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Panning in on Panhandle

Review: “The Underwater Mermaid Theater,” & "Mythology of Florida" at the Ogden



Juan Ponce de Leon arrived to the eastern coast of Florida 500 years ago in 2013, and Ogden Curator of Photography Richard McCabe is waiting in the wings to tell the region's art story from the picturesque to the postmodern, all for Art’s Sake.

 

The Ogden’s Chief Preparator and photography authority teaches the evolution of Florida’s mythos through the history of art, the best and only way to see its true arc.  The Mythology of Florida opened Saturday at Art for Arts' Sake, and leads literally and figuratively into the pastiche of Annie Collinge’s one-woman show “The Underwater Mermaid Theater.”

 

McCabe’s aim is true, his love for Florida evident in his curatorial story-telling.  The renowned natural beauty of Florida is a magnet for photographers, and “Mythology” exposes the viewer to a significantly diverse collection of artists.  From William Henry Jackson to Walker Evans and Joseph Janney Steinmetz, the show charts the construction of Florida into a magical and prehistoric paradise. 

 

The idea of the picturesque began with painting, evolved into the stuff of postcards, and helped create the world travel industry of today.  In fact, Richard McCabe’s search for Florida unearthed an identical view of St. Augustine’s modest Charlotte Street painted by Frank Henry Shapleigh and photographed by William Henry Jackson, separate but uncanny iterations attesting to the timelessness of the “Nation’s Oldest City.” 

 

Florida’s story is America’s story, and its fame has culminated into a rich diaspora of cultures and characters.  The lost Miami of the very recent mid-1980’s photographed by Gay Block supplied the image of the stereotypical Jewish retiree, with her series, “The Bubbies I Wish I’d Had.”  Block’s original pastiche is at once dear and ambiguous, the hallmark of postmodern photography done up in bold, saturated 80’s color. 

 

Less simple to untangle is Annie Collinge’s “The Underwater Mermaid Theater,” a tribute to WeekiWachee’s live mermaid theme park.  Weeki Wachee is nestled in the Panhandle’s release, fewer than 50 miles north of Clearwater and Tampa.  Just an intersection, the spring is independent of a town.   a car stop on the way to bigger destinations like Orlando these days, a self-proclaimed roadside attraction.

 

Collinge’s gritty themes collide beautifully with their slick technical perfection.  Photos inundated with dreamlike color schemes are nothing more than a casual view of a mermaid and her makeup, but the shots consciously borrow the women’s appeal against a backdrop of a decaying theme park.  The photos are littered with the natural glamour of the real women who don the sequin-scaled fishtails. 

 

Collinge has a knack for maintaining the enchantment as well as the dignity of her female subjects against a shabby backdrop that seems unworthy of their charms. One particular photo depicts a crowd of elderly gentleman surrounding a mermaid awkwardly seated against a wall, her face the picture of gracious diplomacy.  The scene initially appears to depict a beautiful object surrounded by gawkers. In actuality, as its title indicates, the subject is one of the mermaid-ladies being serenaded as a Valentine’s surprise from her real-life boyfriend. 

 

Collinge’s angle and perspective for the shot acknowledges the omnipresence of the gaze in art, but pushes the envelope a little further to challenge our uneasy suspicions.  In the shot Mermaid Kylee, another mer-lady poses in a mirrored corner, surrounded and seemingly trapped by her own reflection. 

 

Mermaid Maggie depicts blonde-haired Maggie, seated in a metal folding chair on the Park’s “Sun Porch,” half-hidden by her hair.  Her hands are folded in the same  quieted pose as the Valentine, and the viewer wonders what Maggie dwells upon during her turn on The Sun Porch, and if she alternates the part of her hair to stave off a nasty sunburn. 

 

“Mythology” and “Underwater Mermaid Theater” mix marvelously, achieving McCabe’s hopes to showcase and properly frame Collinge’s work.  Mythology and Underwater Mermaid Theater both reinforce and unmask the mythology of Florida, taking us directly inside Disney jail with Banksy, and into the swamp with Ava Bigtree and the Bird Man. The lore of Florida versus its strange reality comes through beautifully in these two exhibits, actually intensifying the appeal of the Sunshine State.

 

The exhibition is on view at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp Street, through January 5, 2014.

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

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