Small works don't capture the big picture 

There's nothing like a group show of unknown artists to place a finger on the pulse of the local arts community. "Art Three By ...," the Maitland Art Center's annual juried art competition, gathers 65 works by 50 artists, but that pulse is unfortunately weak. It's not clear whether the conservative presentation reflects the artistic whims of juror Janis Karam Gallo (an experienced arts consultant, curator and educator) or a lack of adventurous engagement by the exhibiting artists.

The concept behind "Art Three By ..." is a strong one. The title sets the parameters: Two-dimensional entries may be no larger than three feet wide, and sculptures must not top three feet in height nor weigh more than 36 pounds.

But this year, there's an excess of traditional still lifes, landscapes and figurative art, seemingly as if 20th-century artistic advancements had passed by Central Florida. Gallo accommodates numerous run-of-the-mill vistas of swamps, forests and marshes. The garish pastel colors of several works reflect the relentless influence of French Impressionism. Academic still-life paintings of fruit, flowers and glass bowls demonstrate excellent technique, but not much within the realm of profound ideas. Collages of found objects prove uninspiring as well.

Despite the generic nature of this exhibition, many works do hold interest. On the abstract level, Carol Bechtel's "Voo Doo Fruit #1" portrays a reddish-brown ball with unsightly gashes of paint across the canvas. Woody Igon's "Still Life With Ectoplasm" includes water hoses, a lamp and a curving wrench among an abundance of playful, cartoonish shapes. Vertically shaped oil paintings by Barbara Tiffany hover in limbo between the representational and ambiguous. The view from her "Water Series #11" could be a glance up from a murky, underwater vantage point.

One of the more mysterious works is one of the smallest. Vicki M. Jones' "Open," a monotype print with etching ink, depicted a view from the top of a staircase looking down at an inwardly opening door. Using black, white and gray tones, Jones supplies a minimal scene in which the ominous narrative remains elusive.

The only digital-based art in the show were two works by Kenneth Huff. "98.11" recalls bad psychedelic posters from head shops, but the round objects colored with aging yellows, radioactive greens, and moon blues and purples in "99.7" were curiously stimulating.

"Pat's Briefcase" by Richard Treep reminded me of Joseph Cornell's thrift-store, boxed artworks. Treep's weathered brown leather briefcase housed a plastic and metal construction that looked like a bay-front military base. An erected foam board spelled out cryptic phrases like "The City as an Act of Will" and "Stirrings of the new order."

With 175 artists initially submitting 362 pieces for the competition, it is surprising that the majority of the chosen works in "Art Three By ..." belong on the walls of a doctor's waiting room rather than in a gallery setting.

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