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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010 8 years ago

Reality check

by: Heidi Kurpiela Contributing Writer

There’s a something-for-everyone quality to the Selby Gallery’s REAL(ists) exhibition at Ringling College of Art and Design.

At the front of the gallery, you have painter Roberto Bernardi’s image of a sink, a work that so closely resembles a photograph you could spend hours looking for brushstrokes in the holes of Bernardi’s sponges.
In the back of the gallery, you have Brenda Brown’s recordings of nature in two opposite environments: the cracking of ice and the chirping of cicadas, Northern sounds and Southern sounds divided by a line of text on the floor that reads: “Spring is coming” and “I miss you.”

“The work becomes less and less photorealistic as you go through the gallery,” says Selby Gallery Director Kevin Dean. “By the time you get to Joan Semmel’s self-portrait, you know you’re looking at a painting.”

Although Semmel’s “Centered” is realistic, it is also painterly — a nude reflection captured in a mirror with a Nikon camera. Less revealing than some of Semmel’s other portraits, you walk away believing that what you saw on the canvas was exactly what Semmel saw in the mirror.

Less realistic but no less believable is Andrew Lenaghan’s painting of himself, which offers a glimpse of the artist in the throes of creating. Seen standing in what appears to be his daughter’s play space, Lenaghan is seen painting a messy stick figure. Behind him hang several coloring book tear-outs and a child-sized desk.
The artist looks startled and almost amused, like he just got caught with his hand in a cookie jar.

REAL(ists) is an exhibition of 40 artists, including several Sarasota residents and Ringling alums, among them: Gail Fulton Ross, Nat Krate, Sabrina Small, John Hardy, Amer Kobaslija, Ranger Smyth and Valerie Lyle.

The collection of work spans subject matter and objectivity from the benign to the bizarre, from Raphaella Spence’s aerial landscape of downtown Sarasota — meticulously transferred from a photograph she took in 2007 — to Lynn Davison’s surreal image of a man clutching a tree in a storm, while a cat, dressed in a baby’s christening robe, clings to the trunk with nightmarish claws.

Hung on a sliding scale according to how far or close they stray from reality, some of the pieces, including Ralph Wickiser’s painting of a stream, in Woodstock, N.Y., and Renée Lerner’s assortment of mesh fabrics, border on abstraction.

The setup begs the question: What is real and what is abstract?

And, that, according to Dean, is the point of the show.


• Artist John Hardy was one of the first students to attend Ringling College in 1945 under the federal government’s G.I. Bill.

• Anthony Palumbo’s charcoal drawing of a woman in a cramped room thumbing rosary beads is his Italian mother. Palumbo drew the picture in 1940 and then added a television set 15 years later.

• Ringling graduate Valerie Lyle sculpted “Tea Time for Darfur” entirely from cockleburs, those prickly plants that stick to your socks when you walk through a field. Lyle’s “Sticky Subjects” series also includes a cocklebur fetus and M16 rifle.

• Asya Reznikov’s video installation, “Matroshka,” about briefcases within briefcases, was inspired by her native Russia’s famous nesting dolls.

REAL(ists) runs now through Feb. 16, at Selby Gallery on the Ringling College of Art and Design campus. For more information, visit or call 359-7563.

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].

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