A Fair Way to Present Grass

"The American Lawn: Surface of Everyday Life"

The most striking images in this section are the works of Texas-born photographer Skeet McAnley. His The Desert Mountain Club, Geronimo Course 13th Tee, Scottsdale, Arizona, is pretty much what the generic title describes. But the title of Ventana Canyon, Tucson, Mountain Course, Third Green only hints at McAnley's surreal composition, in which a small golf green is so discreetly tucked away among the sharp, steep hills, chunky boulders, and towering cacti of a desert landscape that it all but disappears. And with Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School Near Goulding, Utah, he hits upon an even more haunting combination: an empty football field set against the magnificent rock formations of Monument Valley.

But the show's organizers have outdone themselves with two sections that are notable not so much for their content as for the way it's presented. "American Suburbs" is a room-size installation with nine components, equally spaced and similarly constructed. Each consists of a small elevated platform on which sits a scale model of a neighborhood from a different era of American history from the mid-1800s through the late 1990s, with a typical house and its surrounding lawn highlighted to contrast the varying amounts of space taken up at different points in time.

The elevated platforms are connected to slightly larger lightboxes on the floor, which display infrared aerial photographs of suburbs corresponding to the model neighborhoods, shot from altitudes ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 feet by the U.S. Geological Survey. Finally each of the nine components that make up the "piece" is connected to its own electrical outlet in the ceiling via a long cord, giving the whole installation the air of something out of a science fiction film.

Welcome to the neighborhood: "American Suburbs" sheds light on the issue of residential development
Melissa Jones
Welcome to the neighborhood: "American Suburbs" sheds light on the issue of residential development

Details

On display through January 2.
Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-5500.

An adjacent space features an equally inspired setup. "Neighbors" displays nearly two dozen stereoscopic transparencies by the young New York photographer Robert Sansone that focus on the dividing lines between neighboring lawns to comment obliquely on the territorial attitude people take toward their yards.

But again the photos themselves aren't as exceptional as the way they're presented. The transparencies are enclosed in stereoscopic goggles, and in order to view them, you have to adjust the goggles by moving them up or down along sets of wires and pulleys that run from the ceiling to the floor along all four walls. Even the empty space in the middle of the installation is put to use: a projector mounted in the ceiling projects slides from a legal case, referred to as "Violation of Lawn Sign Ordinance," onto the floor.

What, you may well ask, does all this have to do with art? I'm not quite sure, and perhaps it doesn't really matter. All I know is that I wandered through "The American Lawn" like a kid in some sort of deranged amusement park, and I left with a big smile on my face. For this show it's best to check your aesthetic preconceptions at the door and just have fun.

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