Live Active Cultures 

Remember that old Suzanne Pleshette-Ian McShane movie If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium? Yeah, no, me neither. Anyway, this week's edition of Live Active Cultures is subtitled "If It's Third Thursday, This Must Be Art." Yes, it's time for another review of Orlando's visual art scene, as seen through the prism of the Downtown Arts District's monthly gallery crawl.

We begin, as always at CityArts Factory, which has recently undergone a facelift. I appreciate the replacement of tacky temporary banners with a new customized marquee, giving the gallery a more permanent look. But I've got to raise an eyebrow at the aesthetics of using a giant-sized Mona Lisa as the establishment's icon. Is there any conceivable image that could scream "generic art inside" louder or say "uniquely Orlando" less?

Leaving branding issues aside, the overall CityArts experience was greatly improved over my last visit, which was marred by a multitude of mostly naked body-painting models; they swarmed over February's event like tacky locusts, and not even the Factory's staff seemed to know who they were or why they were there. This time, the only cacophonous creature was an avian ambassador from an area zoo, whose sidewalk squawks pierced straight through the exterior windows and into my brain.

Inside CAF, the first-floor hallways are devoted to Exposed: Subjects to Interpretation, a collection of canvases created by graduating senior students of Jeremy Huntington and Patricia Calderon at the Osceola County School for the Arts. Several of these pieces – Mariana Silva's cheeky "Deconstruction of a Cheeseburger" photo series, Lady Perez's eerie, overly close oil portraits, Luke Consolo's sci-fi scenescapes – suggest the school's visual arts department is turning out artists with serious potential. (Potential to do what in this economy, I'm not entirely certain, but still.) 

Next, I squeezed into the over-capacity Orlando Magic Gallery to see the opening ceremony for Pink Art, an exhibit sponsored by UCF's Women's Studies Program. The submission criteria called for works that "reflect women's empowerment, such as health wellness, breast cancer, and cancer awareness." It's a somber subject, but amidst the earnestness I found a few fun works like balloon-sculptor Stuart Gutter's be-ribboned bubble dress. And it was uplifting to hear about Women Playing for T.I.M.E., a local volunteer group that organizes sports-oriented anti-cancer fundraisers, raising nearly $8 million since 1993. Like most marvelous things in our town, they got their seed money to participate in October's annual Downtown Disney International Dragon Boat Festival from the great Harriett Lake.

Escaping the crush, I found temporary serenity in the Orlando Slice Gallery among Brigan Gresh's Force Feeding, a quintet of 16-square-foot canvases titled "1st" through "5th." I was intrigued by the mood of menace emanating from her minimalist mixed-media pieces, their expanses of black and off-white broken by subtle splotches of soft color and tactile textures. I sat on sculptor Andrew White's rough-hewn wooden benches and attempted without success to interpret; the effort left me with a pleasant sense of vague unease.

Outside, the Mobile Art Show was setting up curbside. The gallery in a U-Haul has been declared an official part of the monthly art crawl. Last time I saw the vehicular venue, it was serving as canvas for lighting designer Aron Altmark (aided by a video projector, camcorder, laser pointer and laptop) to coat in virtual graffiti. This time it housed the art-scene sketches of Thomas Thorspecken, whose Analog Artist, Digital World has been a repeat subject of these pages. Colorfully clad stilt walker Lyn Sky, who served as a live model for an al fresco Dr. Sketchy art class, accompanied Thomas. I snagged a couple of prints (full disclosure: Thomas painted my wife's dance company, Voci) with gratis mattes from Winter Park's Frames Forever & Art Gallery and moved on down the block.

The Gallery at Avalon Island has hosted some of my favorite shows – last year's Dresses and Handmade Puppet Dreams were knockouts – but lately the bar seems lowered. Orlando Magazine's eighth annual Paint the Town exhibition allegedly auditioned hundreds of artists' interpretations of Orlando's environs, and these were judged the best. If so, we must be stuck in the most sanitized, cliché-ridden still life of a city in the civilized world. (Robert Wiley's upskirt snapshot of the giant "God's Love" neon cross being a rare sardonic exception.)

Granted, I didn't examine every work exactingly, owing to the reception's considerable chattering crowd. But at least I got to hum along with guitarist Joseph Martens as he strummed through Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" while worming my way around aficionados standing with their backs to the artwork. I couldn't script a more suitable soundtrack.



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