As is customary, this year’s All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition spreads across the two bottom-floor galleries of the Boca Museum of Art, and the artistic centerpiece bridging them is none other than a golden pile of poop.
The sculpture, by All Florida returning favorite Byron Keith Byrd, is titled “Holy Shit,” and it’s a gold-leaf representation of excrement proudly displayed atop a custom-made, gold-laced pillow—a piece of crap elevated, indeed, to holy status. Byrd, who regularly uses his art to critique organized religion, has contributed another cheeky and irreverent statement on the arbitrariness of spiritual iconography. It may make some viewers turn right back around and leave the museum—which is to say that, like the best art, it did its job of affecting a visceral response.
This seems to be a recurring them in this year’s All Florida, a state-of-the-state survey full of mystery, bombast and provocation. Juror Trong Gia Nguyen, an inventive artist and curator from Brooklyn, has brought his own offbeat and challenging taste to this exhibition’s selections. Few of the pieces risk understatement; this is a show swimming in large-scale, site-specific showstoppers, from massive cowboy boots and coffee dispensers to absurdly camouflaged sumo wrestlers and blinding light assemblages.
There’s even a column mounted to the floor containing atop it a bottle of cough syrup, a can of Sprite, a couple of Styrofoam cups and some stray Jolly Ranchers. At first glance, it looks as if a sloppy guest or staff member forgot to tidy up after lunch, until you realize the column is deliberately slanted and the objects on it are defying gravity, the candies permanently perched perilously over the edge. Titled “Lean,” it is in fact a sculpture, and a fine one, by Vincent Miranda.
And it’s not the only piece to recycle familiar materials in unusual ways. Like Miranda, Clara Varas earned a judges’ merit award for her esoteric assemblages of reconstituted junk and household items. These include “Kimbombo,” a fragile structure designed chiefly out of wood and pillows, and topped with a laundry basket, a wicker suitcase, an antique lamp and other objects that take on new meaning through their artistic preservation. Jose Pacheco Silva’s “Sunday Walk in Central Park” is a wildly inventive photographic tableau, with the artist transforming reclaimed tree bark into his canvas. Tree limbs sprout around Silva’s black-and-white images, whose ghostly ambience—complete with splotchy visual particulates—help to create an atmosphere of supernatural intrigue.
But my favorite use of found materials is Lynelle Forrest’s “God is Everywhere …,” a hanging medallion of fantasy and cartoon action figures drained of color and recast entirely black. As a result, these familiar figures of childhood entertainment are rendered unrecognizable—like most faces are to the artist, a result of her struggle with Asperger’s syndrome. By making us see the world through the artist’s eyes, this personal, unique and moving work is my own Best in Show.
Other highlights include Nolan Haan’s “Art of Discrimination”—painted portraits of two anthropomorphized cinder blocks that instinctively shirk away from a “broken” block—and Isabel Gouveia’s “Entropic Manipulation” series. In these two pieces, the artist corrupted the CMYK patterns of her forest photographs to give them an unsettling sense of vertical lines suggestive of radioactivity or airborne chemical dispersants. On the more traditional photography front, I was taken aback by artists that shot the ordinary in extraordinary ways, such as Melanie Hurwitz’s beautiful “Broken Egg,” and Debbie Rubin’s “A Grand Reflection,” an imposing nature photo that plays Escher-esque tricks with your perception.
The three selections that haunt me the most in this All Florida arrive via different artists, but they seem plucked from the same collective mind, because they all reflect a modern era where death surrounds children and vice versa. In Suzanne Scherer and Pavel Ouporov’s “Warrior,” the artists photographed their adorable son clutching a primitive sword, boldly and bravely contrasting childhood innocence with savage violence. The work is all the more disturbing because it’s framed like a school photo. Jeff Olson’s “War Games” photograph depicts a series of abandoned hovels in an open field, a play-battleground whose locations strike notes that are all too real and geopolitical: A sign on the foremost one reads “Iran” and contains a Christian cross carved into it. The absence of playful children makes this scenario ever darker.
But the most difficult piece in the entire show is also, perhaps, the last one you’ll encounter. Ivania Guerrero’s “Bearing Witness” is a mixed-media sculpture of a one-legged child reaching to the skies, with tiny ears and eyes sprouting all over its clay body while its own face is a deformed composite of many facial organs—pieces of fellow-children, perhaps, coagulating into a single mass, as a result of any number of real-world invasions. Gaza comes to mind lately, but pick your own slaughter.
“All Florida” is usually intellectually stimulating, but it hasn’t been this physically shocking—this vitally uncomfortable—in all the time I’ve covered it. Bravo to Nguyen and the Boca Museum for taking risks.
"All Florida" is at the Boca Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton, through Oct. 18. Admission costs $8 adults, $6 seniors and $5 children. Call 561/392-2500 or visit bocamuseum.org.