The Orlando art scene thrives on gimmicks, and the galleries and temporary art spaces that compose this constellation do not lack in artifice. Recently, our CityArts Factory was voted "Best Magic Trick" by Orlando Weekly for consistently "opening galleries in its tight space — just like pulling rabbits out of a hat." However, I believe that truly eyebrow-raising artistic sorcery occurs at Millenia Fine Art.
In July, I attended the opening of The Best & the Brightest — selected works from the School of Visual Arts in New York City — with high expectations set by the title of the show. Curator Josh Garrick noted that when he approached the graduating students at the SVA, where he formerly served as a faculty member and media spokesperson for 11 years, and asked them to bring their best work to Orlando, the artists were dubious, to say the least. Yet it was clear during Garrick's speech to the crowd of locals and New Yorkers that the artists were blown away by the Millenia gallery — the space itself, the install, and the overall pomp and circumstance of the surroundings.
If you have not ventured out to the converted 30,000-square-foot warehouse on South Lake Destiny Drive, I urge you to visit, or better yet, join the Winter Park—Orlando avant garde for their next soirée. The entire experience reeks of exclusivity, from the drive past the neighboring Ferrari dealership to parking in a sculpture garden to passing through the sleek reception area into the myriad exhibition spaces.
For The Best & the Brightest, Millenia pulled out all the stops. The pieces are installed and lit impeccably, and are priced to move. Sarah Ferguson's large portraits of Hillary Clinton amid hellfire not only serve literally as a political statement, but also figuratively represent the general state of mind of these young artists. The paintings of Samuel T. Adams display a rarely seen confidence in color usage; his compositions are clearly a hat-tip to Wassily Kandinsky. Alberto Lopez's bulbous anthropomorphic sculptures provide a tongue-in-cheek element in an otherwise sober progression of works that run the gamut of medium and subject matter. As Garrick writes in the press release, "There is no single through-line in the artistic voice of this work. … I was looking for quality and diversity. The excitement derives when one considers the future in art that these extraordinarily talented artists may look forward to."
What can be said of "the future in art," for these emerging New York artists and also for Orlando's promising talent? The answer lies in Millenia's other gallery spaces surrounding The Best & the Brightest, specifically in the paintings of Nigerian-born artist Chidi Kwubiri. Although based in Düsseldorf, Germany, Kwubiri has visited here several times over the years, and his work has left the community in awe of his totemic metaphors of both African tradition and modernist abstraction. "Reaching Out," a monumental canvas stretching 75 by 118 inches and priced at a cool $45,000, is not only a show-stopper (though technically not part of The Best & the Brightest) but my choice for the best piece of contemporary art currently on public view in Orlando. This is the caliber of work that should be represented in the collections of the Orlando Museum of Art and the city of Orlando.
On the other hand, my experience at last month's second exhibition hosted by Bay Two at Mills Park and curated by Andrew White of Lot1433, Out of the Box, provided the opposition for this conversation on the exploitation of our youthful artists. For one night only on July 12, works by more than 40 artists were hung in the raw industrial space of Bay Two, creating a frenetic progression from piece to piece. Like The Best & the Brightest, there was no underlying concept dictating the artists' work. Yet unlike The Best & the Brightest, the caliber of work in Out of the Box varied greatly from artist to artist, leaving me at a loss and rendering the moat between Millenia Fine Art and its alternatives even wider. Let me be clear: This is not a slam on the participating artists as much as it is a questioning of the intentions of the curator(s) and of the parameters of Mills Park. These events raise an important question about the reduction of art to backdrop or cool party décor.
The most troubling aspect of the work I saw at Bay Two, however, was a piece that shamelessly imitated the work of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele. I attempted to step back and appreciate the piece as an homage to the late master, but the nearly $7,000 price tag insulted my intelligence. I pondered this painting throughout the course of the following week until I saw Kwubiri's work at Millenia Fine Art. These paintings represent opposite sides of the spectrum in the Orlando art scene. This is a gap of understanding that can only be bridged by education and constant exposure to the international art scene. Aspiring artists in Orlando, like those from the School of Visual Arts, deserve a future in art worthy of acknowledgment and email@example.com