Davids and Goliaths

"Scale Matters: Mega Vs. Mini"

Further into the show is the usual assortment of hits and misses. Among the former is Doug Safranek's Searching the Rubble (1998), an egg-tempera-on-panel piece which takes a sharply observed inner-city street scene and reduces it to an extremely realistic image no larger than a sheet of notebook paper; the painting is small in scale but vast in atmosphere. Claes Oldenburg works his usual magic by taking the opposite approach with the witty, subtly suggestive Soft Screw (1976), a slightly curving sculpture of a screw that's maybe a couple of feet tall. (I'm guessing at dimensions because, inexplicably for a show about size, the museum has declined to provide the specifics for any of the pieces.)

The exhibition is rounded out by a few fairly obvious choices. The Georgia O'Keeffe oil-on-canvas Pelvis With Moon (1943) is notable mainly because it's so much smaller than the artist's typical paintings. And by now the gaudy grandeur of Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup SeriesII (1968), a set of ten poster-size silk-screens, is considerably diminished.

Regardless of whether it's part of the "official show," be sure to make the gallery I mentioned off the front lobby part of your show, because it includes several vivid examples of why "scale matters." Karin Davie's vibrant, shimmering Nice#1 and Nice#2 (both from 1992), are large mirror-image oils that could have been painted at the height of the Op art movement of the '60s. Helen Frankenthaler's Mirror (1969), a vertical abstract in acrylic that's easily ten feet tall, is a stunning reminder of how color-field painting, like abstract expressionism before it, was so dependent on enormity of scale for its impact.

Created with fingerprints, Chuck Close's work demands an intimate appraisal
Created with fingerprints, Chuck Close's work demands an intimate appraisal

Details

On display through October 10.
Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S.Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. 561-832-519

I've harped on the logistics of shows before, because I firmly believe that how art is presented can enhance as well as detract from the art itself. "Scale Matters" is a perfect example of the latter. Fortunately, much of the work here is strong enough to compensate for the indifference with which this exhibition seems to have been thrown together. We can only hope this is a rare lapse for a museum of the Norton's stature.

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