Art Is Where You Find It

Look closely and you'll find some gems in ArtServe's slapped-together group show

The gallery at ArtServe is hardly the most hospitable display space in Broward County. It's housed in a branch of the Broward County Library, sandwiched between the library and ArtServe's offices and other facilities. One end of the gallery is just a few feet from busy Sunrise Boulevard, where the constant traffic vies with the art for your attention. At the other end, you contend with the comings and goings through the building's noisy electronic entrance.

Still, the Coral Springs Artist Guild fares reasonably well with the space for its current group show, "30 Years, the Next Level."It's a fairly large show for such a small space. I counted 80 pieces by 52 artists, more than half of whom have two pieces in the exhibition. More than half are also women. All are from South Florida, most from 16 of Broward County's 30 municipalities, four from cities in Palm Beach County, and one far-flung artist from Naples.

Don't expect works in any edgy medium such as installation or video. The guild's diverse members tend to favor more traditional materials: oil, acrylic, collage, pastel, graphite, colored pencil, photography (both color and black and white), and especially watercolor. There are a few mixed-media works and a few that venture into digitally manipulated imagery. And there are only a handful of sculptures, most of them not especially exciting.

In this corner, wearing the marbled trunks: Diane Lublinski's It's Time to Move On
Colby Katz
In this corner, wearing the marbled trunks: Diane Lublinski's It's Time to Move On

The exhibition as a whole, for that matter, doesn't generate a lot of excitement. Much of the art is easy on the eyes, pleasing in a garden-variety, home-decorating sort of way -- something nice to go with the sofa and the drapes, for instance, rather than something to stimulate.

That's not to say there aren't some wonderful pieces scattered throughout the show. Even the award winners aren't as cringe-inducing as they are in many juried shows. There are a dozen of them, including three merit awards and six honorable mentions, which seems a bit overboard.

Best of show goes to Geni Ferro (Fort Lauderdale) for Daniel, an abstract in earthy watercolors. Abstraction also makes a strong showing with merit-award winner Shadow Play, an atmospheric mixed-media piece by Nancy Herkert (Southwest Ranches).

The second-place winner would have been my choice for best in show: Not Quite Plumb, a large, two-panel, vertical, opaque watercolor by David Maxwell (Miramar). Maxwell's work has been in several major South Florida exhibitions over the past few years, and every time I see another of his pieces, I can understand why. He combines seemingly pedestrian subject matter -- in this case, the construction site of a high-rise in Hollywood -- with an unusual technique.

From a distance, Maxwell's images look highly realistic, but when you move closer, you see that they have been meticulously built up using small daubs of pigment that seem to fall somewhere between the tiny dots of pointillism and Roy Lichtenstein's Ben Day dots. (The artist also seems to have a confident sense of the commercial value of his work. Not Quite Plumb is priced at $19,000, about $17,000 more than almost everything else in the show.)

Most of the honorable mentions, by and large, are better than the merit awards. Intruder, by Loretta Herman (Margate), is a serene composition of soft, rounded forms in pale blues and beiges in a medium mysteriously identified on the info card as "W/Ink." The nearby abstract Totem, an accumulation of painted strips of paper and little icons by Jerry Summers (Lake Worth), is also carelessly labeled "WC/Guach/Collage" when it obviously should be "Watercolor/Gouache/Collage" or even "Mixed Media."

The two best honorable mentions are by artists who have equally strong second pieces elsewhere in the show. Iceman, by Jeanette Wells (Coral Springs), is a beautifully detailed and realistic graphite pencil portrait of a worker standing in the doorway of an old-fashioned icehouse. (My grandfather, who was such a worker when I was a child, could have been the model.) Wells exhibits a similar skill with her medium in When Autos Were Elegant.

Elyn Zerfas (Fort Lauderdale), in sharp contrast, works in color photography. Her Bonnet House Bridge is a straightforward image that looks to have been ever-so-slightly digitally manipulated, so that it takes on an almost hallucinatory intensity. The subject seems to be shimmering in the heat of a midsummer South Florida day.

The photographer's other contribution, Orange Petals, is perhaps even more gorgeous. It's a sharply focused close-up of some brilliant orange flower petals -- caught so close-up, in fact, that they could pass for an abstract painting. Two Patricia Cavanagh (Plantation) photos not far away, one of a hibiscus, another of an amaryllis, employ a similar approach but are somehow not nearly as powerful.

Only a few of the many watercolors have much of an impact. Midnight Light, by Nancy Herkert (Southwest Ranches), features what vaguely look like tall, thin trees dappled with sparkles of color at the top. Although the medium used for a Carol Thaw (Weston) painting, also called Daniel, isn't specified, it appears to be a watercolor rendering of a carefully balanced tangle of limbs and faces in pale pinks and flesh tones. Animal limbs, torsos, and faces also form a tangle in Giraffe Fantasy by Madeline Seragios (Davie), who takes at least eight of the title creatures and entwines them in a lovely watercolor mix of browns, oranges, and greens.

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