My candidate for understatement of the year comes from the juror of the "61st All Florida" show at the Boca Museum, Valerie Cassel Oliver, senior curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. In her intro, she comes out with, "Admittedly, open call juried exhibitions are challenging."
This, mind you, is from the woman who whittled more than 1,500 submissions from all over the state down to the hundred or so works that appear.
But after spending some time with the exhibition, the question I came away with for Oliver was not "How did you do it?" but rather "What do you have against painting?" There are shockingly few paintings in the show, and most of them aren't especially impressive. That Florida's oldest juried art competition would so slight one of the oldest, most popular forms of art borders on perversity.
The juror doesn't identify her biases up front – she does cite "an ever-present dialogue with nature and an emphasis on the repurposing of material" as themes running through the exhibition – although they soon become evident. Digital photography, especially of the sort that has been manipulated in one way or another, seems to run rampant. There are 16 more or less straightforward photographs, many of them quite lovely, but they have been bunched together on two adjacent panels and shoved off to the side, almost as an afterthought to the blurry, fussed-over images that predominate elsewhere.
There are high points, of course, mainly in mixed-media works. Binocular Disparity, a light-based piece by Miami artist Alexandra Trimino at the entrance to the show, is one of them. It has the flavor of a Dan Flavin light installation, but with a witty twist – knitted and crocheted "socks" that adorn the 120-inch-tall neon tube.
Not far away is The Oneiric Memory, a touching assemblage by Marina Font of Miami Beach that's built around a child's old-fashioned bed, topped with an embroidered pillow (the inscription is in Spanish) and a sort of quilt stitched together with photographs that have a vintage look and feel.
Oliver's choice for Best in Show – the mixed-media work The Offering by Vanessa Diaz of Boynton Beach – also includes furniture. At its heart is an upended armchair that has entered into some bizarre union with a table, a mirror frame, a light fixture, and some bed finials. The result feels surprisingly organic, although the work gives off an air that is simultaneously whimsical and menacing. In other words, it's classic surrealism, updated. Here the juror and I are in complete agreement.
When a couple of decent paintings come along, however, they're self-sabotaging. Boca artist Mark Forman is represented by a pair of 60-inch-by-48-inch acrylics that are like color-field painting with texture added, but my admiration turned to disdain when I read the self-indulgent artist statement Oliver lets him get away with: "My work is defined by the search for truth utilizing reductive and profound concepts interpreted through minimally variable colorations."
Last year I commented on how the "60th All Florida" had been "assembled with remarkable care" and noted the juror's knack for uncanny juxtapositions. That show established a flow, whereas this one seems to go in fits and starts. That's not to slam Oliver, who obviously had her work cut out for her, but rather to question some of her choices. The "All Florida" is invariably worth seeing, some years more than others.