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Obstructed views

The latest show in the Multiple Visions series on Sarasota art suffers from the constraints placed on the works exhibited.

Published July 20, 2003

SARASOTA - Consider "Multiple Visions IV" a coda, a wrap-up that has a measure of internal integrity yet is not quite weighty enough as an independent entity. The exhibition in the Selby Gallery at the Ringling School of Art and Design is the fourth installment in a series documenting Sarasota's visual arts community and covers the period from 1970 to the present.

Previous shows featured artists who settled in Sarasota beginning in the 1920s and formed a loose confederation, an arts colony, that reached critical mass in the 1960s and early 1970s. This show picks up the thread at that point. Curated by Mark Ormond, former senior curator and deputy director at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, now an independent curator, lecturer and writer, it is not a particularly strong showing. But not because first-rate art is no longer being created in Sarasota.

Ormond's constraint was that the artists had to live in Sarasota and could not ever have taught at or attended the Ringling School of Art and Design. The thinking was that next year's Multiple Visions V would mine that territory, and that the elimination of some of the more obvious choices would make room for lesser-known talents.

It was a nice thought, but the reality is that most of the best artists working in the area today, and I include the entire Tampa Bay area, do not make a living on their art. They teach - at Ringling, the University of Tampa, St. Petersburg College, Eckerd College or the University of South Florida - if they're really lucky. Or they take lower-paying jobs in the public schools and art centers.

So a commitment to find enough Sarasota artists with no affiliation to the Ringling, along with a pledge not to repeat artists who have appeared in past Multiple Visions shows had to be tough. Ormond has made the best of it.

A few familiar names qualified under the guidelines, all painters: op-art icon Richard Anuszkiewicz; Robert Gelinas with Palace at 4 a.m., one of his seductive, slightly out-of-focus interiors from the 1970s; Craig Rubadoux, whose Tango Manana por la manana entertains without challenge; and George Pappas, whose work usually does challenge in conceivable ways but, in the case of Texas Toast, I confess just bafflement.

Several works on paper are delightful. A self-portrait by Peter Marein builds facial features with blotches and swirls in a modest version of those baroque portraits made up of fruits and vegetables; Pamela Burns' Three Minds is a calligraphic swirl of ink and pigments.

Some of the most fun is found in the sculptures (offset by several three-dimensional yawns). Leslie Fry's Moss Coat is far less provocative than many of her explorations into gender and sexuality but it has a purity of line Balenciaga would have endorsed; William Tarr emasculates his motorcycle of welded steel, something we're used to seeing as a bloated symbol of dominance and control with its drive chain limp on the floor. And the clay heads by David Garratt may not be great art but they are the greatest hoot I've seen in ages, 10 "white" men (sculpted in the tradition of those plaster busts of venerable personages) emoting to each other, cracking themselves and us up.

Many other works are commendable, Beth Arthur's abstract work invoking Helen Frankenthaler's stained canvases and Cassandra James' moody landscape among them.

Two sentimental inclusions - a print on rice paper by Mike Solomon, son of Syd, and a collage by Eric Ernst, son of Jimmy and grandson of Max - are like apples that haven't fallen far from their trees. Whether these progeny inherited the protean talents of their relatives is hard to say from these two works, which have plenty of merit but no profundity. Still, their presence provides links to a past that underpin this exhibition, and the sense that the arts community today is perched on the shoulders of its predecessors.

At least one more "Multiple Vision" is planned. But this one has a sense of finality to it, perhaps because it comes on the heels of Ormand's much finer, less fettered exhibition of modern art in Florida, spanning 1948 to 1970, that recently closed at the Tampa Museum of Art. For those fortunate to see both, they present us with an artistic cross-section that, like every other demographic, is a mix as varied as a mosaic.

REVIEW: "Multiple Visions IV" is at the Selby Gallery on the campus of the Ringling School of Art and Design on U.S. 41 in Sarasota, a few blocks south of the Ringling Museum of Art. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Free admission. (941) 359-7563.

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