Albert Bierstadt's "The Domes of the Yosemite"
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art morsemuseum.org
Your new 75-inch 4K television may seem big, but it's got nothing on Albert Bierstadt's colossal oil painting "The Domes of the Yosemite," which recently concluded its post-restoration debut at Winter Park's Morse Museum. Occupying nearly 150 square feet of canvas, Bierstadt's massive landscape was the 1860s equivalent of IMAX 3-D. The painting's once-in-a-lifetime Orlando exhibition enthralled area art admirers, just as it once did author Mark Twain, until it returned to its Vermont home in July.
Leonard Bernstein's Mass
at UCF Celebrates the Arts
He may be best known for West Side Story, but Leonard Bernstein's 1971 Mass might be the legendary conductor's most ambitious and controversial work. (Leave it to a gay Jewish Broadway composer to transform a Catholic ritual into anti-authoritarian performance art.) In celebration of his 100th birthday, UCF's orchestra, choirs, performers and alumni teamed up with Opera Orlando's youth chorus to stage the "Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers" at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Their massive effort made this rarely seen classic deeply moving.
Roadsides and Skylines at Gallery at Avalon Island
This Pat Greene-curated mixed-media group show last summer at the Gallery at Avalon Island asked the artists to present new perspectives on living in Florida, and work by Jenn Allen, Spanky Hudas and Wayne Grant ably delivered. But it was the fantastical sculptures of South Florida's DeVan Jimenez and Jacksonville's Crystal Floyd that created whole new worlds out of the flora and detritus of the Sunshine State. Floyd merged shadow boxes, taxidermy, insects and antique ephemera into intricate constructs that begged for repeated viewing, while Jimenez's ceramics suggested whole new evolutionary side roads in a state where invasive species and evolving ecosystems are the rule rather than the exception. This exhibit also inspired the very entertaining "Ekphrastic Floridas" reading with Burrow Press.
Florida, by Lauren Groff
When Burrow Press brought Lauren Groff in for their Functionally Literate reading series in 2016, she was fresh off the white-hot success of Fates and Furies, her surprise literary best-seller. But this summer (June 5, to be exact), Groff's latest story collection, simply titled Florida, came out – and it utterly bewitched us. Florida lacks Fates' blockbuster, optioned-by-Hollywood glamour; it's a handful of rough gemstones next to the glittering tiara of Fates. But Florida the book, like Florida the state, is a "dense, damp tangle"; both are built of toxic decay and life-bursting elementals. Hands-down the book of the year for anyone who revels in the darkness of the Sunshine State.
Christie Miga's Luminosities at Mead Garden
The latest collection of canvases from artist Christie Miga could have carried a conventional gallery show on their own, with their striking psychedelically hued tree silhouettes. Instead, Miga went all out for the opening of Luminosities, using groups of gently glowing spheres to transform Mead Garden's moonlit boardwalk into a magical fairyland. Following this surreal path placed patrons in a reflective mood before they even approached her paintings, resulting in the year's most spiritually stimulating outdoor art experience.
Orlando Zine Fest
Last December, around 40 local and regional zinesters tabled their sundry print and analog wares at the Orlando Zine Fest, and the assembled creativity – comics and fanzines and music zines and photozines were only some of the varieties on offer – was enough to make the most burnt-out Orlandoan misty-eyed. That creativity and the huge attendee turnout established ours as one of the premier zine fests in Florida, up there with the Miami and Tampa Zine Fests. Who knew that in the age of Instagram and Twitter that young and old artists alike would continue the legacy of zines? Print isn't dead – spread the word.
We can't bring ourselves to choose just one, but we can definitively say that this year was the year of the photo-zine in Orlando. And there were three that we keep coming back to. Occasional Orlando Weekly contributor Liv Jonse released her stunning, glossy, pocket-sized untitled tome, full of everything from exotic landscapes to stunning portraits of the singer Delia Dane. The quarterly Other Magazine anthology really wowed us this year with their second issue, particularly with the photo spread on Victoria Elizabeth Black. And finally, Harryson Thevenin, a tireless local scene documenter, released a zine of his own work and that of his SR50 comrades, taking in everything from urban still-life to striking club photos. Camera! Camera!
The gorilla show at Fringe
In a festival full of the avant-garde, one show stood out as an unsettling glimpse into our town's artistic soul. "A Young Man Dressed as a Gorilla Dressed as an Old Man Sits in a Rocking Chair for Fifty-Six Minutes and Then Leaves" has been performed at Fringes around the world, but its Orlando debut – a late-night one-off facilitated by Australian storyteller Jon Bennett – instantly devolved into an exhibitionist free-for-all, with drunken Fringers mocking and molesting the poor monkey. This is why we can't have nice things.
Roger Miret of Agnostic Front makes us cry
The music documentaries screened as part of the annual Florida Film Festival are, to our eyes and ears, the hidden gems of the fest. This year's programming was no exception, with docs on Grace Jones and Magic Music making the cut, as well as a blockbuster doc on NYHC legends Agnostic Front, The Godfathers of Hardcore. FFF's Tim Anderson managed to convince legendary tough-guy AF frontman Roger Miret to come up for the (sole Florida) screening, and did he ever. In front of a sold-out crowd at the Winter Park Regal, Miret introduced the film and fielded questions after, brought along various family and friends (including the singer he replaced in AF), shouted out his mom, and signed and pressed the flesh with the gathered throng long after. Miret was the very picture of hard-won wisdom and grace. Maybe we teared up a few times, what's it to you??
Orlando Museum of Art Florida Prize in Contemporary Art
In its fifth year, the OMA's Florida Prize exhibitions continue to amaze. We still have to pinch ourselves to make sure we aren't dreaming when we see the talent that Glen Gentele and Hansen Mulford attract to the City Beautiful each summer, and this year was no different. Kenya (Robinson), whose parenthetical last name is a conscious choice, took home the top prize, and she wowed us with her needle-sharp but cloud-soft social commentary; we fell in love with Rafael Domenech's Memphis-brite assemblages, snickered up our sleeves at Jack Stenner's "WestFAILia" installation, and were pierced to the heart by Glexis Novoa's architectural renderings of disaster. By the time you read this, the 2018 exhibition will have just closed, but if you're anything like us, you're already looking forward to next year.