Love, Italian style 

It was the scene you never thought you'd see. The date was May 9, 2002; the location, the Westin Grand Bohemian hotel. The occasion: a reception celebrating the launch of "Orlando Furioso," an exhibit of works by 20 Central Florida artists that was destined for Milan, Italy. Sharing the spotlight were Orange County Commissioner Homer L. Hartage, Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood and, most important, the exhibit's curator, Robin Van Arsdol, who has never been shy in voicing his dissatisfaction with the politics/arts axis of local government.

"If anyone has been their biggest critic, it's me," agrees Van Arsdol, now back from his two-month journey into the heart of international artistic goodwill. So why does he think that Hood et al chose this moment to support one of his endeavors?

"I think this was the most important show that ever came out of Orlando," he says. Billed as "an international cultural trade mission and contemporary avant-garde exhibition," "Orlando Furioso" brought Floridian ways of seeing to the Postart gallery and five other venues. Represented works included the painting assemblages of Bill Gallagher, the living-sculpture performances of Andy Coppola, the oil portraits of the late Kristin Eyfells -- and some images captured by Hartage, who is also a documentary photographer.

Having a county commissioner along for the ride is certainly no impediment to a bureaucratic back-patting. But even Van Arsdol's anointment as a golden boy of cultural exchange has not dulled his willingness to shoot from the proverbial hip. Even now, he says, "I don't think that the politicians understand art. Art is bigger."

His Italian post-op certainly sounds big. Eight of the featured artists came along on the trip, including Coppola, whose statue-emulating act is said to have drawn hordes of followers -- including a few policemen who, Coppola recalls, required assurance that this strange, semiclad figure wasn't advertising anything untoward. In addition to il polizei, the "Furioso" events attracted buyers and representatives of other art spaces, as well as critics from the likes of D'Ars Magazine, to which Van Arsdol also contributes. (He recently published an essay decrying the "ugly" tendencies of the artistic profession and was, in turn, praised for his candor, he says. No surprises there.)

The groundwork laid by the trip, Van Arsdol foresees, will result in 10 European exhibitions next year, including one for Hartage and a spring show of bronze works at Pietrasanta. The "Furioso" artists also have a book to show for their efforts: "Orlando Furioso -- American Art: Central Florida Artists" is a lovely, full-color, hard-bound commemorative that was published during the Italian stay and mailed to 220 European galleries and museums. The book will be available at Orlando-area stores, including the gift shop at the Orlando Museum of Art, where a retrospective of the Milan exhibition will be presented in January 2003.

Printing and postage have contributed to a $20,000 shortfall for Van Arsdol's operation, which explains why the front area of his Church Street Gallery has momentarily been transformed into a showroom for office furniture. But he appears untroubled by the arrangement, instead chalking it up as just another one of those things you have to do to keep doing the things you have to do. Of "Orlando Furioso," he says, "I feel like I dug the Suez Canal, shovel-load by shovel-load, with a small shovel. But when I was done, I had the Suez Canal."

And then, I'm sure, he called the spade a spade.

Alzheimer memories

Speaking of the May "Orlando Furioso" send-off, Hartage said something there that, as far as I'm concerned, just may have sealed his re-election. After a certain speaker (who shall remain nameless) mistakenly wished the Milan-bound artists well on their trip to "Spain," the commissioner noted with obvious amusement that we had just witnessed "a Ronald Reagan moment." Greeted with stony silence -- thar's Republicans in them thar hills! -- Hartage quickly added that his comment was meant "with all due respect, of course."

Of course. Now hand me my ballot.

Raised among catalogs

Watercolor artist Christin Ciaccio, who had her first solo show last fall at the Edgewater Yoga Studio & Art Gallery, is represented in the recently published 40th edition of "New American Paintings," a compilation of works by artists from the American South. The book, which Ciaccio calls "almost a catalog for galleries to look at," was curated by Linda Norden, associate curator of the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, and is available in stores or at www.newamerican

Caps on a hot tin roof

If you sit close enough to the stage at Theatre Downtown's production of the baseball comedy Bleacher Bums (extended through Aug. 17), you may surmise that actor Don Fowler has effected yet another flawless performance by filing down his front teeth to impersonate a Chicago Cubs booster. He hasn't: Fowler was in a car accident last week in which he chipped off the ends of his choppers. Luckily, that was the extent of his injuries, but it's still an unnerving strike two for the actor, who did some ghastly damage to his leg last winter on the opening night of "The Lonesome West" at Zoë & Company.

Be careful out there, fella. And while you're at it, can you help open my beer?

Here we go again

With the 2002 Orlando International Fringe Festival barely in the rear-view mirror, a benefit event has already been booked for next year's go-round (dates: May 15 though 25). "10 for the Fringe" is the name of an omnibus of playlets that will be presented Aug. 30 through Sept. 7 at the Creative Stages facility in west Winter Park. Published works (some award winners at the Humana Arts Festival in Louisville, Ky.) will be staged by a dectet of local directors, including Rocky Hopson, Tod Kimbro and LauraLea Oliver. The segments that are named the best in an audience poll will be performed again Sept. 13 at Carr Performing Arts Centre, as part of the annual "Spotlight on Theatre" convention.

I'm slightly surprised at the choice of Creative Stages as a venue: I've heard that organizations involved in the downtown performing-arts drive have been discouraged from using the facility, as it's located outside the proscribed area.

"I guess politics should be more on my mind than they are," says the Fringe's executive director, Chris Gibson. I think he just had a Jesse Ventura moment.

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