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Arts and Entertainment - Staff Picks 

Best sellout in the best possible way

Andrew Spear crafts a mural for Real World: Las Vegas

If you’re one for driving around Orlando and looking for walls of distraction – or, for that matter, if you’ve just picked up this paper over the past few years – you’re aware of the artistic ubiquity of Andrew Spear and his explosion of hair. For one blip of a pop-cultural minute this year, though, Spear became a product of mass consumption when his graphic sensibilities lined the living spaces of the handpicked “reality” kids currently starring in the Sin City Real World. Presumably, people there have already stopped being polite and started getting real, but seeing as life has aged most of us out of the demographic that cheers along to gay Mormons a-groping or loud girls with their mouths wired shut, we’ll take the world’s word for it that Spear’s giant lady wall in the pool room is a smashing success. Also, an artist? On MTV? Revolutionary.

 

Best building we never noticed before

S.H. Kress Building
15 W. Church St.

We hate to admit it, but if it weren’t for this year’s Snap Orlando event, we might still be walking by this architectural gem without recognizing its beauty. In May, Snap used the Orange Avenue facade of the Kress Building, located at 15 W. Church St. downtown, as the canvas for a massive photo projection exhibit that kicked off the organization’s five-day photography showcase. The projection was designed to illuminate and interact with the architectural details of the building, and as we watched it unfold, we started to notice the building’s regal Art Deco lines and terra cotta flourishes.

Orlando’s Kress Building was built in 1935 by the S.H. Kress and Co. national chain of five-and-dime department stores. Samuel H. Kress, the company’s founder, was an art lover and philanthropist who wanted his buildings to be more than just boxes to warehouse his variety-store empire – he wanted each store to be, according to the Kress Foundation history of the company, “a gift of civic art to its community.” The stores became local landmarks in their communities, and the architectural significance of the Kress buildings distinguished them from their more generic competitors, like Woolworth’s and Kresge.

Kress hired staff architects to design each Kress building, and in 1929, the company dismissed its chief architect, George MacKay, and replaced him with Edward F. Sibbert. Sibbert helped move the architectural aesthetic of the Kress buildings from the traditional to the modern, and he was behind the designs of more than 50 of the company’s best-known buildings, including the one located in downtown Orlando.

Though the interior of Orlando’s Kress building was remodeled in the 1990s, the exterior is still unmistakably Sibbert: sleek and modern and straight, with pastel- colored terra cotta ornaments accentuating the windows and the company name, “Kress,” spelled out in bronze-colored letters overhead.

Back in the day, a Kress building was a point of civic pride for the cities whose downtowns were home to one – they were symbols of prosperity and respect for public art. These days, such attention to detail in architecture has mostly been abandoned in favor of using height and digital marquees and mirrored windows to communicate progress, sadly. So we’re happy that Snap made us take notice of the Kress this year, because it reminds us that not everything in downtown Orlando is a mile wide but just an inch deep.

 

Best attempt to dumb down art for the masses

Snap Orlando
May 4-8, 2011

We wanted to love this event, we really did. And 2011 was an improvement on 2010 in so many ways – simplified scheduling, early interaction with the press, a striking show of work by local photographers at OMA – along with a strong group of exhibitions by more-than-respectable artists and photojournalists. (Jerry Uelsmann, Jim Krantz, Lauren Marsolier: amazing.) But, at the risk of sounding curmudgeonly, it seemed more like a triumph of event planning than art. We were at the kickoff party ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the video dancing across the Kress Building along with everyone else. But when we realized that the event was little more than a show reel for a company that designs large-scale projections, we felt cheated. It was impersonal; skilled and impressive, but so is the work done by theme-park scenic painters. Even the Coolife Studio and Elena Vizerskaya photos, while totally cool, smacked of commercial work. We hate to nitpick, but no growth comes from mere cheerleading. We know that the Snap organizers have it in them to make this a gathering for artists, not just realtors and society matrons who “love art,” so we’ll just have to hope that Snap 2012 shows as much growth and improvement from its predecessor as Snap 2011 did. We’ll be there.

 

Best David Lynchian night out

WTF Theater at Little Fish Huge Pond
309 E. First St., Sanford; 407-221-1499; littlefish-hugepond.com

You would never know it from looking at it – or even spending a significant amount of time there – but on Wednesday nights, the no-nonsense, psychedelically decorated Little Fish Huge Pond bar in Sanford transforms into the weirdest film gathering in town. From a holiday screening of a 1959 Mexican movie in which Santa does battle with Satan to a springtime sit-in for Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein, local artist and WTF curator Liz Watkins keeps us guessing and always wanting more.

 

Best reason to interrupt someone at work

Twelve21 Gallery
1221-C N. Orange Ave.; twelve21gallery.com

Some of the best shows we’ve seen this year have been at the tiny gallery nested in the Laughing Samurai workspace across from Lake Ivanhoe. The ad agency says they “want to help make the world a better place” and just by giving curator Sara Poindexter room to grow, they’ve done that. Not only does Poindexter have right-on taste, she’s got an eye for installation: Twelve21 shows are characterized by intelligent choices of mounting (no tacky frames) and balance (never too many pieces crammed on a wall, a true challenge in a small space). Only a fearless gallerist would take on the problems posed by having to work around a working group of desks, chairs and monitors. The only downside: Visitors must do their gazing and chin-stroking during regular business hours, when the Samurais are swinging their swords at knotty problems of brand identity.

 

Best medicine

Orlando Improv
9101 International Drive; 407-480-5233; theimprovorlando.com

Stand-up comedy comes in waves, and while nothing will probably ever approach the torrent of talent that came out of nightclubs and lounges in the 1980s, the emergence of a fresh alt-comedy world in the form of Patton Oswalt, Louis C.K. and the Upright Citizens Brigade, to name a few, had us feeling thirsty for a scene of our own. The reopening of the Orlando Improv late last year is a step in the right direction. Although still heavy on has-beens like Pauly Shore, Rob Schneider and Bill Bellamy, affordable, locally minded nights like the Comedy School Showcase can only help.

 

Best example of talking over a movie being a good thing

Movies Out Loud
Plaza Cinema Cafe; 189 S. Orange Ave., 321-558-2878

Nobody appreciates the twisting of candy wrappers, the cell-phone noise, the audible swapping of spit or the know-it-all chatter of misanthropes imprisoned in the great social experiment known as the movie theater; it’s uncomfortable to sit next to somebody, much less have to hear them. But over the past year, our gay stepsister Watermark has turned the tables on cinematic rudeness, placing the talking-out-of-turn at center stage while some of Hollywood’s biggest disasters crumble before your very eyes. Comedian Jeff Jones and everygal Miss Sammy emcee the proceedings like a warped version of the grumpy old Muppet men sneering from the balcony. The movies, well, they practically parody themselves: Showgirls, Xanadu and Mommie Dearest have all received the snark treatment at the downtown Plaza Cinema Café, as well they should. These were not films made to be watched; they were made to be picked apart.

 

Best unappetizing art show displayed in a restaurant

Earl Funk’s Ink-Cidental Bio-Blots show, November 2010
Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria; 67 N. Bumby Ave., 407-894-0865

Who doesn’t love their lunchtime sandwiches served up with a slice of taxidermied, tattooed flesh? For one month late last year, that was the side dish at Pom Pom’s. Longwood tattoo artist Earl Funk’s works, including framed blood/ink/sweat-stained tattoo towels and dried tattooed skins stretched between fishhooks, hung on the walls of the popular sandwich shop. Props to Pom Pom’s for pushing the boundaries and to Funk for coming up with some really stellar pieces, but it was tough to chow down on a Mama Ling Ling’s Thanksgiving special while looking at pieces of skin on the wall.

 

Best cat blanket

Hoard by Tess Bonacci
Displayed Dec. 16, 2010; TheDailyCity Mobile Art Show

The hand-sewn cat blanket created by artist Tess Bonacci for The Daily City’s Third Thursday mobile art show was by far the most intricate, artistic representation of animal hoarding we’ve ever seen. The blanket, made from stuffed-animal cats sewn together into a twin-bed-sized blanket, was inspired by the story of an elderly New Smyrna woman who was caught living with cats, turkeys, ducks and gerbils in her tiny mobile home. She allegedly let more than 60 cats pile up on top of her in bed at night because her home did not have heat.

 

Best free, jam-packed creative lineup

ArtsFest
artsfestfl.com

The schedule for this sprawling arts festival, wrangled each February by United Arts of Central Florida, is almost overwhelming in scope. More than 200 events, spread across 80 or so venues, cover every imaginable artistic discipline: full-stage theater productions, choreographed performances by dance companies, fine-art exhibits, live orchestras, performance art, hands-on activities for kids, you name it. And it’s completely free. All month long.

 

Best new geek hangout

The Geek Easy at A Comic Shop
114 S. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park; 407-332-9636; acomicshop.com

It’s not like the guys (and gals) at A Comic Shop didn’t have enough geeky customers before they stumbled upon the brilliant idea to open a geek haven beside the shop’s endless aisles of comic paraphernalia. They had so many fans that they felt the need to give them a space to meet, to mingle and to indulge in their obsession for comics – reading, writing, drawing, you name it – with one another. The Geek Easy hosts weekly and monthly groups like the Fangirls Comics Club, Drink and Draw and Geekgasm. The lounge’s walls have seen the likes of Marvel editor Lauren Sankovitch, DC writer Mark Waid and Image Comics’ Joe Eisma and Nick Spencer. They’ve got the goods. They’ve got the geeks. They’ve got the pros.

 

Best place to be challenged by art

Cornell Fine Arts Museum
1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, 407-646-2526; rollins.edu/cfam

Don’t let anyone tell you Orlando’s museum scene is dull or predicable. Just point them to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the campus of Rollins College and tell them to take a look at what’s hanging on the walls – doesn’t really matter whether you know what, exactly, they have up or not. The curation here is consistently good, and the shows – ranging from abstract photography to contemporary poster art to the works of Italian masters to those of forward-thinking architects – are never pedantic or unimaginative. Sure, a lot of the shows that come through are national touring exhibits that are probably abbreviated to fit the small space, but many of them are paired with curator or artist talks that explain the theory behind the works hanging on the wall. Sometimes we want to just go look at art we like, and there are plenty of places for that in town; but when we want art that pushes the boundaries and makes us think, we usually find it at the Cornell.

 

Best arts identity crisis

The rebranding of Maitland’s art and history museums

When the boards of the Maitland Historical Society and the Maitland Art Center merged back in May 2010 with the blessing of Maitland city officials, there was some public squabbling over its undemocratic execution, but at least it had a sensible name: the Maitland Art and History Association. Perhaps the resulting acronym, MAHA, seemed too much like a vindictive “gotcha” when read aloud, because only nine months after forming, the group changed its name to the corporatesque “Art and History Museums, Maitland,” or “The A&H.” The change came with a puke of PR tropes as a tagline: “Discover, Engage, Inspire.” Frankly, we suggest yanking the old Club Firestone motto: “Drink. Dance. Fuck. Repeat.” How better to get people to come to Maitland?

 

Best cringe TV

Mall at Millenia flash mob
youtube.com/user/orlandoflashmob

Oh, it’s so painfully awesome. If Orlando’s good at anything, it’s taking a national meme and beating it six feet into the ground. And Commissioner Linda Stewart’s citywide “flash mob,” coming months and months (and months) after Seattle’s Glee-inspired phenomenon, did just that. Held at the upscale and utterly edgeless Mall at Millenia, and overproduced to some tourism committee-approved Mickey Mouse Club megamix, Stewart et al. managed to drain the joyful spontaneity seen in malls and Modern Family and Glee of both joy and spontaneity. Kudos.

 

Best public brainstorming

Urban ReThink
625 E. Central Blvd., 407-704-6895; urbanrethink.com

All original indications pointed to Urban ReThink growing into something that was designed to be detested: A floundering economy and lack of interest in print product shuts down another brick-and-mortar independent bookstore (Urban Think), a sneaky marketing campaign solicits opinions on what to do with the space, and then it opens up with promises of rental “co-working” space for the fictitious urban-minded intelligentsia of Orlando. Pah. But what really happened is something to embrace. Developer Craig Ustler has wisely allowed Urban ReThink to develop into whatever it damn well pleases, with spoken word, film or music events filling the calendar nearly every night. It’s a bit like Starbucks with wine during the day – all laptops and smart whispers of creative commerce underscored by hiccups – but in becoming a sparse gathering space for the perpetually ambitious, Urban ReThink may have just become the best thing going in Thornton Park.

 

Best new art gallery

Redefine Gallery at the CityArts Factory
29 S. Orange Ave., 407-480-1148; redefinegallery.com

What is it about this space in the CityArts Factory that makes it really stand out as a contender in the gallery scene? It could be that it’s true to what it wants to be: a gallery devoted to vibrant urban, street and emerging art. It could be that it’s a tiny but lively space, the kind of gallery that’s ubiquitous in larger cities but oh-so-rare in downtown Orlando. It could be that it’s managed by artists, not realtors or bankers or businesspeople who have a passing interest in art. It’s probably a combination of all of those things and more. Whenever we head downtown for a Third Thursday Gallery Hop, it’s the one space we make it a point to hit because, even when the show features artists we’ve seen lots of times in other venues around the city, somehow the presentation and the energy of the space make us feel like we’re seeing something completely fresh and new.

 

Best psych experiment disguised as a vacation

Crowd control at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter
6000 Universal Blvd., 407-363-8000; universalorlando.com

The high-tech thrills and top-notch theming of Universal’s Harry Potter attractions have pushed ticket sales at Islands of Adventure to record numbers in the year since Hogwarts opened its doors to vacationing Muggles. Along with those turning turnstiles, though, came the kind of crushing crowds unseen since the exodus from Egypt. To cope, Universal implemented a mind-bending, B.F. Skinner-esque array of queues and corrals that would make Temple Grandin gag. Stand in a line to enter the park, then stand in another line for a timed entry ticket, then come back hours later to stand in yet another line to enter Potterville, before you have the privilege of standing in even more lines for the actual rides and shops. Take our advice: Unless you can afford an on-site hotel stay (with included express passes), avoid the place like the plague until after August.

 

Best long-form, legally binding performance art protest

Brian Feldman Marries Anybody (Parts 1, 2 and 3)
brianfeldman.com

Brian Feldman Jumps Off Something. Brian Feldman Eats Something Else. Brian Feldman Hugs Someone For An Uncomfortably Long Period Of Time. We’ve scratched our heads at some of the peculiar projects perpetrated by Orlando’s most notorious performance artist, but we applaud his most ambitious undertaking for entering the realm of political protest (whether or not it was art). In a year-spanning theatrical triptych that concluded this January, Feldman and casual acquaintance Hannah Miller were engaged, wedded, then had their relationship annulled. By highlighting the absurd ease of heterosexual unions, they brought national media attention to Orlando’s marriage equality movement, a welcome change from Florida’s usual image of intolerance.

 

Best proof Orlando doesn’t need Faith (Prince)

Andrea Canny as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls

A cry of disappointment could be heard from Orlando’s arts aficionados when Broadway star Faith Prince dropped out of last fall’s concert staging of Guys and Dolls at the Bob Carr in order to star in the national tour of Billy Elliot. (Hey, can you blame her?) But Orlando’s own Andrea Canny didn’t merely fill Prince’s pumps as the adenoidal Adelaide in the Orlando Philharmonic and Mad Cow co-production; she and co-star Philip Nolen outshone putative leads Davis Gaines and Sarah Brown, delivering a master class on how romantic musical comedy should be done. Canny proves that, though we might not have adequate acoustics (yet), Orlando’s talent can easily stand toe-to-toe with New York City’s.

 

Best potential promoter of Polk County employment

Legoland Florida
1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven; 863-318-5346; florida.legoland.com

The hoopskirt-clad Southern belles of Cypress Gardens have long since sunk into the Winter Haven swamp, and Florida’s original theme park’s brief attempt to rebrand itself as an “adventure park” was spectacularly unsuccessful. But after a hurl-inducing helicopter tour of the area earlier this year, we have high hopes that the under-construction Legoland might just provide the jolt the area’s economy needs. Merlin Entertainment’s block-based attractions in Europe and California are big hits, and we’ve seen how much dough gets dropped at Downtown Disney’s Lego store: Those two factors encourage us to think that enough parents will be pulled down Route 27 after the park’s October opening to provide hundreds of much-needed jobs in this depressed corner of Central Florida.

(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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