Over the Top

The artists of 2 + 3 honor their forebears in an arresting "Under the Influence"

The show's title sounds slightly reckless, as if the artists had knocked back a few or taken a couple of hits to jump-start the creative juices. And sure enough, some of the best work in "Under the Influence: An Exhibition by 2 + 3," now at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, is a little edgy, a bit out there.

Take Cherie L. Saleeby's sprawling mixed-media installation Dynamism, which at first seems like several different pieces. On the wall is a large canvas perhaps eight feet tall by six feet wide, set in a wide frame made of pale, unfinished wood. The composition is sparse, with a few thick smears of dark, dull pigment set off by a black leather glove that has been affixed to the lower left corner.

A few feet away on the floor are several odd jet-black forms that faintly echo the forms on the canvas. One is more or less a roundish blob, another is a rough-edged shape rising from a wooden platform, and a third is a stylized fragment of a female torso mounted on a black pedestal.

Mimi Shapiro's multimedia Under the Influence shares 
both title and theme with the show
Mimi Shapiro's multimedia Under the Influence shares both title and theme with the show

A set of headphones rests on another pedestal, from which you can hear traces of jangly, dissonant music as you make your way through the installation. Put on the headphones and you'll hear a loop that includes a couple of compositions (Stephen Coxe's "Les Illuminations" and Hideko Kawamoto's "Around the Corner") performed by an octet of violin, trombone, piano, and percussion, along with Jon Peske's reading of his disturbing poem "Transformation."

There's a sort of fact sheet with some cryptic background information on the work, which has an extended title that reads Dynamism: Carrie Aude, the Lady and the Faery of Tar. The text of "Transformation" is included, along with a brief artist's statement from Saleeby, in which she reveals that her inspiration for this collaborative effort is the medium of tar: "I have explored its fragileness, sensuality and skinlike texture."

Peske, by contrast, provides an explanation of how the work came about through a casual conversation he and Saleeby had about "the sensitivity, the vulnerability of the heart, how easy it was to be hurt -- and how painful -- if one has thick skin, and that sometimes a thicker skin, more protection, might be desirable."

These teasing bits of information help pull the many parts of the installation, which according to the sheet "has never been presented in its entirety," together. They also simultaneously create an air of mystery that gives the work its elusive energy.

This quirky project seems to me to embody the idea behind "Under the Influence" as articulated by curator Dorit Arad in a handout: "The term... was broadly interpreted by the artists. Some looked to the influence of other artists and styles in the development of their work, others mentioned the influence of distant lands or regions, and still others looked to social and ethical issues relevant to humanity at the dawn of a new millennium."

Dynamism, with its jumble of these and other influences, including the influences of its own components on one another, is just one of more than two dozen pieces in this exhibition, which showcases the works of some of the members of 2 + 3: The Artists' Organization, a 13-year-old South Florida group founded with the support of sculptor Duane Hanson. More than 50 artists are involved in 2 + 3 (which alludes to working in both two and three dimensions), about half of whom are represented in this show.

A very specific influence is at work in the tellingly titled Homage, a lovely mixed-media sculpture by Tobey Archer that combines neon, Lucite, and sculpture paper. Archer places neon rods and rectangles behind the layers of torn paper that seem suspended in midair inside the Lucite box; the softly glowing pinks and oranges suggest the grand color-field canvases of Mark Rothko, with their serene, muted colors and blurred edges. Call it Switched-On Rothko.

Mimi Shapiro's mixed-media installation Under the Influence starts from an older source, the 1425 painting Expulsion From Eden by the Italian Masaccio. She spells out her influences: "There is so much that we can be influenced by in this world, but all of the myths and stories seem to be based on that original Adam and Eve story. We all know the ending to that... and maybe, just maybe, we all need to be rewriting our own finish to that myth."

I'm not convinced that all myths and stories are descendants of the Garden of Eden story, but what Shapiro has done with that simplistic idea is quite provocative. Her piece is a triptych of sorts, starting with two wall-mounted panels, the first a stark collage depicting Adam and Eve's expulsion from Eden, the second a more elaborate collage in which several half-nude men are building a structure of some sort outdoors, while a couple, presumably Adam and Eve, cling to each other in the lower right corner.

The piece concludes with a modified reliquary box, with its etched-glass surface partially open and adorned with a cutout of a female nude. Inside are such oddities as champagne corks, tiny Christmas light bulbs, a fragment of a car's taillight, colored beads, a small goblet holding a rose, a tiny vase holding another rose, and several other paper roses strewn throughout. (Shapiro doesn't specify, but I suspect Joseph Cornell's famous boxes are also an influence.)

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