Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Don't let the name throw you. Project Earth Design isn't a cooperative of environmentalists, nor is it a clever moniker for a home landscaping service. It's a 3-month-old gallery of sorts on the eastern fringe of Fort Lauderdale's Gateway shopping district. And while not everything the shop sells is organic, the emphasis is on handmade, one-of-a-kind items with a certain earthiness. Elements, if it weren't already taken by a gay bar in Wilton Manors, might be a better name for the place, which deals mostly in merchandise made of wood, stone, glass, metal, and the like. There are mosaic frames, for instance, with bits of tile and colored glass -- works of art for holding other works of art. There are candles made from soy, candles set in bamboo molds, and an array of candle holders, ranging from horizontal glass tubes to slender black wood forms that arc dramatically. Gourds large and small have had intricate designs carved into their surfaces. Sleek chunks of silvery metal are ostensibly vases but could as easily pass for abstract sculpture. The most impressive medium at Project Earth is perhaps the most improbable: banana leaf fiber. Large decorative bowls and trays have been fashioned from the pulpy stuff, which can also be applied to canvas to create highly textured abstract "paintings." (For one especially impressive work, a little skyline is suggested by thin sheets of tree bark applied to the fibrous background.) Like the bulk of the store's goods, the banana-based ones come from Brazil, as do colorful necklaces and other jewelry made from what look like colored beads but are actually seeds. A few garish pieces don't quite fit into the otherwise stylish environment -- bosomy female figurines carved in wood come to mind -- and the fountains and other outdoorsy items on the courtyard aren't anything out of the ordinary. But most of what you find here you won't find elsewhere. (Project Earth Design is at 901 NE 20th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5453.)

Now on Display

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. Call 561-832-5196.)

"Andrew Wyeth: American Master," a small but fairly comprehensive retrospective of more than 50 works from a career that spans an astonishing 70 years, is one of four exhibitions now at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. If the crowd checking it out opening weekend is any indication, Wyeth's standing as the most popular living American artist remains unchallenged. Wyeth is celebrated for his portraits and his sentiment-soaked rustic scenes, but the strength of this show is in his landscapes, many of which are set in his native Pennsylvania and in Maine, where he spends his summers. Wyeth invigorates landscape by pushing it toward abstraction. This show's masterpiece is a large tempera from 1947 called Hoffman's Slough. Again, there is a landscape of sorts, a sweeping expanse of swampy countryside painted in rich, varied earth tones with black-and-white highlights. Look closely and you'll pick up on the two tiny buildings in the distance at the top of the image, the wispy dirt road in the upper left corner, a few blades of grass in the foreground. The representational details seem added almost as an afterthought. But there's no question that Wyeth knew what he was after -- and that he got it. (Through April 17 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

"Joan Miró: Illustrated Books," now at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, is a small but well-conceived exhibition focusing exclusively on the "artist's books" of one of the great Spanish surrealists. There are selections from ten such projects, which give equal weight to words and images. The words are from writers as varied as St. Francis of Assisi and William Butler Yeats, although most are from French poets Mir was exposed to while living and working in Paris. Many of the illustrations are quintessential Mir: basic forms with sharp, clean lines, painted in deep blacks and bright colors. If his style is essentially childlike doodling, as some skeptics have declared, it's childlike doodling of a very high order. The simplicity of his forms and his lack of interest in detail and depth of field mask a surprising expressiveness. (Through April 24 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Call 954-921-3274.)

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