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Spoiler Alert opened last Saturday (Aug. 16) at CityArts Factory to an empty room and fell short of the provocative pledge made by its title. It left me wondering, "What went wrong?" Like his previous exhibitions Small Talk and You Love to Hate, curator Dustin Orlando has produced a cohesive presentation of strong images by a skillful collective of regional artists whose work not only makes sense in the same room, but plays well together.

The show centers on Tampa-based artists Bask and Tes-One, who collaborate regularly and have been exhibited nationwide in galleries and publications. Commercial icons litter the work of Czech-born Bask, juxtaposed with loose drawings of familiar objects. "There Once Was an Octopus From Nantucket," Bask's collaborative piece with Sarah Gail Hutcherson, is cleverly hung, drawing the viewer into its suggestive narrative only to lead the eye through a gaping hole in the center to the brick wall behind it. Orlando applies the literary device of framing to the hanging of Tes-One's laser-cut prints titled "Coda" and "Electric Feel." These works represent the artist's experimentations with the technique, brilliantly captured in his painstaking attention to detail in the etched hair of two faces that flank the work of Bask. Tes-One's "Taking Tree," an image of a bird perched on a telephone pole covered in surveillance cameras, functions as a searchlight, looming figuratively above the exhibition as a whole.

The prints and paintings of Parskid weave an otherworldly presence throughout Spoiler Alert via the artist's extraterrestrial creatures, which bear human characteristics and emotions. Artist Steak Mtn trumps all notions of human comprehension through his dislocation of word and image. For further contrast, Bask and Tes-One rely on the influence of technology and media, while Parskid and Steak Mtn remove themselves almost completely from any referential language.

Rounding out this solid grouping of artists is Raleigh, N.C.-based Mat Curran. His series of five aerosol-on-wood paintings literally screams — in every stressed wrinkle, in the sheer nerve of every careless drip — the agony and ecstasy of the human experience. The constrained figure in all five pieces appears to writhe in the pleasure of being seen, eliciting a sense of joie de vivre as the body playfully twists and turns from one painting to the next.

Yet, with Spoiler Alert as a title, the show promised to reveal a crucial point, which I interpreted as the ability of artistic expression to spark dialogue and create interaction. Too bad there wasn't more of an audience; the empty room spoke volumes. Was it the $10 cover charge and pretentious request for RSVPs that limited attendance? If anything, it reaffirmed my skepticism of dictating a price for support.

Orlando defended the charge, saying, "Why open up the doors for free to the freeloaders who gravitate toward each other and who love to hate the few people in this town who try to do something different?"

While I tend to agree that a provincial mentality produces a stunted art scene, my overall feeling about Spoiler Alert is that it exemplifies how quickly and ruthlessly pretense overshadows relevance.

Orlando, however, remains optimistic, as I do, that the Aug. 21 Third Thursday open house for Spoiler Alert at CityArts Factory will serve as a second chance for the community to see a show with a high level of artistic integrity, this time free of charge.

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