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4/21/2010

The Arts

Culture 2 Go
Smiling with the gods
Photo by Ken Hoffa

 

Requesting Miracles: 
Votive Offerings From Diverse Cultures
Through June 5 at the Alice 
& William Jenkins Gallery
Crealdé School of Art
600 St. Andrews Blvd., Winter Park
407-671-1886
www.crealde.org

False Idols
Through May 8 at Bold Hype
1844 E. Winter Park Road
407-629-2965
www.boldhype.com

Western scientific society struggles with religion, bumping and shoving and kicking it around, yet the subject always pops up again unfazed, ready for another round of examination. Two new visual art exhibits delve into the spiritual realm: At Crealdé, a sublime ascendancy of religious respect elevates the ordinary in Requesting Miracles: Votive Offerings From Diverse Cultures, while at Bold Hype the unmasked gods are banished in False Idols. Whether the desire is to reach up to heaven in a call to the divine or to reach down for a drink in a tiki-god-adorned mug, these shows play well off of each other.

A certain animistic spiritual power comes through in the Crealdé display: The votives convey an urgent need for miracles, connecting on a primitive level through painting, handicrafts and various household materials that have a visceral yet humble quality shining forth regardless of religious origin. The community altar installation provides a sense of context; the dark, candlelit excursion transports visitors into a zone of serene contemplation about the meaning and place of prayer offerings. A dysfunctional video player screens a documentary on Mexican rituals, which feels out of place in the shrine; perhaps elsewhere in the gallery it would have a less-jarring effect. 

While the main collection is historic in nature, artists Kristin Congdon and Natália da Silva also contributed the products of workshops held in conjunction with the Coalition for the Homeless in Central Florida. These works are incorporated into artist Cheryl Bogdanovich’s “Tree of Miracles” and fit lightheartedly into the otherwise somber mood created by messages, such as Gregory’s: “We all have to take our turn putting our finger in the hole in the boat; otherwise we all sink.”

Paintings and fabric art from Italy, Mexico, Peru and Japan tell stories of horror – shootings, storms, disasters and accidents – in a fascinating documentary of the extraordinary. The Italian and Mexican artists, in particular, don’t hold back; blood is spurting from wounds, bullets flying from guns. More repressed are the Japanese paintings of monkeys and gods to wish upon for good luck, but taken together, their passion and potency are as moving as any other items in the exhibit.

Salvatori’s eerie carved-wood body parts found in quasi-animist societies of northeastern Brazil are posed on the floor and hung from the ceiling, and they counterbalance the voodoo bottles and medicine bundles, called Kongo packets, across the room. The former appear to be a dark, organic mass of earthen color, while the latter are filled with glitter and brightness, and both invoke the mystery of African traditions.

At Bold Hype, outrageous tiki gods leer and laugh, but the joke is on them: As branding, the tiki taps into a certain hedonistic post-World War II culture celebrating man’s technological triumph, which is aptly represented by the gallery’s tiki bar. Wayne Coombs, Ken Pleasant, Joe Vitale and other artists contribute intricately carved masks, and the sense of revelry is boosted by paintings such as Shag’s “Two Heavy Drinkers” and Derek Yaniger’s “Dig That Tiki Beat,” both reminiscent of a 1950s flat, graphic pop style.

Serving as the curator for False Idols, artist Scott Scheidly brings together local tiki culture in which cleverly conceived totems are less about inspiring fear and respect than revealing current takes on faith and the future. Robert Connett’s “Tiki Pond” shows a bald, childlike figure clutching a skull up to his waist in black pond water, surrounded by green moths and screaming at two ironically frightened tiki gods; the piece captures our collective bush soul’s contemporary malaise, torn between the primitive and the modern.

The animist spirits hover above us at Crealdé, while at Bold Hype it is we who look down at them. And it is fear of our own technological supremacy that gives us discomfort with either stance. The Enola Gay in Ken Hoffa’s “Bikini” in False Idols perfectly represents that frightening moment when we harnessed an awesome power never before held in our hands. Yet as Requesting Miracles reminds us: Many cultures offer humble prayers of request for answers beyond the limits of our own humanity.

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