Thursday, April 18, 2024

Where Are the Show-stoppers?

This year, American art scholar, curator and writer Valerie Leeds received the plum job of judging the selections for the 60th annual All Florida Juried Art

Competition and Exhibition, which opened last week at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. For such a storied tradition, the selection process was, as usual, daunting. Leeds sifted through some 1,800 entries, cutting many impressive works to wind up with 101 pieces in a variety of media. “Diversity is the key word,” Leeds told me in a phone interview this week.

What strikes patrons, almost immediately, about this year’s All Florida is the preponderance of nature works – pieces that depict flowers and trees, birds and bees, as necessary and vibrant forces under attack from development, pollution, weather and other causes. Gael Fernandez’s manipulated photograph “Hope,” which depicts a patch of eye-catching yellow flowers amid a bleak, black environment of pitiful tree roots, is more or less an embodiment of an overriding theme.

Leeds says that she cares passionately about nature and its preservation but that works were not selected because of any kind of thematic cohesion. “It was representative of the work submitted,” she says. “You go to any Florida show and you’ll see a similar recurrent theme.”

True, to an extent, but the more you walk through this exhibition, the more you tend to be consumed by a feeling of categorical sameness and thematic redundancy, a first for this typically eclectic competition. Moreover, the exhibition lacks an All Florida staple – that one showstopping piece that freezes visitors in the their tracks. Wall art- especially digital photography, a medium I’ve yet to fully embrace — comprises most of the show, and the sculptures and ceiling-hung works have, frankly, a been-there-done-that familiarity. Even artists who delivered astounding work last year -such as Tampa Bay provocateur Noelle Mason- have returned with less exciting entries this year (though Mason’s 2011 selection, the epic tapestry “Ground Control,” did win one of the Merit Awards).

There are some strong pieces in the show, of course, including Byron Byrd’s mixed-media collage “Bible Belt” and Robert Sherry’s personal and mysterious intaglio collograph “Florida Family.” I’ll be visiting with the artists of many of my favorite pieces over the next couple of months, profiling one All Florida artist each week on this blog.

But I don’t think this year’s exhibition has accurately conveyed the vast depths of Florida’s artistic talent, particularly when it comes to radical work intended to shake up the artistic establishment. One word that comes to mind looking at this year’s selections is “safe.”

Then again, my opinion may be in the minority. Leeds says last week’s opening night was one of the most energized ones she’s attended in a long time. “I thought the way [the pieces] were hung provided a lot of thought provoking associations,” Leeds says. “It was very lively, there was great energy and people seemed really pleased and happy.”

The 60th Annual All Florida Juried Art Competition and Exhibition runs through Sept. 11 at Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. For information, call 561/392-2500 or visit


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