Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

You may finally understand the afterlife desire to go into the light once you see Matthew Schreiber's "Platonic Solids." As you ascend the stairs to the Museum of Art's second floor, Pipeline pulls you into its sanctuary as if with a divine tractor beam; its purply-blue columns of light form a majestic hall as they arc across a huge darkened gallery. A site-specific work, the installation's curve follows the lines of the museum, designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. The installation inspires viewers to continue into the ever-narrowing space, see what secrets lie at the tunnel's end. But it also guards the mystery, since the space between the columns becomes too slender to allow passage. From the far side of the gallery, the "backstage" view is lovely too — the bluish-purple light contrasts with the orange light filtering up the stairwell from the museum's lobby and the yellow light of the gallery that displays the Highwaymen exhibit. In a second installation, "Garnet Cross" (inspired by an earlier Egyptian exhibit), the Miami-based artist uses pyramids to create a kind of sacristy in an adjoining gallery. A docent's guiding flashlight will help you navigate the pitch-black "ante-chamber." Red lasers shine from ceiling to floor and create two pyramids, the top one inverted so that its point balances on the other. The docent will encourage you to enter the space, and as you do, you become an artistic collaborator, since the work changes as you move. Together, the two have a spiritual quality that instills a meditative calm — you'll feel a lot like you've gone to heaven, but without the whole messy death thing. (Through October 16 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

Now on Display

To the jaded South Floridian eye, they might look like just more hotel art — you know, those ubiquitous palm-tree portraits and sea-meets-skyscapes that adorn the walls of the rooms for hire to remind travelers where they are. These idyllic images were once all the rage in a more romantic time — specifically the 1950s and '60s — when folk artists in Fort Pierce eked out a living by selling their paintings roadside from their cars. "The Highwaymen," as they were accordingly dubbed, are experiencing a resurgence of popularity. Finally, they are being recognized not only by historical and cultural societies but by actual art institutions. The Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, for instance, has on exhibit works by two of the most famous — Alfred Hair and Harold Newton — of the 26 artists of the movement (that show continues through November 1). You can save yourself the museum admission and see more than 250 works by 21 of the Highwayman, including Mary Ann Carroll, the only woman artist included in the bunch, and James Gibson, whose work was recently commissioned by Jeb Bush for display in the governor's office. Also on display are those who influenced them, such as A.E. Backus, and those who were influenced by these self-taught African-American artists. They're sort of a throwback to the American dream — not only in the idyllic landscapes themselves but in the entrepreneurial DIY spirit of the artists who painted them. It makes sense that in a troubled political climate, there'd be a renewed interest in a simpler, idealized Florida — where slow-drying oil paints set the pace and life was only as complicated as a sorbet-colored sunset. (Through February 20 at Art Link International, 909 Lucerne Ave., Lake Worth. Call 561-493-1162.) "World's Largest Hell Factory," the remains of a damaged Shell store sign attests (the s was blown away). You'd think that'd pretty much sum up "Mean Season — Florida's Hurricanes of 2004," which documents the statewide legacies of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Of course, many of the photos document collateral damage — ruined infrastructure, demolished homes, damaged vehicles, and wrecked boats. But there are also those that capture the human element of natural disaster. A photo of diverse hands — male and female, thin and pudgy, pale and dark, single and wed — raised to request plywood demonstrates the fact that calamity is undiscriminating. The exhibit takes you through a range of human responses — from the grief of a young woman who lays hands on a beam of her destroyed childhood home to the resilience of an elderly man as he walks away from the mobile home that was demolished while he was in it. The exhibit also demonstrates tenderness as, for instance, a caregiver lays a kiss on the forehead of an elderly woman at a shelter. Kindnesses extend to the animal kingdom as well. Photos document townsfolk rescuing a manatee that had washed into the street, and they show spoonbills and ibises being sheltered in women's bathrooms. (Through September 23 at Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 55 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-276-9797.)

Don't think of it as commitment-phobia; think of it as curatorial caprice! Eaton Fine Art assures only one thing about its summer exhibit, "Summer Sculpture: A Changing Exhibition"— that visitors will see modern sculpture by a dozen respected artists, many of them innovators in their field. Depending upon what day you visit, you may see Rosemarie Castoro's black-painted steel Portrait Flasher, Knotched Head. But don't count on it. The same goes for Bernar Venet's abstract Arc series, its individual works named for the degree and number of arcs it contains. One day, you might see 82.5º Arc x 14, its rusted steel pieces extending three feet above its pedestal; on another, you might be confronted with 237.5º Arc x 4, its black steel near-circles nested on the bare floor. There's just no telling. It's probably a safe bet, however, that the large works in the sculpture garden outside — like Dennis Oppenheim's whimsical tree of flying toilets (Aerial Water Closets) — will remain for the duration of the exhibit. The same is true of Donald Lipski's sculptural installation Gathering Dust, a collection of diminutive "found items" (code for garbage). Each lost or discarded item — some independent (currency, candy packaging, half a book of matches) and some artfully combined (pieces of wood encircled with wire, toothpicks protruding through metal, cardboard wound around a pencil eraser) — is affixed to the wall with pins with the same obsessive precision one might give a rare collection of precious items. Also on display are works of Alexander Archipenko, Alexander Calder, Nassos Daphnis, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, Patrick Ireland, Mark di Suvero, and William Zorach. (Through September at Eaton Fine Art, 435 Gardenia St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-4766.)

George W. Bush may have famously (and incomprehensibly) once uttered that "human beings and fish can co-exist peacefully," but "Fresh From the Sea: Tairyobata and the Culture of Fishing in Japan" isn't doing anything to help improve the historically violent relationship between the two. If anything, the exhibit celebrates attacks on these marine creatures. OK, so they've got whimsically exotic names, but Tairyobata are actually large colorful flags flown from the fishing ships to celebrate the largest massacres (i.e., the big catches). And the exhibit perpetuates human violence against fish here in our homeland by displaying equipment and revealing techniques used in these fishing practices. Of course, the Japanese love eating fish once they're captured and killed, so the exhibit offers handmade dishware featuring images of fish on which they may be served post-mortem. The exhibit is a colorful variety of cultural and artistic artifacts — from the skeletal remains of one creature used for people's auditory pleasure to a fish-shaped Buddhist temple wooden "sounding board" on which visitors may announce their arrival — that celebrate human dominion over sea life. In sum, the exhibit is proof that we have a long way to go to improve human-fish relations before we can reach the piscine-homo sapien utopia our president believes in. (Through September 17 at Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.)

Miami Art Museum's "Big Juicy Paintings (and more): Highlights from the Permanent Collection" delivers on its provocative title with more than 50 items from the vault, along with ten loans, presumably works it hopes to acquire. As always with such grab-bags, there are clinkers, often from big names: a 1991 oil-on-wood abstract by Gerhard Richter that another artist dismissed as so much corporate décor; a surprisingly uninspired shaped canvas from 1971 by Frank Stella; even a small roomful of Joseph Cornell collages and boxes that, with one or two exceptions, fall flat. But there's plenty to compensate. Morris Louis' monumental 1958 acrylic Beth Shin is as captivating as ever, and Edouard Duval Carrié's Apotheosis of Erzulie Dantor is a delightful sprawl of mixed media. The show fares especially well with wall installations, from the shimmering acrylic cubes of Teresita Fernández's Eclipseto María Fernanda Cardoso's Cemeterio-jardín vertical(Cemetery-Vertical Garden), an assemblage of artificial white flowers wired to the wall in clusters. Most commanding of all is a loan — Enrique Martínez Celaya's massive portrait of the late Leon Golub, which MAM should be so lucky to snag. (Through September 17 at Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami, 305-375-3000.)

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