Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

If there are such things as safe bets in the South Florida art world, one of them has to be Clyde Butcher, the grandfatherly photographer whose majestic black-and-white nature imagery never fails to captivate. Butcher can thrive even in an environment as indifferent as ArtServe, where more than 60 of his works are on display in "Seeing the Light: A Retrospective, the Photography of Clyde Butcher."Despite a certain slapdash quality, it's an impressive overview of the photographer's career, which now spans more than four decades. The show is organized chronologically, so that we can see Butcher's progression: from an architecture student shooting miniatures at California Polytechnic College in the 1960s to a brazenly commercial lensman in the '70s and early '80s to the celebrated nature photographer of today. It's especially jarring to see his early work -- a 1963 glimpse of a theater lobby dotted with people, a 1964 cityscape of the San Francisco skyline -- and even more jarring to see the borderline-cheesy color images from the early '80s, right after Butcher moved to Florida but before he "discovered" nature (let's just say it takes a brave, self-assured man to own up to images inspired by Star Trek). Even Butcher's perfectly competent color nature photography pales in comparison to the glorious black-and-white style he settled on, inspired by such figures as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Wynn Bullock. Included here are some justly famous pieces, including Moonrise, a 1986 shot taken in Big Cypress National Preserve (home to one of Butcher's studios) that later adorned a card for the 100th birthday of Everglades activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The exhibition culminates in works from Butcher's "Visions for the Next Millennium," a preservationist-oriented project now on tour that features images captured not just in Florida but throughout the country. (On display through February 13 at ArtServe, 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-462-9191.) Now on Display

There's fullness and richness (perhaps even too much) to "I Feel Mysterious Today,"the group show now at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in Lake Worth. Twenty-six artists from nearly a dozen countries are represented in roughly 70 works, most created since the turn of the century, more than half by men. Guest curator Dominic Molon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago interprets the term mysterious generously and characterizes the art as "presenting us with fantastic or supernatural imagery, peculiar everyday situations, and radically transformed objects and images." Roe Ethridge's big color photos, for example, turn lowly pigeons into creatures of great grace and beauty. And Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt's Enchanted Forest is an inspired installation of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of brightly colored plastic streamers. (On display through March 27 at PBICA, 601 Lake Ave., Lake Worth, 561-582-0006.)

"Seeing the Light: A Retrospective, the Photography of Clyde Butcher."
"Seeing the Light: A Retrospective, the Photography of Clyde Butcher."
“Louise Nevelson: Selections from the Farnsworth Art Museum.”
“Louise Nevelson: Selections from the Farnsworth Art Museum.”

When the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach opened its new wing almost two years ago, it added 14 galleries with more than 12,000 square feet of exhibition space. Much of that space is devoted to the museum's justly acclaimed collections of Chinese art and pre-1870 European art, as well as a splashy ceiling installation by glass master Dale Chihuly. What often goes unmentioned is that the expansion also lets the Norton showcase more of its contemporary collection. The wing's first-floor galleries feature nearly a dozen pieces worth viewing. But it's the wing's largest gallery that features the most imposing works: a pair of mixed-media pieces by Richard Long. In August 2004, the artist worked directly on an expanse of blackened wall using clay and water to create the abstract Seminole. For the 2002 piece Mohawk, Long challenges our notions of what constitutes a landscape by covering most of the gallery's floor space with a vast, oval-shaped installation that suggests a stream of smooth, gray, Mexican river rocks flowing through chunks of white marble. (Through fall 2005 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.) For those who like both Tiffany's and telescopes, New York sculptor/painter John Torreano has got just the thing -- a whole collection of hangable galaxies, studded with acrylic gemstones. Of course, that wasn't really his plan. Yes, the exhibit, "Every Gem is a Handheld Star," which just opened at the Armory Art Center, has an outer space theme. Wood slabs and blocks, painted in shades of black or white are peppered with plastic balls and gem stones, anchored in wood cutouts or globs of paint. Torreano admires Cezanne and Rembrandt, but his art has more of an abstract-expressionist feel. Where Jackson Pollock and his contemporaries layered paint in an effort to occupy space on the canvas and in the third dimension, though, Torreano uses physical objects. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Take the superb "Solare," which looks like an exploding pulsar, red, spiraling, encrusted with dark gemstones. The artist says it's supposed to recall Icarus getting too close to the sun, and, sure enough, the gems implanted in the swirl of red emanate from a central, red circle, like the dots that appear in your eyes when you look too long at the sun. Less successful is "Space Edge 1." White balls appear egg-like and vibrate with the black border, thrusting the objects too far into space. Torreano might have been better off sticking with gems and thick textured paint, trusting his audience to get it without being hit over the head with it. The balls cast shadows onto the canvas, which of course could be a bad trick of lighting, but detract from the sculpture either way. (Through Feb. 5 at the Armory Art Center, 1700 Parker Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-1776.)

If you visit Artists' Haven, a tiny gallery that opened in a Fort Lauderdale strip mall in December, go directly to the sculptures of Miles Laventhal, whose work handily outshines what surrounds it. And to judge from the handful of pieces on display when Artbeat stopped by, Laventhal isn't afraid of experimentation. For a couple of wall-mounted pieces, for instance, he combines acrylics on paper with resins and pieces of aged steel, to dramatic effect. The two-part Courtship Flight consists of cloud-like forms painted with a palette ranging from dark browns to pale blues, while Tectonic View uses a larger panel of metal and more angular shapes to suggest a portion of the Earth's crust. Laventhal isn't as impressive with works featuring thin pieces of brushed stainless steel perched atop black light boxes, but he strikes gold with a simple, freestanding sculpture called Fred and Ginger, which summons up the great dancers with nothing more than some mimosa branches wrapped in linen. The gallery's other standout is Beaujedar Tudzarov, who's represented by a few abstract sculptures in copper and some computer-generated giclées that use wine bottles and glasses and chess sets to mess with the viewer's sense of scale. The rest of Artists' Haven is cluttered with borderline work. Co-owner Donna Zoley creates small, meticulous oils modeled after paintings by other artists such as van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Highwayman A.E. Backus, but to what end? (Tellingly, her best piece is an original image.) Fellow owner Barbara Seigel fares a bit better with her oil landscapes, and a couple of acrylics by Barbara Copanos have a feel for light abstraction. Steer clear of the acrylic paintings and clay sculptures of Heidi Kramer, however, whose cloyingly cutesy images of cats and dogs might send you fleeing from the gallery before you have a chance to explore its subtler works. (Artists' Haven, 2757 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-630-2655.)

Although only three dozen or so pieces make up "Louise Nevelson: Selections from the Farnsworth Art Museum," this relatively lean exhibition is an excellent overview of the great Russian-born American sculptor's career. There are a few examples of the boxy (in a good way) wood assemblages that made Nevelson famous in her later years -- she died in 1988, at age 89 -- but there's a fascinating selection of works charting the evolution of her unmistakable style, including surprising oils from the 1920s and '30s and transitional sculptures in bronze, terra cotta, and stone from the '40s and '50s. The show could use more from her final decades, but as historical documentation, it's a smashing success. (Through February 13 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954-921-3274.)

Diana, A Celebration is even more lacking in actual art than 2003's Vatican show. We get battered childhood toys, a few dozen of Diana's steppin'-out gowns, photographs of the Spencer family estate, a looped tape of Elton John singing "A Candle in the Wind," a very valuable-looking tiara (the impression of value reinforced by the presence of two edgy guards hovering next to it), and the Wedding Dress. Ah, the Dress. It's big, all right. There are 25 yards of silk taffeta in it, 100 yards of tulle crinoline, and 150 yards of veil netting, and it's mounted on a faceless mannequin in a 30-foot-long glass case; every inch of its 25-foot train is on full display. But somehow it doesn't live up to the hype. Those blousy sleeves, the beaded bodice, the lacy collar, the little bows, the embroidered hemline -- they all add up to one clunker of a gown. This was before Diana discovered herself as a public figure, of course, and you're left with the impression that the royal matriarchs, Queen E. and the Queen Mum, had her tightly in their clutches. The dress must have been suffocating to wear. Pictures of Diana in it somehow bring back a long-forgotten impulse to rescue her -- to leap into that vast froth of fabric and drag her coughing and gasping back to shore -- and the show prompts a similar impulse. Can we drag the real Diana out of there? (Extended through February 6 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-525-5500.)

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