Thursday, June 9, 2016

All Florida Juried Exhibition at Alliance for the Arts

Harry Messersmith
Last week-end, I ventured down to Fort Myers' Alliance for the Arts for a multi-faceted morning. After a free outdoor yoga class and a whirl through the Green Market (where I scored some delicious ceviche), I headed inside to catch a portion of a "walk and talk" about the Alliance's 30th Annual All Florida Juried Exhibit. I always love a docent tour, but this one was particularly special since it was led by juror Harry Messersmith.

At first glance, Messersmith might be an odd choice as a juror for this show. While the exhibit was open to all mediums, most of the 49 works in the show (and I assume most of the 305 submissions) were paintings. These days Messersmith is primarily a sculptor (with his own bronze foundry no less). While talking people through the show, though, it became clear that he's an expert in all fields of art. He's served as juror for dozens of art fairs and exhibitions and worked himself in most mediums.  His thoughtfulness about and appreciation for the artwork made it clear why he's such a frequent choice.

Dareau's "Everything Has to Go"
 The Best in Show award went to Laurent Dareau for his "Everything Has to Go." To Messersmith, this work excelled in all criteria required of a prize winner -- strong composition and drawing, excellent craftsmanship/execution, interesting concept and effective storytelling. I will admit to being confused by Dareau's inclusion of cartoon characters. To Messersmith, though, this choice helped convey the tension between childhood and adulthood. He also noted the way Dareau "layered life" in the work and used both strong lines and soft lines in different parts of the painting. I was fascinated by how different this work was from Dareau's "Camille" that was juried into the Visual Arts Center's National Art Exhibition. (For those who saw the show, "Camille" was the portrait of a woman naked from the waist up with angel wings that flowed into the top of the divan. It can be found on his website by clicking here.) I would love to chat with the artist about his different styles of work and how he decides which painting to enter into a particular show.

Hull's "Elevation No. 7, Altitude Series"
 Sarah Hull is another artist whose name I am familiar with from the National Art Exhibition. (Her 2014 painting of glazed donuts entitled "Nice Rack" was a crowd pleaser - and one of the first works to sell.)  Hull's "Elevation No. 7, Altitude Series" bears little resemblance to her donut work (for lack of a better term) other than the strong use of color. To many viewers, Hull's work is a nice Florida painting of an outing to the beach. To Messersmith, there's a lot more going on. "Art has the ability to change the world by showing there's a different way of thinking available," he commented with reference to Hull's work. He liked the way the view from above reminded him of living life on the edge and noted the tension between the dark hues of the ocean against the cool tones of the beach.  I love this painting and enjoyed seeing how Hull's work has progressed. (Her earlier work can be seen on her website by clicking here.)

Venditti "Woman in Bath"
Daniel Venditti's "Woman in Bath" prompted another interesting discussion. Messersmith noted that Venditti drilled holes in the canvas and hung it using steel wires. To him, the way the painting was hung was a part of the artwork. Was the artist's intention to negate the piece as "art"? Was he saying something else entirely? The work also led viewers to raise questions about primitive/outsider/naif art. (While Venditti is clearly a trained artist, the work does have something of a primitive feel to it.)  Messersmith shared his view that this genre of painting is powerful because of the truth of the experience.

Viewing the show with Messersmith was a real treat. While I would have enjoyed the show on its own, hearing the juror talk about what struck him in the works was educational and interesting.  Kudos to the Alliance for hosting a great show and selecting such a dynamic and generous juror.

The 30th Annual All Florida Juried Exhibition runs through June 30.  Make sure to stop by the Alliance and check it out if you're in the area.


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