One year ago, in one of my first columns (Feb. 21, 2008), I reviewed 2008's Nude Nite art event and came to the conclusion that "this emperor's got no clothes." Judging by the critical commentary from others around the Interweb, I'm not the only one who found the heavily attended fest of fleshy artwork to be all sizzle and little steak.
So I'm pleased to report that my visit to this year's edition of the long-running event was a considerably less painful, if not entirely pleasant, experience. The biggest improvement came from the shift of venue; the 2008 exhibition was claustrophobically crammed into the Cruises Only edifice on Colonial Drive (currently home to the Greater Orlando Actors Theatre's Cameo Theatre). This time it was held in an expansive warehouse space near Virginia Drive and Orange Avenue (503 Brookhaven Ave.). The new location gave the 100-odd pieces of art much-needed breathing room, and unsnarled some of the gridlock that greeted last year's guests at the admissions desk and bar. It didn't hurt that this time I arranged my visit during the early hours of opening night; I may have missed out on some live performances, but the ability to observe the works without the haze of wine-soaked sweat in the air more than made up for it.
And speaking of the art, I appreciated that this latest collection had a noticeably higher signal-to-noise ratio than the last, which I felt largely misunderstood the distinction "between nude and ‘nekkid,'" settling instead for "weak technique" and "naughty bits bereft of context." This year, I got a subjective sense of more diversity and complexity: from Brian Murphy's witty wire sculptures and Consuelo Bellini's "thread fusion" silhouettes, to Josh Otterbacher's Ed Roth—influenced cartoon grotesqueries and Steve Stepp's found-metal phallus (which looks remarkably like Homer Simpson's head from a certain angle). There was even a folk-artsy triptych from Sentinel art columnist Terry Hummel.
Perversely, my favorite piece may have been Liz Watkins' "You're a Smart Boy," an oversized painting of disgraced impresario Lou Pearlman with his little Backstreet Boy hanging out. Watkins told me she slapped a $5,000 price tag on her work as a joke "to make it even more obscene." Unfortunately, she seems to have been one of the few artists in on the laugh. The surreally stratospheric price tags on much of the art were more shocking than anything on the canvases, especially considering the lean times our art market is experiencing. This problem particularly plagues photographers; with the exception of Megan Schutz's dreamy daguerreotype-like images of "Muses" and "Sirens," nudes on nitrate (especially in black and white) feel fairly played out. Note for digital photography artists: If you're printing out poorly Photoshopped JPEGs on your home ink-jet, don't price them at $250 unless the frame cost you $249.
The money madness appeared to be a trickledown effect from the event's organizers (led by realtor Kelly Stevens), which brings me to my biggest bitch — this event is too damn expensive. Last year's already-excessive $15 ticket price was bumped up to an outrageous $20, valet parking and $5 sips of Lucid absinthe not included. I was excited to see the naked sushi display, but was prohibited from getting a close look without paying a $6 tasting upcharge (I'm a Piven-level sushi addict, but even I won't eat premade nigiri off a stranger's thighs). That's also not counting the money taken from the artists: $40 per submission and 40 percent commission on every piece sold.
I'll again conclude with my unanswered query from last year: Where does all the money go? The breast-cancer awareness displays scattered about imply charitable contributions, but I can't divine from Nude Nite's press materials the designated recipients. I'm still impressed with the organizers' ability to stoke interest in their event, but in a tightening economy I can think of better pockets for arts lovers to deposit their limited funds into.
On the plus side for the poorer among us, there was plenty of free art viewing around town last weekend. First stop was Friday night's Heart Shaped Bruises art show at Will's Pub. The small exhibit included a few gory and romantic photographs by Miriphoto and a plywood creation by the Naysayer, but the bulk was given over to Nyahzul's hauntingly textured female portraits.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Mennello Museum of American Art's annual Orlando Folk Festival drew a diverse mix of artists, from traditional craftspeople (like Doris Graves, whose chair caning uses age-old methods learned from a Glasgow workshop for the blind) to local outsider artists (including Orlando Weekly's 2008 Best of Orlando illustrator, Morgan Steele). It's smaller than the folk art festival held at Downtown Disney, but significantly less commercialized. Prices were generally moderate, with art-car guru Carl Knickerbocker advertising "cheap recession art." Though I regretfully couldn't afford one of Melissa Menzer's fascinating vintage-film-inspired creatures cobbled from repurposed antiques, I did spring for a tasty salmon and blue cheese burger while the Jackson Creek String Band played "Wish I Was a Cowboy Again" to a healthy crowd.
Finally, Brian Feldman and Jessica Earley made us ask (and not for the first time) "Why would they do that?" with a bizarro book-reading event of the same name in Langford Park. In this self-proclaimed Andy Kaufman—esque epic, Orlando's performance-art power couple (though Brian's mom insists they've never been introduced as "boyfriend and girlfriend" to her) wore a blue leisure tux and a bridal tutu. Together they read aloud the entirety of a how-to guide on elopement borrowed from the local library. After five hours they finished and departed, to the general befuddlement of their dozen-odd attendees. What did it mean? Will they turn up next week with wedding rings? Your guesses are as good as firstname.lastname@example.org