It was only two years ago that Joe Fig moved to Florida in order to take on the role of department head for Fine Arts and Visual Studies at Ringling College of Art + Design.
It didn’t take long for Florida to take notice.
Last week, the renowned artist and acclaimed author of two books, took home “The People’s Choice Award” at the sixth annual Orlando Museum of Art (OMA) Florida Prize in Contemporary Art Exhibition, which celebrates the works of 10 of the most progressive and exciting artists in the state today.
Fig learned he was one of the 10 artists to be showcased in March, which meant he only had three months to prepare. Being new to Florida, he took a trip over to Orlando to familiarize himself with the museum and the exhibition. “I was really impressed. It’s a beautiful space and everything about this exhibition was top-notch,” he said. Each of the 10 artists was given about 800 square feet in which to display an overview of their artwork.
The installations were revealed to more than 1,000 guests at the Opening Preview Party on May 31, where guests were able to meet the artists and immerse themselves in one of Florida’s most prestigious exhibitions. It was there that they were able to cast their vote for the “People’s Choice Award.”
Joe Fig impressed guests with his installation, which included nine paintings, six sculptures, two photographs, and three audio recordings.
“Oh my God, it was so exciting to win the People’s Choice Award,” he said, “especially when you consider the amazing talent of the other artists.”
Known for his incredibly detailed, small-scale sculpture, paintings, and photographs of artists and their studios, Fig’s works are intensive studies of the working lives of artists and the creative process itself.
The paintings he displayed at the Florida’s Prize exhibition were part of a new series of paintings, images of people looking at works of art in museums. “For me, it’s a fun way to examine how people view artwork and it’s also about the critiquing process. We end up critiquing a painting about critiquing a painting.” One of his new paintings was based on watching visitors to the Orlando Museum, “which was kind of fun,” he said.
The two photographs used in the display (from 2002) were historically based, and were of Jackson Pollock and Constantin Brancusi, while the six sculptures (all created within the last four to five years) were small-scale pieces showcasing six artists’ studios, or details from those studios, with three of the sculptures including an audio recording of an interview between Fig and the artist, providing even deeper insight into his or her life and creative vision.
“Joe Fig's deft navigation of the complexity of the sacred space of the artist's studio, and his nuanced comprehension of the deeply social and private act of looking at art is what gives his rigorous paintings and dioramas their psychological depth,” said Sarasota Art Museum Executive Director Anne-Marie Russell.
Organized and curated every year by the Orlando Museum of Art, the Florida Prize celebrates artists ranging from emerging to mid-career, who are engaged in exploring significant issues in contemporary art and society in original and visually exciting ways.
Fig said he found himself tremendously inspired by his fellow artists. “The nine other artists were so talented and diverse,” he said, “by gender, culturally, and through the work itself.” Each of the pieces on display dealt with issues relevant to our world today. “These are not impressionist paintings,” Fig said. “The artists are exploring issues like immigration, the economy, the environment, race, and gender.”
One thing Fig appreciated was the amount of space given to each artist. “When you only see one painting by an artist, it’s like hearing one song from a composer or reading only an excerpt from a book.” Exhibitions like Florida’s Prize give each artist ample space to share enough of their work so the viewer comes away with a deeper understanding of what it is the artist is trying to convey.
“The depth and quality of Florida’s private and public collections is nothing short of revelatory, and our contemporary art game has never been stronger,” said Russell. “The Orlando Museum of Art’s Florida Prize is the best testament to the range and quality of work being produced on our fragile and magical peninsula.”
The exhibition will be on display at the Orlando Museum through Aug. 18.