Between now and the close of the "All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition," visitors to the Boca Raton Museum of Art may notice Tony Vazquez's sculpture of a stovetop espresso maker is falling apart. That will be on purpose.
Titled "Mene Grande," the sculpture is built from an asphalt compound called bitumen and will sag at its base, little by little, until it disintegrates into a sludgy, black puddle of oil. The espresso maker is a reference to the Miami artist's childhood in Venezuela and his country's history as a coffee producer in the 19th century before it transformed into a leading exporter of crude oil. Vazquez, 43, says a crumbling coffeemaker is a perfect metaphor for Venezuela's government, which he says pocketed oil profits and has failed to reinvest them in the country's infrastructure for the past 80 years. The sculpture should take "a few years" to liquidate, Vazquez says.
"It'll look like a beautiful tragedy," he says. "My country is super poor, super conflicted, and should not be going through what it is."
So don't expect any leaking during the two-month run of "All Florida," which will open with a reception Saturday night. The 63rd edition of the state's longest-running juried show, which will close Oct. 18, has 80 mixed-media works from 53 Florida artists. Responsible for vetting this year's crowded field of 628 applicants and 1,600 works is Brooklyn curator Trong Gia Nguyen, a former gallerist and editor of ArtSlant magazine who describes his process of whittling down entries as "pretty straightforward."
Nguyen, also the show's lone juror, says artists will compete for $4,000 in cash prizes, with the best-in-show winner claiming $1,500. A pattern emerged as he finalized his list: Although artists crafted works in the Sunshine State, most pieces appeared to "lack a Floridaness and flavor," he says, and tended to focus on global sociopolitical issues.
"That was one of the surprising things for me," says Nguyen, a filmmaker and habitué of Art Basel Miami Beach whose family ties are in Orlando and Daytona Beach. "Overall, I saw works directed outside the state, as opposed to the political hotbed that Florida tends to be. Lots of works submitted included recycled found objects, or used abstraction, which are both trends at the moment, and I wanted to respect those trends."
Rachel Henriques, of Fort Lauderdale, targeted her political ire toward Jamaica for her two-piece installation "Cracker Bag No. 1 (Sweet Escape)" and "Cracker Bag No. 6 (Promised Land)," in which she prints historical lithographs of sugarcane workers and escaping colonial slaves on inflated bags of animal crackers. Henriques says the sweets, a comfort food during her youth in Kingston, are metaphors for the exotic, "seductive" allure of the Caribbean.
"But when you look on the inside, the food actually contains no nutritional value," Henriques says. "These works have a very dark, disturbing reality behind the pretty facade, which is that Jamaica still carries a colonial mentality. Whenever I go back there, it's like being in a time warp. Sugarcane workers are still paid pennies, and the culture is still very much misogynistic."
Another artist who turns to her childhood for inspiration is Lake Worth's Lynelle Forrest, whose plastic assemblage "God Could Not Be Everywhere …" is a square latticework of action figures bound with plastic. The G.I. Joes, Mr. Incredible and interactive Iron Man (press the button on his chest to hear his heroic catchphrases) have been painted black, devoid of their signature red and camouflage colors. Forrest, born with Asperger syndrome, says in her artist statement that the nostalgic toys are painted this way to address her real-life "difficulty with facial recognition."
"Because it's all contained within a square frame, and because she's trying to remove nostalgia in childhood toys," Nguyen says. "Now, they look like these chaotic pieces with plastic break-off points."
Another trend Nguyen noticed was a tendency toward art disguised with provocative satire. In Cheri Mittermaier's "Dreaming," the West Palm Beach artist's bizarre video explores transgender issues by depicting a pair of androgynous-looking models inside a mist-filled garden dancing around a bronzed cannon shaped like a penis. Byron Keith Byrd's sculpture, which contains an unprintable title, depicts a gold-leaf pile of feces on an ecclesiastical pillow, a commentary, the Miami Beach says in his artist statement, that blames organized religion as a cause of "death and destruction."
Appointed the Boca museum's new executive director in February, Irvin Lippman, who led the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale for nine years, says a Florida-artist-driven display is a nod to the legacy of "All Florida" as a "major conversation starter."
"It speaks to the prestige of our local talent, so it doesn't surprise me that the state's oldest juried show is still very much in demand," Lippman says. "So many artists signed up this year and wanted to be part of that conversation."
Contact Phillip Valys at 954-356-4364, firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @philvalys
63rd annual All Florida Juried Competition and Exhibition
When: Saturday, Aug. 9, through Oct. 18 (opening reception: 5-8 p.m. Saturday)
Where: Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real
Cost: $5, free for members and children 12 or younger
Contact: 561-392-2500 or BocaMuseum.org