On a recent Saturday morning, the sole employee on duty at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood rushed around turning on audiovisual equipment for several pieces in "The Hollywood All-Media Juried Biennial," a show that had opened just the night before. The volume on two video installations was out of whack (read: way too high); the CD player for another simply wouldn't work. Eventually, the harried woman resorted to calling in curator Samantha Salzinger to straighten things out.
Meanwhile, I started working my way through the show, an ambitious exhibition of more than 100 works in a wide variety of media by 66 artists. As it turned out, the technical difficulties resulted in at least one apt juxtaposition. The noisiest piece -- an Isabel Moros-Rigan video called Tap, Tap... Tap that I would come to think of as Worst in Show -- was set up only a few feet from the Julie Orsini Shakher oil Too Loud.
The video is an endless loop of a little girl alternating between slapping a live microphone against her leg and blowing into it at point-blank range. Even with the volume adjusted, it's an irritating, painfully heavyhanded take on the myth of Sisyphus. The big Shakher painting, a vivid image of a woman crumpled into herself with her hands covering her ears, is the only sensible response.
Around the corner, I found the source of some other confusing sound bites I'd heard from a distance: a video installation near the museum's elevator called Tony Danson, Ted Danza. The piece, by Carlos Rigan, consists of two TV sets. One features footage of Ted Danson, the other footage of Tony Danza. Thanks to some fairly amazing technical wizardry, Danson appears to be saying, over and over, "I'm Tony Danza," while Danza seems to say, "I'm Ted Danson."
These pieces (and others) are a rousing reminder of how adventurous the Art and Culture Center has become since Salzinger arrived. As admirable as much of the museum's programming has been over the years, it has rarely been as edgy as it has during the new curator's tenure.
This juried biennial is another measure of Salzinger's vision for the museum. The show, for which long-time Florida International University art professors Eduardo Del Valle and Mirta Gómez served as jurors, is almost overwhelming in its variety. There's enough photography here to merit a separate exhibition all to itself, a few of the images are startlingly different views of familiar subject matter.
Judith Mintz-Hirschberg's color print Penguins in Discussion, for instance, is a droll tweaking of our tendency to think of penguins as odd-looking people in tuxedoes. Two of these quirky birds stand facing each other, one with a flipper outstretched as if to emphasize a point in the "discussion" of the title.
The show features other provocative installations: Antuan Riguez's State of Satisfaction, which takes up the center of the museum's largest gallery, consists of plots of sod on which a dozen porcelain toilets rest, lids and seats removed, with neatly trimmed grass in the bowls and tanks (just don't ask me what it "means"). And third-place winner Lost and Found (I Love My Mama, Check-In), by Kevin Arrow, is a room-sized installation at the end of the exhibition that includes four slide projectors projecting random imagery accompanied by talk-radio commentary on the subject of loving one's mother.
There are also standouts in more traditional media. Niña, Gato y Silla X, a tiny oil on wood by Luis Manuel Fernandez, is a haunting portrait of a zombie-eyed little girl sitting in a tall chair with a pale blob of a cat at the foot of the chair. And a mixed-media portrait by Alan Dayton, Candice Russell, struck me as a remarkably realistic piece, with the seated subject holding an artifact of some sort, a childhood photo collaged into one corner, and a vaguely Haitian-looking motif hovering in the background. Of course, that's probably because Russell -- currently art critic for City Link, formerly movie critic for the Sun-Sentinel when I served in the same capacity at the Palm Beach Post -- is a long-time friend, not to mention the person who turned me on to Haitian art.
As usual with group shows in general and with juried ones in particular, I find myself at odds with some of the work included and singled out here. In the "Jurors' Statement" in the exhibition brochure, del Valle and Gómez try to play down what they call "the prevalent notion that all choices made by jurors are based on taste..." Well, maybe. A critic whose taste doesn't come into play in such circumstances is taking theory a bit too far.
I was baffled, for example, by nondescript photos by Adolfo Barandiaran and Rob Friedman that received two of the show's six Honorable Mentions. Likewise, Martin E. Casuso's Burn Book 1B (Gabriel), which took First Prize, looks to me like an interactive piece to which a DO NOT TOUCH sign has been inexplicably appended: side-by-side sticks of incense pointing to a row of photos and drawings that begs to be flipped through. An untitled Casuso piece in the museum lobby includes a genuinely interactive mixed-media work featuring a "book" of words and images that makes for a much more effective piece.
On the other hand, I find myself in complete agreement with the jurors on their choice for Best of Show: Carol Prusa's Network, a large, ghostly floral image created with silverpoint, graphite, ground sulfur, and titanium white acrylic applied to a vertical wooden panel. With its companion pieces, What Connects Us Now? and Transfusion, Network forms a gently stunning triptych based on pale wispy forms that look like flowers but also resemble intricate anatomical parts. I wish the jurors could have bestowed the Best of Show award to all three paintings -- taken together, they have a cumulative power that each alone lacks.
Nor can I quibble with the jurors for selecting Nap, an obliquely erotic color photograph by Mauricio Ramirez that bears repeated scrutiny, for Second Place, and for awarding Third Place to Arrow's Lost and Found. And Honorable Mention-winner Eight Crow Reliquaries, by Gretchen Scharnagl, is also praiseworthy: a wall-mounted assemblage of birdlike figures made from clay, wax, and other ingredients. (Elsewhere in the show are two equally strange-but-wonderful bird-based pieces by Scharnagl.)
All of which goes to show -- and I imagine the jurors would heartily disagree -- that there's no accounting for taste. Then again, that's a big part of what art criticism is all about.
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