Frames of mind 

Sometimes, if you squint real tight, Orlando can feel almost as titillating as its half-baked intentions and twice-baked artistry would have you believe. Boredom tends to fill spaces with Lladro porcelainity, when not indulging the smears of color-coded directionlessness, and if caught at the right time, with the right number of participants, you might even decide to open a gallery.

Last week's seemingly prestigious unveiling of the big, green Pine Street corner space known auspiciously as the Gallery at Avalon Island (no gallery is an island, we might add), brought out the requisite cognoscenti of the neutral smart-dress set for another celebrated Woodbridge sip and thoughtful stare or two, as these things do. Lots of you-look-GREATs later, it's a wicked case of heartburn dropped into a strong case for further art schooling.

Works in progress

While the art itself might have been the main attraction -- a collection of pieces by Todd DiCuccio that might well have been overtextured, cut-and-paste renditions of the apocalypse with accompanying minimalist-scrawl suicide notes ... in frames! (estimated value: $500) -- the real draw was the secret back alley (isn't it always?). Out the back door, just past the cappuccino machine, crowds of graying shoulder pads huddled about a table of little tuna-fish sandwich circles and big bottles of wine, discussing their latest acquisitions and most bulbous spheres of influence ... or maybe just the tuna.

The proprietor's girlfriend, all slim-smiled and sure-eyed (like Goldie Hawn missing a joke, maybe), twiddles a finger wave over her head and into my direction. "It's so NICE to SEE you!" she titters. "You look GREAT!"

The artwork, however, could have used a makeover. The predictable splatter of Orlando's signature living-room reds and dining-room greens garnished images of Benny Hinn and various other impotent pop-culture phenomena, while in other swanky nouveau corners, more pencil-scrawled renditions of the unlikely likes of Scott Weiland and Jason Ross appeared to be lifted directly from Trapper Keepers in somebody's foreign-language home-ec course. Do you really need a frame for that?

Frames were far fewer at the significantly more humble Victor Perez local art night, now growing roots in Jim Faherty's peripheral pizzeria, Dante's. It's more of a works-in-progress affair down on suburban South Orange, which of course means that it's far more interesting, and certainly more enjoyable, than a stuffy opening that included an impish waif in red boa. In Orlando.

Not at Dante's, though. Here it's all a little more Meredith Baxter-Birney, with an edgy, frazzled communal take on flippy color splash and baggy clothes. Nice and all, but what's winning this evening is the controversial return of spiffy ne'er-do-well Captain Z, whose inspired sociopathy has oddly transferred his issues into the likeness of Burt Bacharach on a New Wave kick -- as heard on TV's "The Love Boat."

It all makes for an evening of considerable, if disjointed, art, without any sort of adhesive pomp to secure the boosters. Which means it's art, right? Maybe, but I'm out in the alley with three of my closest squalorly friends, hunched over over-full hors d'ouevre plates and aching to finish my bottomless Dixie cup of vino, all the while scanning the V-necked rayon for any actual visionary inspiration. Nope.

Creative use of space

Not to worry, though. Whether a viable institution or not -- and that applies to nearly all downtown bars that avoid the obvious prerequisite of an '80s night and a ladies night -- the new Lunatic Lounge occupying the space just above the overpriced Reubens of the Pine Street Grill (and just across the street from our green art anomaly) may well be the most deceptively viable use of bar space this town has seen in years. Of course, I am predisposed to like the larger-than-his-waistline, Simon-Lebon-doored men's bathroom and the cuter-than-she-still-is Deborah Harry-graced girl's lavatory, but in reality it's a viable replication of a bar that somebody, certainly somebody, might even ENJOY hanging out in. Too bad that nobody is.

But unlike the galleries and their rotating manipulations of aesthetic mood swings, the nightclub racket is more of a punch line waiting for the erosion that its actual, long-winded joke provides. The wine never runs out there. Only the crowds do. Just like, perhaps, Orlando's intent on providing the middle class with artistic forays into mosaic renditions of Elvis in his fat years, or at least somebody's glorified giving up. Maybe we should just give up. Like I have.

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