The good news, thanks to the tradition of exacting standards established by the South Florida Cultural Consortium, is that the work included in this year's exhibition is of a uniformly high standard. No slackers here.
The bad news is that it's difficult to find a theme or common thread among the dozen artists from South Florida who have been deemed worthy of the annual show. But somehow, curator Jane Hart has assembled the show as if it were a cohesive whole, which is no mean feat.
The exhibition is always one of the region's most challenging shows to stage. The artists have been selected by two esteemed panels that award those selected with substantial fellowships of $7,500 or $15,000. More than 200 artists have been awarded nearly $2 million since the consortium was established in 1988, making the program one of the largest regional, government-sponsored art grants in the country. Keep that in mind the next time you're tempted to make a wisecrack about culture in South Florida.
Considering the screening process, the artists who win are, in any given year, almost guaranteed to be among the best in the biz. Not every first-rate artist in South Florida has won the consortium — I know several who have never even applied — but almost every artist who has cashed in has been deserving.
This year, the panels settled on a dozen artists: four from Broward, six from Miami-Dade, and one each from Palm Beach and Monroe counties. The show rotates among venues in the participating counties, and for the first time, the exhibition is hosted by the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood.
The big main gallery comes off best, from Madeline Denaro's bracing abstract acrylics and Victoria Gitman's exquisite oil miniatures to the trompe l'oeil sculptures by Martin Oppel that dot the space. Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova more than holds his own with a trio of mixed-media works incorporating found objects. Asser Saint-Val uses untraditional ingredients such as flour, tea, and shoe polish in his paintings, which breathe new life into surrealism. Cristina Lei Rodriguez continues her excursion into the world of entropy with her jarring mixed-media conglomerations.
The center's main gallery emphasizes photography, less successfully. Tony Chirinos' 20 gelatin silver prints explore the fascinating if repellent world of Colombian cockfighting. They're overshadowed, however, by Deborah Goldman's intricately choreographed photo assemblages that chronicle her collection of seeds and pods.
Exceptional draftsmanship is on display in the meticulous drawings of Walter Hnatysh and the large-scale graphite creations of Christina Pettersson. The remaining two artists work with video. Jillian Mayer offers a shocking two-minute YouTube takeoff. Aymée Cruzalegui's film is a moving, 16-minute documentary about a homesick immigrant worker from Peru.
As usual, I'm hard-pressed to make much sense of this or any consortium show as a whole. The point is that the exhibition documents the work of artists who have been richly rewarded for their efforts. In an economic climate such as today's, that's something well worth celebrating.