During my Rollins College days, I had an internship at the Orlando Museum of Art. Reading about the museum recently, and the current “Florida Prize” exhibit, made me excited to return. As an intern, I rode my bike from Winter Park down to the museum but this time, I took the brand new SunRail line which picks up at the conveniently located train station in the park along Park Avenue. The line is scheduled for expansion and I hope the train catches on amongst visitors and residents. It was cool, comfortable, quick and easy. And cheap. To visit the Museum area of town, I exited the train at the Florida Hospital station and walked 10 minutes to the museum. The area has changed drastically since my college days – the hospital complex is modern and massive. Loch Haven Park is home to not only the Orlando Museum of Art, but also the Orlando Fire Museum, the Orlando Repertory Theatre, The Orlando Science Center, the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, and the Mennello Museum of American Art. Looks like I’ll have to return!
As I entered the refreshing lobby after a hot walk, I tried to get my bearings. But nothing was familiar…I did not recognize the floor plan whatsoever. And oh my, how the collection has grown. Was this exquisite Robert Henri here back when I worked for the marketing director? What about this John Singer Sargent? Was I oblivious? Or did I admire these exact paintings and have forgotten? How many other activities might I be repeating, unaware that the delight of discovery is actually rediscovery? At any rate, the collection on display is impressive. It was my lucky day: in addition to the popular Florida Prize, there happened to be an exhibit titled, “Contemporary Figurative Art: Selections from the Orlando Museum of Art Collection.” As a figure painter, I grasp with enthusiasm this part of the show’s description: “By provoking the viewer to question what they see, and discover interpretations of their own, artists have continued to make figurative art meaningful and relevant today.”
There is an Edward Ruscha that reminded me of the stencils I’ve been using in my work. Of course, he has the courage and skill to not overcomplicate, something I’m struggling to learn. The artist worked on the painting for two years before adding the two inch yellow ruler and states that the simple nonsensical item is open for, and expands, viewer interpretation. Another piece that lures in viewers is the Chuck Close portrait of his wife, Leslie. We don’t have to stand too close to realize that the entire value system is made of thumbprints. The sight of the thumbprints evokes an intimacy, the thought of touching, and the idea of the artist’s hand at work.
After visiting the collection, I moved on to see the work by 10 contemporary artists who were accepted into this year’s Florida Prize. Like the current exhibit, “Displacement” at the nearby Cornell Museum of Art (see previous post), a recurring theme among the work is geography and human movement around the globe. Despite the appeal of a material variety and the artistic use of technology, the artists whose messages I found to be most accessible, were Michael Vasquez and María Martínez-Cañas. The large scale paintings by Vasquez dominate the room due to size, bright color, high value contrast, and the intimidating characters themselves. Though we know the figures are tough, there is something humanizing about creating large portraits of all types of people. We are reminded that they are just that: people. Perhaps the artist wants to emphasize their dangerous persona. But I see boys who are in men’s bodies and who want to be recognized, who want to be powerful, who want to be important.
Martînez-Cañas uses multiple layers of paint and photography to create compositions where information is altered, obscured and redefined. In Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of seeing her work, though very different from these pieces, at the National Portrait Gallery. I wrote then about the artist’s unique ability to use alternative methods of photography to engage viewers. There is much to discover in her pieces in the Florida Prize exhibit and the complex arrangements of imagery is both perplexing and revelatory, reminiscent of the mysteriously alluring Robert Rauschenberg style.
Although the Orlando Museum of Art did not match my memory of the place, it was such a pleasure to return to the location of my very first art-related job. If you are in the Central Florida area, the museum is a must-see. And don’t forget to allow time to explore the area. The multiple museums and park are definitely on my list for next time.