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Check out the year’s first art events

Now that we’re done scraping 2010from our soles (if not souls), it’s time to look forward to a new decade for the arts in Orlando. Nevermind that we never collectively settled on what to call the last 10 years (the aughts? the ohs?); I’ve already experienced four firsts of the twenty-teens (is that right?), and the month isn’t even half over.

First Thursday

First up was First Thursday, the Orlando Museum of Art’s first monthly event of the new year. January’s exhibit, Culture Shock, was created in collaboration with Ten Thousand Villages, a shop that focuses on fair trade accessories and home décor. The show’s mission was to highlight art about “cultures in other countries/societies or countercultures within our own society.”

That theme manifested mainly in photographs of laborers in developing nations, from Norman Sandhaus’ Mexican rug makers to Carol Hayman’s Peruvian weavers. Among the handful of paintings on display, I was drawn to Mamoon Allaf’s image of Saudi Arabian coffee service, Tony Mikulka’s colorful primitive creatures and Tatiana Matthaei’s surreal saints.

This First Thursday gallery display seemed pared down compared to past shows, but perhaps it just seemed that way because the party was out in the hall. In addition to the usual beer and wine offerings, Nile Ethiopian Restaurant was on hand with olfactory-appealing (if not easily identifiable) edibles. In front of a small stage set near the towering Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, the crowd swayed to Eugene Snowden’s Liberation 44, a world-beat band with a lineup similar to his Legendary JC’s.

Before leaving, I checked out XX-XY/Gender Representation in Art, OMA’s newest major exhibit. The exhibition (reviewed in last week’s issue) examines “critique of gender and cultural identity” and combines items from OMA’s permanent collection with pieces on loan. It was curated in collaboration with the University of Central Florida’s departments of Philosophy and Women’s Studies. UCF profs provided condescendingly pedantic interpretive text; thankfully the artworks themselves aren’t as self-serious. Don’t miss iconic images of Marilyn Monroe by both Andy Warhol and Bert Stern, juxtaposed with Sally Mann’s disturbing photos of her young daughter mimicking a Marilyn-esque Madonna. The sculptural showstoppers are Leslie Dill’s stitched-together paper wedding dress (scrawled with Emily Dickenson poetry) 
and M. Laine Wyatt’s arrangement of her grandmother’s undergarments.

First Friday

The following night I found myself at Ivanhoe Village for the decade’s first First Friday, the monthly art stroll organized by The Arts Hub. My stroll started in confusion. The press release advertised the event as occurring on Orange Avenue between Princeton and New Hampshire, but when I arrived there, I found myself alone. It turns out the stroll was actually a couple blocks further south. Organizer Brad Biggs later apologized, explaining that the location changes monthly; I pass the apology along to anyone led astray by my preview blog posting.

The art (once I found it) included a display of silver jewelry, surf and skate designs by bellasol, Joshua James Freeman’s pottery and a representative from the B Side Artist’s CultureMart downtown store.

I ducked inside Washburn Imports, the funky furnishings shop on the corner of Orange and New Hampshire, for the first time since they added a bar in back called the Imperial. Bellying up to the gorgeous hardwood bar, I ordered a glass of bitter oatmeal stout accompanied by a charcuterie platter with truffle pate and smoked duck. Both were very satisfying and reasonably priced; being served amid spectacular aesthetics only made the sopresso sweeter.

First Second Saturday?

For closers, I checked out the year’s first art openings at a couple of Orlando’s smallest galleries, both of which are cleverly disguised as coffeehouses. I started at Raphsodic Cooperative Company, a haven for anti-gluten vegans with a sweet tooth. Over a yummy Chinese five-spice cupcake (paired perfectly with lemon ginger tea) I took in Connected , a collection of acrylics by Jason L. Lee, co-organizer of the Arts Hub. Lee’s cosmic artwork, which he describes as “autodidactic,” depicts swirling galaxies and supernovae under titles like “Cycle of Life” and “Infinite Galaxies.” They reminded me of prog-rock album covers from the 1970s; the vibe fits in perfectly with Raphsodic’s consciousness-raising culture.

The end of the beginning came at Stardust Video & Coffee, where Doug Rhodehamel’s installation “Sea of Green” hangs for the next month, following its debut late last year in Lake Eustis. The title is inspired by the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” and the work involves hundreds of handmade fish (made of recycled cardboard and coffee cup lids) hanging from the ceiling. Guests are encouraged to “swim” through the black-lighted school of fish to Matt Kamm’s atmospheric synthesizer soundtrack.

I ran into Doug during the reception; though he had hurt his back during the 17-hour installation, he said he was “extremely 
happy with the turnout and response” and said he’d like to make “Sea of Green” a permanent installation in a museum or restaurant. Afterward, he headed off to the Dumpster to scavenge materials for his second project of 2011. And third and 
fourth and fifth.

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