Last December, when the annual wave of art addicts and fashion whores (or maybe it’s the other way around) hit Art Basel Miami Beach 2011, two St. Petersburg galleries were among the many art dealers plying their wares. C. Emerson Fine Arts, located on Central Avenue near the Morean Arts Center, and Mindy Solomon Gallery, housed off ritzier Beach Drive, occupied booths directly opposite each other at SCOPE, one of Miami Basel’s respected satellite fairs, and the differences in their philosophies of doing business could hardly have been more pronounced. C. Emerson showed comparatively affordable artworks (with one artist’s screenprints going for as low as $50 a pop) in the cerebral, hand-drawn and -crafted style that appeals to gallery owner Lori Johns. Solomon’s brasher booth was filled with abstract paintings and ambitious ceramic sculpture geared toward a market of more focused collectors with deeper pockets.
This month, both galleries — by any measure the most significant private galleries in St. Petersburg now — are exhibiting group shows that show off their respective strategies for making the business of contemporary art work in Tampa Bay and put the spotlight on some thought-provoking art at the same time.
Johns celebrates C. Emerson Fine Arts’ sixth birthday this month with an exhibition titled Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too … Remix Edition that looks back at the gallery’s history and forward to its future. Among the half-dozen locally based artists included, two were Johns’s mentors during her student days at the University of Tampa: painter-sculptor Gil De Meza and digital whiz Lew Harris, whose Photoshop collage of nude, Garden of Eden-inspired co-ed temptresses is one of the exhibit’s most peculiar offerings — unsettlingly racy, prurient and funny. Drawings by Neverne Covington and Daniel Mrgan, two artists long represented by the gallery, are reminders of how much talent lives here. Mrgan’s sweetly sad, square-headed figures root around in each other’s mouths for words and play guitar as they weep; one suffers in silence as a slice cut from his side reveals innards of cake.
Fresh blood is on display, too, mainly in the form of graduate students from Florida State University’s MFA program. Among the most talented of these is photographer Christina Poindexter, whose contributions include a beautiful black-and-white photo of a clump of moss or fiber atop a wrinkled bed, titled “My Bush,” and poetic shots of a dead boar and a flowering tree, each kissed with color and the taint of death. The cake of the exhibition’s title is provided by Chalet Comellas (a former Tampa resident now at FSU), who in a performance documented in photographs bakes herself a chocolate cake, stuffs it in a suitcase and goes for a walk in the woods.
Over at Mindy Solomon Gallery, nary a local artist is in sight, but a great opportunity for the artists represented by Solomon, some of whom do live in Tampa Bay, is afoot. The gallery’s current exhibition, Rock—Paper—Scissors, features an international mix of artists selected by curator Isabel Balzer of Basel, Switzerland-based gallery balzerARTprojects. Witty and playful, the exhibition is fun, but what’s more exciting are plans Solomon and Balzer have in the works for a reciprocal exchange, sending artworks from the St. Pete gallery to the Swiss art capital.
Rock—Paper—Scissors itself errs somewhat on the side of safety, featuring works that, while clever or admirably made, look and feel familiar. Photographs by Oliver Lang, for example, turn a lens on “average” Americans — a granny in a Walmart parking lot, a bikini-clad woman on South Beach — in search of the swift current of the comedic bizarre that snakes beneath the quotidian. The results are indeed curious. The white-haired granny fixes viewers with a stern gaze from behind bifocals worthy of Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady,” and the bikini-wearing blonde’s big boobs and belly button bling find her trying way too hard. I found myself chuckling at the images but feeling that they were only the latest installment, and not a particularly interesting one, in a long photographic tradition of finding freakishness in the banal.
Work by two of the nine artists in the exhibit stood out. Elaborate drawings on envelopes by EddiE haRA (an Indonesian artist who lives in Basel and Jakarta), covered with found paper bits (stamps, Hello Kitty labels) and pen-and-acrylic drawings of skull bunnies and other cartoonishly macabre characters, are worth taking the time to savor. And I loved Tom Fellner’s two tender watercolor paintings of a creature, or creatures — referred to simply as “monster” in the works’ titles — who can only be described as a walking vagina. Fellner (an American based in Zurich) paints the creature’s pink, red and blue mottled skin, and the roses and eyes that sprout from its body as limbs and orifices, with delicacy that breaks the heart.
Bravo for "New Swirl Order" Megan!
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