Best Of 2021

Staff Pick — Best Florida Prize: Orlando wins!: Robert Rivers takes first place

'The Promised Land' (detail)

OMA's annual Florida Prize in Contemporary Art brings together the crème de la crème of practicing artists in the state. Each year sees the Orlando Museum of Art filled with work by forward-thinking contemporary artists displaying creativity across mediums in competition for a $10K prize. And the centerpiece this year was the surreal, towering, dizzying installation Promised Land, by Maitland artist Robert Rivers. The art is a mixed-media rush of frenzied creativity, with Cubism running headlong into surrealism and creation myths, visions of various hells and afterlifes across religions and time, and sobering anti-war allegories in which sad-eyed soldiers, their wounds still fresh, journey through a nightmarish ... purgatory? Valhalla? And yet, despite the oft dark and heavy imagery that populates his art, there's a feel-good story here, we promise. Rivers' win was doubly gratifying — not only was it the proverbial "local boy makes good," but, even better, Rivers' works as an arts educator at UCF, teaching and encouraging the next generation of artists in Central Florida. And especially now, teachers are more important than ever. (