Juried art shows are sort of like the O.J. Simpson trial — half the fun is in arguing about the verdict. "You thought that was Best in Show? You're kidding."
In the case of the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood's "Fifth All-Media Juried Biennial," there's plenty of outrage and incredulity to go around. Nine awards totaling $4,000 were handed out, split among the winners for Best in Show; first, second, and third places; and a handful of Honorable Mentions.
Let the record show that 825 works by 294 artists were submitted for the exhibition, representing nine Florida counties. Only 66 entries by 34 artists were accepted by the two jurors, Scott Murray of Twenty Twenty Projects in Miami and Michelle Weinberg of Girls' Club in Fort Lauderdale.
Inadvertently, I took the long way around the center's main gallery, giving me ample opportunity to work up a head of steam by the time I got to Best in Show. The second- and third-place winners barely registered, but I was truly bewildered by first place, Don Lambert's Lawn Jobs: Amber Waves, which consists of little more than a massive slab of Astroturf mounted on maple plywood. Conceptually daring, right? I get it. Or as the Jurors' Statement puts it, one of several "surprising choices of material." But first place?
Imagine my surprise and relief when Best of Show turned out to be... defensible. Susan Lee-Chun's Untitled (Pedestal + Vase) is a witty bit of business that teases out a narrative in which a gallery pedestal appears to have sprouted legs, upending the vase atop it, which now lies shattered at the figure's feet. I just wish Murray and Weinberg had resisted the urge to characterize it as the artist's "willingness to take risks and incorporate a vivacious personality into contemporary art."
As usual, I found more of interest among the artists cited for Honorable Mentions. Gonzalo Fuenmayor's U.F.O. (Unidentified Flaming Object), for instance, gets unexpected mileage out of a charcoal image of a sparkling chandelier suspended from a fiery base. Felice Grodin's Where Angels Fear to Tread is a wonderfully intricate ink-on-Mylar drawing that simultaneously suggests a mandala and a schematic. And Nicholas Arehart's Forms Derived From a Code, in a riff on Magritte, playfully juxtaposes a video image of a cube with a real three-dimensional one.
To these eyes and ears, however, the most richly deserved Honorable Mention goes to the ambitious Sounding Score, Alba Triana's interactive audiovisual installation. The artist has assembled a sort of console or control panel that invites you to put on a pair of headphones and influence the sequence of sounds you hear when you interact with a video screen. You become, in effect, her collaborator, blurring the line between artist and viewer/listener.
There are similarly adventurous works elsewhere throughout the show. A few feet from Triana's piece is Peter Symons' quirky That Damned Racket, in which nine lamps of varying styles and heights are arranged in a semicircle around a microphone stand. As best I could tell from photos posted on the center's Facebook page the day after the opening reception, the lamps really light up and the microphone works, making the installation interactive. It was dark and silent when I visited, but the idea of it functioning was intriguing.
I also got a charge out of Kerry Phillips' (Pictured) My Parents' Junk Drawer as of January 2010, a wall-mounted installation of an actual drawer and its contents: a ruler, adhesive tape, a fuse, a battery, labels, paintbrushes, screws, brackets, electrical plugs, etc. No doubt any one of us could assemble a comparable piece, but the fact that Phillips came up with the concept and executed it made me smile. The piece prompts a "Why didn't I think of that?" moment.
Sinisa Kukec, a Croatian artist whose solo show at the center last year was nothing short of magical, is here represented by a pair of mixed-media works that play off each other beautifully. Prima Facie looks like a spinning, water-spotted mirror, while Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously incorporates a fluorescent tube hanging vertically from the ceiling, a rotating platform, a chair, and green modular forms.
By the time I got to the end of the exhibition, in the center's smallest gallery, it was clear that my bias in favor of interactive installations might have disqualified me from jury duty here. Put simply, I was entranced by Catalina Jaramillo's Noise IV, an elaborate assemblage that includes potted cacti, candles, a snifter of water, a tray of incense, a bell and its ringer, a rosary, liturgy books, a robe, and some photographs.
All these items add up to an altar for the practice of a Japanese Buddhism that involves chanting directed at a gohonzon, a scroll imprinted with scriptural texts. Apparently there was a performance component to the piece at the show's opening, with the artist chanting as she knelt at the altar. No matter — the conceptual aspect of the work proved to be compelling evidence of its originality.
As it turns out, ending the exhibition on a spiritual note won me over, and I came away from the "Fifth All-Media Juried Biennial" more inclined to leniency. Case closed.