Nature, Identity Dominate Art & Culture Center’s “Exposed”

“Exposed,” the Art & Culture Center’s 10th group exhibition and fundraiser, is no longer known by its old moniker, “Abracadabra.” But the same sense of curatorial magic remains, and the challenge of mounting 100 artworks in a single gallery is no less daunting.

Renamed “Exposed” to reflect the exposure of artists to collectors and vice versa, the exhibit is one of the annual highlights of the South Florida art world, an opportunity for painters, photographers, sculptors, textile artists and others to be showcased among their peers, and hopefully make some new ones. On March 2, the selections will be raffled off to lucky ticket-buyers, which helps support the Art & Culture Center’s year-round operations.

Work by Alberto Arroyo
Work by Alberto Arroyo

In this 10th edition, as always, familiar names share wall and floor space with emerging artists and relative unknowns, and there is no theme—although curator Laura Marsh told me she found a few recurring subjects among the disparate submissions: among them racial identity, “the body and representation and cloaking, and a lot of references to nature and the bittersweetness of life and death.”

As an artistic preoccupation, nature is as perennial as a daisy, but it does seem to be accelerating as a topic of concern. It appears in more “Exposed” contributions than I care to count, including Charley Friedman’s pair of deceptive wax squirrels that could easily pass for metal lawn ornaments; Nick Gilmore’s mortality meditation “Everglades Slash Pine,” a ghostly preservation of the titular tree’s ring; and Lisa Rockford’s cunning “Vein Mapping,” a series of throw pillows evoking tree trunks and logs that doubles as an environmental commentary and rustic consumer product.

Lisyanet Rodriguez Damas’ “The Dancer” is one of the show’s most moving works, an immaculately rendered charcoal drawing of a fallen bird lying on its side, unlikely to “dance” again. “Boar Key,” by Leah Brown, is an imaginative paper cutting of a verdant, animal-studded island that, turned upside down, seems to resemble a human figure. But my favorite nature-themed work is Alissa Alfonso’s “Nature’s Medicine,” in which a textile flower sprouts from the guts of a disemboweled volleyball—an exemplary way of showing that roots will grow anywhere, transcending our momentary societal trappings.

This exhibition often functions as a primer on the state of art in South Florida. If so, we can conclude that figuration continues to be on a general downswing, with abstraction leading the conversation. This is manifest through much of “Exposed,” from Julie Davidow’s minimalism to Aramis O’Reilly’s maximalism. Andreas Von Gehr’s “Paisaje en movimiento III” is an exciting explosion of geometric confetti, and Giannina Coppiano Dwin’s “Images of Salt—Melting Snow” best captures the nexus of abstract and nature-centric art, calling to mind the Norton’s recent “Mapping the Anthropocene” show. The artist’s skillfully arranged salt granules create a convincing simulacrum of melting icecaps.

Marsh thoughtfully guides the viewer through this ambitious collection of work, her curatorial choices both straightforward—one depiction of a skull sits atop another—and insightful: Note the way Vickie Pierre’s untitled collage seems to point the spectator’s eye downward toward a similarly shaped fiber collage by Jen Clay.

Work by Jen Clay
Work by Jen Clay

“Exposed” alone is worth the price of admission, but don’t leave the Art & Culture Center without experiencing “Herland,” a so-called “immersive cosmic tent” paired with like-minded paintings from versatile Coral Gables-based artists Annie Blazejack (a terrific name, like something out of a feminist western) and Geddes Levenson. It’s one of the most ambitious and surreal multimedia projects I’ve encountered at this venue.

Taking its title from the influential feminist tome of the same name, “Herland” opens with a painting of swimsuited friends on inner tubes surfing a psychedelic cosmos. Then you enter the tent, as if in one of those tubes, where you’re surrounded on all sides by billowing fabric. You’re propelled through this tactile patchwork by sounds of gurgling water and wildlife. On the other side, a pair of videos screen behind more covered fabric; to see their contents, you need stare through peepholes, suggesting something illicit. In one video, the artists try to consume doughnuts on strings without using their hands, the elusive, sprinkled dough dangling just out of reach like a proverbial carrot.

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The gallery also contains a fabric-covered couch, lamp, more boxes with peepholes and a collection of books that likely illuminate the exhibition’s subtext—namely sci-fi, gender studies or both, from Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris to John Gray’s pop-psychology best-seller Men Are From Mars, Woman Are From Venus and, of course, Herland. Viewers are encouraged to stay awhile and peruse the library. I’m not sure what it all means, but that’s OK—all the more reason to walk through it a second time.

“Exposed,” “Herland” and “Wired: Suzan Shutan” run through March 2 at Art & Culture Center, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Admission is $7 adults and $4 students, seniors and children ages 4 to 17. Call 954/921-3274 or visit artandculturecenter.org.