"Time+Temp" at the Art and Culture Center Proves That Painting Is Not Dead

As I made my way through "Time+Temp: Surveying the Shifting Climate of Painting in South Florida," now at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, I realized that painting is alive and well, and that's a great comfort. Although in recent years the Art and Culture Center has been more game than most institutions to explore, say, installation-based art, it's good to be reminded that this old-fashioned medium of painting still thrives.

Well, maybe not old-fashioned. Take, for instance, Michael Vasquez's The Guarded Entry, an acrylic that commands a prime spot near the beginning of the exhibition. In it, a pair of dreadlocked guys defiantly stare us down outside some sort of gate. Are they bouncers? Members of a private security team? It doesn't matter. By placing the viewer well below the two, Vasquez establishes who's in charge — and it isn't us. The vigor of the artist's gestural brushwork further emphasizes the power structure he has set up.

There's a similar gestural ferocity at work in the nearby Hyperbolic Nature: Florida Vines, an oil by Lilian Garcia-Roig. Her subject matter is the dense subtropical foliage of the Florida wilderness, minimally tamed by her exaggerated interpretation of it. Up close, the painting is an almost frightening tangle of lines, but step away and the image resolves itself into a paradoxically realistic rendering.

No such realism informs the work of Skot Olsen, whose oil The Temple of Poseidon is a characteristic realization of a nautical theme with a fantastic twist. Olsen is often identified with so-called lowbrow art, although he has carved out his own iconography. Even when the imagery is nightmarish, it is painted with loving precision.

As Curator of Exhibitions Jane Hart makes clear in the exhibition brochure, she is fearless when it comes to expanding the definition of painting. The show includes a wealth of work that would not be traditionally classified as painting, works that Hart says "find form through unconventional approaches and use of unorthodox materials."

I'm still not exactly sure what she means by that, but some of the art thus defined is fascinating. Take Nicolas Lobo's Cereal Pyramid, an abstract geometric composition made up of crushed, multicolored children's cereal mixed with Elmer's Glue-All and applied directly to the wall of the gallery. Or Jason Hedges' Peppercorns #1, which consists of a panel blanketed with thousands of peppercorns. Not only is the texture mesmerizing but the image, from a slight distance, can be read as a star-filled night sky such as we will never see in South Florida.

Although the art on display is quite good, I found myself disturbed, if ever so slightly, by the realization that about 80 percent of the work is by artists operating out of Miami-Dade County. There's nothing wrong with that per se. Miami, after all, is the cultural capital of South Florida. Every year, the international art crowd flocks to Art Basel Miami, not Art Basel Margate. It's Miami that boasts a Wynwood arts district, not Parkland or Weston or any of Broward County's other 29 municipalities. It's Miami that... well, you get the picture.

I suspect that Broward will always be the redheaded stepchild when it comes to the arts in South Florida, but this fact has puzzled and often dismayed me throughout the nearly 25 years I've been covering culture in the region. I can attest that we have no shortage of worthy artists from Broward and Palm Beach counties. I just wish that talent got wider exposure in the tricounty area. It can't be just a matter of money; all you need to do is take a boat ride along the Intracoastal to find evidence of beaucoup bucks in Broward. Apparently, though, not much of that wealth ever makes its way into the arts.

For her part, curator Hart feels that my gripe is "a silly criteria." The show's name clearly explains its focus on South Florida artists, she says, and "let's not delude ourselves — the majority live in Miami-Dade County." It's only natural, she says, that the state's biggest city has its biggest arts population. She defended the museum, saying, "We're clearly a Broward-based institution, and whether we exhibit work from Kokomo or Shangri-la or New York City or Miami, we are exhibiting it in Broward County. There aren't that many other museum-caliber institutions here — and those do not devote as much wall space as we do to local artists."

And there you have it.

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Michael Mills