Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Abstraction and figuration coexist uneasily, often within the same painting, in the output of Matthew Carone, whose recent work is now on view at Lurie Fine Art Galleries in Boca Raton. The New Jersey-born artist has been a South Florida force since 1959, when he opened the Fort Lauderdale gallery he ran for decades. Among the artists he represented was the great Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta, who became a friend and mentor. Not surprisingly, Matta's influence is much in evidence in the Lurie show, which includes about a dozen-and-a-half various-sized acrylics and takes up more than half the gallery. (Assistant director Dena Lyons says additional paintings can be seen by request.) Like the Chilean's work, Carone's is often populated by beings who have assumed only the most rudimentary human form on their journey from artist's subconscious to canvas or board. This lack of full definition characterizes Carone's best paintings, which are suggestive rather than illustrative, as in the dazzling Dialogue, a highly gestural piece featuring two vaguely defined figures huddled claustrophobically close. In this and other works here, Carone's abstract surrealism also conjures up a less obvious influence: the more stripped-down, methodical approach of Francis Bacon. The ghostly bald head that seems to float in the 12-by-9-inch portrait Suspicion, for instance, is masterly on its own but also works as Carone's take on some Bacon portraits, including his study from the life mask of William Blake. Lurie, which is one of eight galleries in Boca's Gallery Center, also currently features a batch of striking Robert Rauschenberg prints, and while you're at the complex, you might as well check out other highlights: recent hyperrealist oils by Janet Fish at Gallery Camino Real; Miró works on paper at Rosenbaum Contemporary; and glass artist Clifford Rainey's Boyhood — A Series of Mono Casts and Preparatory Drawings at Habatat Galleries. (All shows run through February 4 at Gallery Center, 608 Banyan Trl., Boca Raton. Call 561-995-7808.)

Now on Display

By Staff Writers

A few months ago, artist Aric Frons and longtime business partner Joan Martin closed their art/home furnishings gallery in Fort Lauderdale and resurfaced in Oakland Park under the name Frons/Martin Modern and Contemporary Art Collection, focusing more on fine art and less on the country Chinese antiques that were their previous specialty. The new space is still a work in progress, but it's already well worth a visit. Frons has latched onto a couple of artists whose work complements his own painting as well as that of each other. The gallery is currently dominated by large mixed-media canvases and board panels by Ron Banks, who establishes an atmosphere of order and calm by using simple lines and geometric forms; playing yin to his yang is the work of Sally Cooper, whose looser, more gestural abstracts draw on abstract expressionism and Zen calligraphy. Frons also stocks graphics by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Dalí, and Warhol, all with provenances. (Frons/Martin Modern and Contemporary Art Collection is at 1071 Floranada Rd. (NE 45th St.), Oakland Park. Call 954-772-0055.)

The small collection of pre-Columbian and ancient Mexican ceramics and sculptures currently on display at the Norton Museum of Art is aesthetically magnificent and historically significant. Earthen Images: Ceramics from Ancient America features 17 objects from six South American civilizations that flourished thousands of years before the discovery of the Americas. Three highly ornamentalized cylindrical vases sit together in a glass case, reflecting skeletal figures and organic designs in natural, subtle hues of orange, red, and cream. A sleek "Coprador"-style Maya funerary sculpture of a dog holding an ear of corn in its mouth casts an unsettling gaze at its audience. Even more disturbing is the fact that these iconographic dogs from Colima were actual hairless creatures bred as ceremonial food and companions for the afterlife. The late Pre-Classic (100 to 300 BC) figures were found in eight of every ten Maya tombs. Another creepy but fascinating object is a ladle, used during the ritual of human sacrifice. It depicts the sacred ulluchu fruit, which was believed to have anticoagulant properties, shaped into a ladle to hold the blood of sacrificial victims. These ceremonies were practiced by many pre-Columbian cultures, based on beliefs that the gods needed human blood to maintain harmony and order on Earth and in the universe. Although Earthen Images is tucked away in a small room, the installation provides a fulfilling and educational experience. (Through May 28 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196)

The mummy of Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 in a burial chamber near Luxor, Egypt, remains in its home country, as does Tut's elaborate, gold-plated sarcophagus. But 50 burial objects are now on display at the Museum of Art in "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," as well as 70 objects from other tombs and a nifty video reproduction of the grimacing mummy, revealing itself on a flat, bed-like screen with an accompaniment of spine-tingling movie music. The exhibition is shamelessly overpriced (top tickets are $30). But you can't argue with the show's artistic merit. The anonymous Egyptian sculptors and goldsmiths who created the objects to facilitate the young pharaoh's passage to the Other Side were great artists. Here, for example, is a striking, 18-inch, gilded, wood statuette of Horus the Elder, with a long, tight-fitting tunic, folded arms, straight Cleopatra tresses, and the face of a falcon. Horus, according to a book written to accompany the show by Egypt's antiquities czar, Dr. Zahi Hawass, is "a sky god linked with the ascension of the king to the stars." The statuette's creator has given him a short, predatory beak, sharply focused eyes, and a remarkable spark of life. There are the carved heads of cow goddesses, one of them leaving the graceful wood grain exposed, like fur markings. Lanky panthers are caught midstride. There's a winged sphinx, carved on a gilded ceremonial shield, trampling Nubian warriors underfoot, and a carved wood serpent goddess, its wings stretched protectively forward. And there are dozens of images of Tut himself, doe-eyed, visionary, emanating a vast calm. You begin to understand the excitement of those who broke into Tut's tomb 83 years ago. (Through April 23 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

The notorious Whistler's Mother is not among the dozen oil paintings included in "James McNeill Whistler: Selected Works from the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland," at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. It now belongs to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and it's rarely seen in the artist's native country. And maybe that's a good thing, because without the glaring spotlight of its fame to distract us, we're left to look at Whistler's work in an altogether different light. This exhibition draws on one of the world's most extensive Whistler collections and features items culled from a 40-year period. Along with those 12 oils are dozens of drawings, etchings, and lithographs, a few watercolors, and a smattering of such personal memorabilia as letters, manuscripts, and books. Aside from a couple of the oils, however, we don't get much sense of Whistler's achievement as a painter. That's a shame, because since his death in 1903, he has largely fallen out of favor, overshadowed by, for instance, impressionism, which he arguably anticipated. There's even a pale, ineffable trace of Vermeer's Street in Delft in the 1897 small oil panel The Priest's Lodging, Dieppe. But the portraits here, including a self-portrait circa 1896 and some obscure nudes, aren't of much interest. The show does include one of the series of Nocturnes painted in the mid-1870s, inspired by a favorite subject: London's Thames River at nightfall or in the evening. There's almost no attempt at realism and instead an emphasis on mood, although the artist never gives in to abstraction completely. In A Distant Dome, which he painted during a trip to Corsica near the end of his life, he comes close to suggesting the substance of a real landscape rather than just its feel. Despite Whistler's undeniable technical mastery, his overall cultural contribution seems to have been eclipsed, ultimately, by his flamboyant life and personality. This uneven exhibition from the Hunterian Gallery seeks to reclaim the artist's rightful position in art history and to restore some perspective to his reputation. It's a valiant effort, even if it's only partially successful. His mother, of course, would probably disagree. (Through April 2, at Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. 561-392-2500)

The big draw at the Boca Raton Museum of Art right now may be the Whistler show, but don't miss a smaller, less flashy exhibition tucked away on the museum's second floor in the Walter and Lucille Rubin Gallery. "Milton Avery: A Retrospective of Nudes" features not quite three dozen works, but they form a fascinating cross-section of the long, full career of this American artist. Included are oils, gouaches, and drawings in ink, charcoal, and pencil, covering the period of 1930 to 1963, two years before he died. All come from the sizeable Avery collection of the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, Florida. Avery's many influences show up here, especially the cubism of Picasso and Braque. As the artist himself neatly sums up: "I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter." Indeed, the fact that the works included here all portray nudes is almost incidental — the pull of abstraction is present in most of the pieces, regardless of the artist's style of the moment. As one text panel emphasizes, Avery was something of a workhorse whose motto was "Keep painting - day in, day out. Be absorbed by it." Critic Barbara Haskell writes that Avery "viewed painting as a duty" and "likened himself to a shoemaker — working every day, regardless of mood or inspiration." Such dedication to the work is admirable, even if it also guarantees that Avery's output is uneven. Still, this slight show is, in its own way, more satisfying than the Whistler exhibition downstairs. (Through April 2 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, 561-392-2500.)

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