The artists of the tri-county area have much to celebrate, as evidenced by “New Art South Florida,” the NSU Art Museum’s first new exhibition since the museum reopened in September. Featuring 13 recipients of 2020 South Florida Cultural Consortium awards, and curated by the museum’s own director, Bonnie Clearwater, “New Art” is a rich repository of diverse talent—and a showcase of big, ambitious ideas. Though mostly completed prior to the U.S. arrival of the coronavirus and the racial-justice reckoning that followed, it is an exhibition that brims with front-of-mind issues for today’s youthful artists, from Earth changes and gender fluidity to income inequality and weapons of war.
The latter, for instance, is central to the unshakeable “Napalm Stone” series from sculptor Nicolas Lobo. Brightly colorful and deceptively playful, the bulbous sculptures resemble coral until you read the titles and wall text. Each work started as a polystyrene block, which the artist melted with napalm, then encrusted with Play-Doh, serving as an unexpectedly sobering reminder of the destructive potential of his deadly medium.
It’s one of a handful of works that deploy large scale to grandiose effect. Nathalie Alfonso’s colossal “Anatomy, Study of a Wall” is a site-specific graphite composition that consumes an entire wall of the museum. It depicts, with repetitive geometric precision, towering prison-like bars punctuated with black squares filled with violent-looking scribbles. The piece’s inherent impermanence—it will be painted over when the exhibition ends—is, to me, its very purpose: After all, what is the future of walls but to inevitably be torn down?
Monica Lopez De Victoria is another maximalist, a competitive synchronized swimmer and video artist who combined these twin passions into the immersive, omni-video work “Ripples Surfacing.” The viewer is immersed with video of the artist and her fellow athletes, and distorted images of rippling water, on all four sides of a darkened gallery; it’s trippy and disorienting in the best way.
She’s not the only video artist selected in “New Art South Florida,” and I couldn’t be happier that the medium appears to be trending. A two-part series of videos from Shane Eason feature NHL fistfights excised and slowed down from their original context. In one, the artist repeats a punch from the notorious Derek Boogaard—aka the Boogeyman—three times in slow-mo, and depicts him gliding predatorily across the ice like a shark in search of its next meal. The videos speak to the societal implications of the sport’s morbid appeal for certain viewers, for whom bloody fisticuffs are the reason for tuning in, as opposed to a regrettable sideshow.
The exhibition also provides a rare look at acclaimed Miami filmmaker Kareem Tabsch’s breakthrough short “Cherry Pop,” from 2014, about the “world’s most pampered cat,” a feline invited to appear on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and “The Sally Jesse Raphael Show.” It’s an expose of extreme and profligate wealth, to be sure, but it also celebrates the animal-rights activism of Cherry Pop’s eccentric owners. Tabsch’s style feels like an ironic wink toward docu-cinema clichés, from dramatic reenactments to glittery graphics and cheesy camera effects. But he’s a dexterous enough artist to approach the material as both parody and celebration of these familiar tropes.
For the sheer, eerie power of it, the video work I’ll most remember from “New Art South Florida” is Antonia Wright’s “And So With Ends Comes Beginnings,” a close-up of the artist’s own nine-month-pregnant belly rising and falling with her breath. Her belly is at the center of a gray cocoon of water that you soon realize is gradually swallowing up her increasingly diminishing womb, along with flashes of a cityscape superimposed into the background: A person, her fetus and an entire city submerged under water. The whole thing is David Lynchian in its unsettling approach to sound and image, and its climate-change implications are a veritable PSA.
Other highlights abound. Photographer Andriana Mereuta contributed a suite of portraits of life in her ancestral land of Moldova, from communal feasts to the farm labor that produced them, displaying an affection for family and a respect for elders. Self-taught outsider artist Michael Delgado’s mixed-media art is raw and bristling with feverish imagination, offering countless points of entry for the eye and mind.
The exhibition couldn’t be a stronger advertisement for the diversity and the breadth, the wit and the wisdom, of South Florida artists. The show has a relatively short shelf life, closing on Feb. 21. See it while you still can.
The NSU Art Museum is at 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Admission is $12 adults, $8 seniors and military, and $5 students. Call 954/525-5500 or visit nsuartmuseum.org for information, including COVID entrance guidelines.