Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

"We need to tend the garden of Mother Earth," photographer Barry Haynes urges in commentary that accompanies his "Spiritual Places" exhibit, which literally offers a mountaintop experience. The environmentalist photographer's images of mountains, lakes, sea, and sky are lovely (although the pocked, stained white bulletin boards on which the framed photos hang distract from their beauty). The pictures capture nature at its most glorious, sharing his reverence for nature with others who might not have had the opportunity to experience these wonders firsthand. Bryce Stone Woman, for example, offers a view of the exquisite rock formations of Bryce Canyon; the photographer's title results from the central formation's figurative features. Some images show human interaction with nature. Cliff Place is such a work, offering a view of ancient cliff dwellings in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. Besides being inspirational, the exhibit is also educational, offering informative placards to accompany each photo. These let the viewer know a little more about the subject — such as the canoe for which Skookum Kalitan is named that, like others of its kind, has a spirit — as well as what sort of film, equipment, and digital manipulation the image received. Running concurrently is "Haitians of Florida: The Hope and the Future," a small exhibit of student photography as part of the center's outreach to disadvantaged youth. (Through November 11 at Palm Beach Photographic Center, 55 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-276-9797.)

Now on Display

Inevitably, Giannina Coppiano Dwin ends up with ants in her pants. That's because the lacy bikinis, discretely named Untitled, are made of sugar. They are "drawn" with the loose crystals. These are among the works exhibited in "2006 South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Arts Fellowship Exhibition."The show features work from all 12 recipients of these hefty awards (some as much as $15,000). Denise Moody-Tackley's expertly tailored wedding dresses deftly raise questions about gender roles and marital expectations in the material they employ, whether it's a strapless gown made of trash bags or a corseted gown of bedspreads, sheets, and mattress cover. In fact, many of the works in this exhibit use art as a medium to raise social awareness. Some even with a sense of humor, like Tim Curtis' Please Keep Your Internal Dialogue Internal, an installation of hundreds of chalkboards of varying sizes inscribed with messages, some wise ("The great equalizer: death") and others, inane ("Clapping makes me feel like I'm contributing"). On video, documentaries by Chad Tingle, Rock Solomon, Julie Kahn, and Eric Freedman also artistically explore revolution, globalization, gentrification, and poverty. Contrasting with these weighty themes are works like Jacin Giordano's Spin, a colorful sculpture of glitter-encrusted colored pencils that have been wrapped up like a giant jelly roll and whittled to a point where thick, acrylic paint has dried into a colorful plastic wheel. (Through October 28 at Florida Atlantic University Schmidt Center Gallery and Ritter Art Gallery, Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Call 561-297-2966.)

Nothing like kicking the bucket to make others appreciate a person — and this is doubly true for artists. In May, the death of the Dutch abstract expressionist who helped found an art movement known as CoBrA (an acronym for the initial letters of the founders' cities of origin: Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam) inspired a Fort Lauderdale exhibit — "Karel Appel: In Memoriam."As far as memorials go, this is an intimate one, composed of just 11 works from the museum's permanent collection. Despite its size, the exhibit not only honors the artist but provides examples of his work in a variety of media. Though his work may be labeled abstract, it is not strictly so. Even in the ones that come the closest to being nonrepresentational, there is at least the hint of object. Using vivid colors applied in thick swipes and swirls, one untitled, undated oil painting (which is more nonspecific than abstract) might be construed as a portrait: Dark-blue splotches suggest eyes; the rectangle at the bottom could be a mouth. Most works are abstract in the art term's original meaning — the reduction of the subject to a simplified form. The works exhibited have a childlike quality in their simplicity, expressiveness, and playfulness. Big Bird With Child offers an excellent example, where the mixed-media piece uses wood to give dimension to the otherwise flat forms. (Through May 1 at Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

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 sacred space 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 Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, 1 East Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

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.)

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