Review of the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art at the OMA
I was very excited to have witnessed this past weekend, the inaugural show of the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art at the Orlando Museum of Art. It is the first time such an award and show has been executed in Central Florida and it has long been overdue. In the past the Orlando Museum of Art has been somewhat conservative but has been progressing slowly to bring a current exhibition of what is happening currently in the contemporary art world. Giving visitors a visual experience that there is more beyond abstraction, tropical sunsets, palm trees, nudes, and low-brow art. We have longed moved away from art movements of Impression, Pop Art, and Surrealism and it is nice to finally see a show that is refreshing, which is rare for viewers in Central Florida to experience unless you frequent museums in South Florida or Art Basel in South Beach. The artists that gave my senses the most impact both visually and mentally, and which I will be writing about in this post were: Sarah Max Beck, Vanessa Diaz, Ezra Johnson, Jillian Mayer, and Agustina Woodgate.
Sarah Max Beck is a sculptor. I heard her speak a couple of months ago about her process and how she got to this point as an artist making tapestries using plastic bags. It was a very personal story of how she was a caregiver and she did not know what she was doing with her life at that moment, so she started weaving plastic bags that were used to deliver newspapers, bargain newsletters, and such. Viewing these large quilts you see how colorful and beautiful plastic bags can be but at the same time upon closer inspection the smell, and the texture of the plastic makes it feel abrasive and uncomfortable unlike a normal quilt. Thoughts of large amounts of waste and longevity start to creep into my mind. Her work makes me think of El Anatsui, who also made fabric like tapestries using scrap metal which is found in large quantities in his country. Sarah’s quilts references our waste culture.
Vanessa Diaz is another artist that I had the opportunity to see prior to this exhibition, and I must say the venue where her artwork is displayed plays a big part on how I experienced her work. Her work are site specific installations, and the ones I responded to the most at the Orlando Museum of Art were; Here Enticement is Not Always Difficult, Upon Which Everything Rests, and Where Traps Can Be Set at One’s Good Pleasure. She takes objects and gives them a new form or function giving you a different perspective on an everyday object, for example Where Traps Can Be Set at One’s Good Pleasure is made up bedposts she found, which she then seamlessly joined two top ends to make them into one long piece, giving them a look of big bulky javelins piled on the floor forming a bonfire before it is lit. I found this piece funny and at the same time very real making a comment on what happens in relationships in the bedroom. Here Enticement is Not Always Difficult, and Upon Which Everything Rests made me think of missing parts of a history unknown to me, sadness, new type of furniture design, and viewing objects differently than what they have been intended for.
Ezra Johnson’s paintings I found very refreshing using very lose brush strokes, collaging pieces from magazines and other sources, and using dark colors. Reclining Nude I found both sexy and vulgar at the same time. Reclining Nude and Coffee Table Group had a mix of influences such as; graffiti, Henri Matisse, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It has been four years since I have witnessed a passionate use of brush strokes so determined in emitting genuine emotions. He also had paintings he used to create a stop motion video animation titled Stranded in a House, which heavily references William Kentridge. The video is under three minutes long but the desperation of the main character going in and out every room in the video trying to find a way out this house starts to set in.
Jillian Meyer’s work spoke to me the most, because she made me think about how technology is around us on an everyday basis, and sometimes goes undetected because, we are getting accustomed to it, or we do not question it. She uses video, installation, photography and humor to make us aware of the real world and virtual world. Simulacrums of catchy 80’s pop-tune videos (Mega Mega Upload), home shopping network, DIY’s Youtube videos, online portraits, and the sky, she makes the viewers question our interaction with the virtual world. In a small skit from her video titled PostModem, she uses satire of the home shopping network where you can purchase in just only three easy payments of $399.99 your own personal vortex where you can never feel the loss of someone close to you because you can place them in there eternally and at the same time get rid of unwanted items easily, such as a tamagotchi. Thinking about it don’t we all live in our own constructed vortex already? In her installation Cloud Swing, the viewer is welcomed to sit on a swing set, but the sky is just a projection with our shadows breaking the visual plane as we swing back and forth. Her artwork makes the viewer question the virtual versus reality, the analog versus the digital and the big roles they play in our lives.
Agustina Woodgate was this year’s recipient of Florida Prize in Contemporary Art. I can understand why since they are very beautiful pieces. Seven Seas, Milky Way, and Peacock are all made from the skin of stuffed toy animals, which references oriental rugs. Seven Seas and Milky Way start to morph into visual maps of some sort, which play well with her other two pieces; Simplified Maps and Beginning Maps, where she took world maps that hang in almost every world history class in schools, then she sanded them down erasing all the words, borders, or any information and leaving only the hues that represented the country. In these two bodies of work she creates her own maps that have no boundaries that have been defined by society or will ever be.
Overall this exhibition is a delight in the Orlando area, and must see for people to become informed about the world of contemporary art, and the Florida artists that help create them.