In the mid-1990s, art people swooned over Inka Essenhigh and her fantastic use of high-gloss enamel paints, touting her as an innovator who would help revitalize painting. The young artist had a curious response to the critical adoration: She switched to oils. In doing so, Essenhigh proved that her success has nothing to do with gimmicks. Regardless of the medium, her swooping lines, bold but controlled color palette, and magical characters hijack viewers' eyeballs to a surreal and faraway planet where Francis Bacon, Salvador Dal, and a crew of Japanimators seem to have left some footprints.
Paintings by Richard Artschwager are similar in their dreamy effect but radically different in their execution. Alternately classified as a minimalist, photorealist, and a pop and conceptual artist, Artschwager (who turns 80 in December) starts with a photograph -- sometimes of recognizable figures like Timothy McVeigh, other times of anonymous people like "Lady with a Beach Ball." He then enlarges them on Celotex, a surface that magnifies the grain of newsprint photos, and works from there. The black-and-white results resemble pencil drawings -- frozen, stylized, and ethereal.
Beat feet to the Museum of Contemporary Art (770 NE 125th St., North Miami) and check out "Inka Essenhigh: Recent Paintings" and "Richard Artschwager: Painting Then and Now" through February 15. Call 305-893-6211. -- Deirdra Funcheon
Bright lights, creepy city
A horror movie's success usually lies in the suspenseful buildup to "the monster," some sort of beast that's all latex, makeup, and carefully generated techno-wank. But what most people won't admit is that the "unseen" is more disturbing. Video artist Seoungho Cho plays on this psychological curiosity in his new exhibit at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art (601 Lake Ave., Lake Worth). The urban landscapes that Cho often depicts on film veer dreamily from simple images to unsettling abstractions of figures, cars, trains, light, and the city itself. Particularly intriguing is his 12-minute piece titled Orange Factory, in which the viewer travels the Korean countryside at twilight, accompanied by an unsettling soundtrack and reflections of light. Check it out through February 29. Call 561-582-0006. -- Audra Schroeder