes footsteps, a ringing telephone, and whispering voices adds to the dreamily surreal atmosphere. The work is a collaborative effort credited to the cleverly named Loitering Goat Productions, which includes Gonzalo Escobar, Deda Starling, William Amaya, Daniel Geoghegan, and Elisa Menendez.

Comparing the film competition with the rest of the biennial leads us into apples-and-oranges territory, since only the winning films are shown. The rest of the exhibition, which includes the works of roughly 30 artists, juxtaposes the also-rans with the handful of winners. It's a distinction worth making because it enables us to make side-by-side comparisons and question the selections of juror Nick Cindric, director of Miami's Rocket Projects Gallery -- as in: "He picked this over that?"

Second place: It's a joke without a punch line.
Second place: It's a joke without a punch line.
Pettersson's notion of Faulkner's house
Pettersson's notion of Faulkner's house

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Through July 10.
Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954-921-3274.

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Which I will now proceed to do. Cindric's choice for Best in Show, for example, is a two-and-a-half-minute video on DVD called I am the smallest planet of my own (the text panel on the wall gets the preposition wrong, substituting on for of). This cheerful, whimsical work, projected onto the curved wall at the south end of the main gallery, features a variety of items -- sea horses, dolphins, scoops of ice cream -- floating in space against a changing backdrop of skewed landscapes, accompanied by simple captions such as "I am flying down the beach with ice cream UFOs."

I will forgive the maddening, singsong voice that provides the video's soundtrack. While it was set at an oppressively high volume the day I took in the show -- it was literally inescapable -- an acquaintance who has worked with artist Jiae Hwang tells me that the sound should have been much softer and subtler. I'll take her word for it, because the images are enchanting.

My big question is whether this video (and others) competed in the film category -- whether I am the smallest planet of my own went head to head with Kinesis -- First Movement, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, and other entries in the film category. Neither the introduction posted at the beginning of the exhibition nor the sketchy brochure raises the film-vs.-video issue, which is worth addressing.

Many of Cindric's other winners strike me as downright perverse. First place goes to Xmas, a murky little oil-on-wood painting of a Christmas tree in a darkened room pierced by rays of bright light from a window. And his pick for second place is Priscilla Ferguson's untitled (and undistinguished) black-and-white photograph of a bare tree in the middle of a Clyde Butcher-style landscape of swampland and fluffy cumulus clouds, its branches adorned with blocky letters reading LOVELY DAY ISNT IT? It's like a joke without a punch line.

A stronger case could be made for William Faulkner's House, by Christina Pettersson, which took third place. It's a graphite drawing in which an oblong chunk of what looks to be solid rock floats on a 54-by-96-inch expanse of white paper. Simplicity, ambiguity, and mystery come together in a work that, like Faulkner's prose, can seem impenetrable but is worthy of scrutiny.

Cindric also handed out five honorable mentions, and as is often the case in juried group shows like this, some of the choices are a little more adventurous. Two untitled C-prints by Dana Landau and Isabele Moros-Rigau are nothing special, although the latter -- an image of a girl displaying a scuffed knee -- benefits from being displayed next to Hugo Montoya's complementary Blood on Floor, a color shot of rivulets of blood on someone's lower legs and feet. Jeffrey Calvert's Hunter-Gather, an appealingly eccentric mixed-media assemblage, includes a ratty old fox stole wrapped around an unidentifiable white form that's covered by a brown paper bag with eyeholes revealing a tiny video monitor inside. Veronica Fazzio's less-interesting Vientre is a hanging mixed-media construction, and Richard Lund's Dark Places is a moody video combining grainy black-and-white imagery and a scratchy soundtrack with voices counting.

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