|NAPLES — What a pleasure to realize Florida is not only beautiful but also highly artistic. The second annual “Florida Contemporary 2010” exhibition displays this fact handsomely at the Patty and Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art through next weekend.
The museum is closing for summer a few days early to install the 25-piece Louise Nevelson sculpture sooner than expected later this month. So don’t delay seeing “Florida Contemporary” for a fascinating experience: viewing first-class work by artists one doesn’t know, as well as fine art by a handful of Neapolitans.
Michael Culver, director and chief curator, selected 53 works by 47 artists. “We sent out 500 invitations. No one here was in last year’s show,” he said in the third floor galleries.
How does he select the art?
“I put a potential selectee’s name or ideas people send me and my impressions on surveying various galleries in a bag,” he explained.
“There may be 1,000 ‘frogs’ before I find a piece I want in the show. I look at websites and I ask artists for 20 to 25 (web) images. I cut out printer images, add and subtract them from my office wall and decide the possibilities — for this show or the next one. I select the show from a final cut.”
Culver said his attention is on the individual artwork, not artists’ names or locations. He is willing to look at everything, meaning images or websites. He will accept this information for his file anytime (email@example.com) but culling begins in December. His taste is eclectic — he chooses abstraction, realism and other forms, artwork he finds directly appealing. It’s a method that works in this exhibition.
There are objects here that could be shown anywhere in the “art village,” novelist Tom Wolfe’s phrase for the seemingly small — and perhaps it is — art world.
Carol Prusa’s wall-mounted hemisphere “Multiverses” is set with tiny fiber optic lights and calls the viewer to study her minute silverpoint drawings from Adam and Eve on up. Silverpoint is a traditional technique of drawing on a surface with a wood-enclosed silver rod, resulting in extremely subtle sketches and indicating endless hours of exacting work.
Also in the exquisite realm is Christina Pettersson’s large 66-by-70-inch graphite drawing on paper “Desdemona Sleeping Beside Death.” In this fantasy two young identical women, one alive, one not, lie facing each other. The viewer sees the inherent psychological tension while admiring the super-sensitivity of the artist’s pencil work.
Perhaps the most curious object is Billie Grace Lynn’s “Hand,” a sculpture combining an eight-foot tall steel-rod sculpture with a fully articulated red female hand that, when touched by the visitor, moves in humanlike motion set off by the balancing rods overhead. This is probably the first time a sculpture has shaken hands with me. The work is clearly a tour de force and unforgettable.
Attention to detail is everywhere in singly-named Kyle’s “Wekiwa River,” a park located in Lake and Seminole Counties. The artist has cut into a large aerial photograph of the forested river with a three-dimensional horizontal view of miniature figures enjoying the river. This may sound simple, but is unusual and perfectly executed.
Neapolitan Jo-Ann Lizio again blends a found airplane part with painted background as she continues a long and sometimes adventurous series, this time commenting on the reality of the plane and the mistiness below on land.
Also wielding impact in a more traditional mode is Angelika Kade’s “Journey of Faith,” a red travertine female torso roughly broken in two in a diagonal line across the chest. Kade, of Naples, views her sculpture as a homage to women who have survived breast cancer. The work proves beauty can convey poignant meaning beyond a relatively simple humanlike form.
Rainer Lagemann in “Climber” makes an anatomical study worthy of note by shaping a headless male figure from hundreds of one-inch-wide welded steel squares, only visible on close examination. Being headless and wall-mounted, the figure appears more as a design than threatening.
Speaking of form, Tallahassee artist/playwright Jeff Whipple, who had a 25-year retrospective at the von Liebig Art Center in 2003, presents “Resolve,” a pencil drawing of a young man wearing a strange mask and exhibiting female breasts. Also interesting is the symbolism of the three-piece mask. The artist calls each segment a “spasm,” having to do with his psychological ideas of the human condition. Whipple is a master of anatomy and offers many conundrums based on his observations of everyday life. In this work we wonder if he were just having fun or plumbing androgyny.
Artists’ self-portraits are worth studying. That is certainly true of Dennis Schmalstig’s oil on canvas study of himself, made up of a great number of planes and circular diffractions. We view his bearded and mustachioed face from seemingly countless planes that play against each other in scale and depth as though we might be seeing it all through a faceted water goblet or using an anamorphoscope to unscramble it.
This well installed exhibition comes with artists’ statements on wall labels as well as a gallery book of further explanations.
Donald Miller, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette retired art and architecture critic, lives in Naples. Miller88@embarqmail.com