Every two years, the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County takes the collective temperature of the visual arts in Palm Beach County, through the sensibility and perspective of a prominent curator. The resulting juried exhibition is like a bespoke snapshot of the state of the arts—and the broad issues the artists confront. “Biennial 2021,” unveiled to the public this past weekend and running through the end of May, is no exception.
Last Thursday’s opening reception was abuzz with activity from artists and media. Curator Aldeide Delgado, founder and director of Women Photographers International Archive, led invited guests through tours of the works and why she selected them, and mini Champagne bottles were served at the end. Though universal masking made it difficult to recognize faces I hadn’t seen in more than a year, the evening proved to be a reminder of what normal used to look like.
Delgado selected 30 artists from some 150-plus submissions, and her keen eye welcomed both household names in the PBC arts scene and new discoveries. Among them were striking new sculptures from such Boca magazine-approved artists as Carol Prusa and Stacey Mandell. The latter’s enigmatic offering “Gratitude” is a towering quasi-abstract totem that, for those in know, spells out the title word in shorthand, the artist’s favored mode of visual storytelling.
Though not all pieces had an overt sociopolitical subtext, Delgado clearly connected with works that address the signal issues of our time, from the environment to racial justice to immigration. Yvenel Benoit’s photograph “South of the Border,” a low-angle shot of a friendly if stereotypical statue advertising a Mexican restaurant, subtly belies the chaos and suffering that continues to define the U.S./Mexico border—a subtext amplified by Delgado’s pairing of this photo with TD Gillispie’s more directly political symbolist collage “Into the Arms—America.”
On the eco-art front, Kristin Miller Hopkins’ “A Sea Change,” a series of fabric and wire assemblages evoking the hazardous debris found in our oceans, is a painful reminder that man is his own worst ecological enemy. It’s placed steps away from Diane Arrieta’s “The Sentinel,” another cerebral installation from an artist for whom climate change is often at the forefront. Featuring a girl figure presiding over a family of inquisitive yellow meerkats painted yellow, each perched on a pink inner tube, “The Sentinel” deceptively deploys whimsical mediums and colors, subverting childlike iconography in its depiction of habitat loss, as our animal brethren drift apart on their separate floes.
Also on artists’ minds were the protest marches of the past several years. Painter Maxine Schreiber lovingly immortalizes both a climate march and a Black Lives Matter protest in her two selections.
Other works, while not addressing hot-button issues, startle with innovative techniques, imaginative mediums and wry humor. I loved Ezra Hubbard’s “Chair,” a video that rewards spectators’ close inspection: Keep watching this initially banal black-and-white still shot of a vintage chair placed in an unadorned room, and you’ll notice that its cushions begin to sag and then return to form, as if sat upon by a ghost. It’s cut from a similarly creepy/pleasing cloth as Symantha Jones’ “Inescapable Moments,” a tableau of miniature dwellings arching crookedly on stilts, each house radiating its own eerie character; the collective artwork feels like a village model for a Tim Burton set.
What I didn’t necessarily find from these 30 artists was an overarching focus on the virus and its impact: Few if any works seemed to address the health or economic impact of COVID and its quarantines. It’s a sign that, like the rest of us, the local art world is more than ready to turn that corner.
“Biennial 2021” runs through May 28 at the Cultural Council for Palm Beach County, 601 Lake Ave., Lake Worth Beach. Admission is free, and the gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 5 p.m., as well as noon to 5 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month. For information, call 561/471-2901 or visit palmbeachculture.com.