Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Some things just get a rise out of you. "Erotic Art,"a group show of more than 30 artists, isn't necessarily one of those things. True, what arouses some may not excite others, but although this is an exhibit of a bunch of naked bodies, not all of them are erotic. The shift from a genuinely erotic piece to a less successfully rendered (and sometimes unintentionally laughable) work, well, it interrupts the rhythm and breaks the tension — and that's seldom a good thing. The show displays its bevy of sexual parts in a variety of media and styles. Many works live up to the show's title in a variety of ways. Bike Rideoffers a playful approach to a woman's legs in the air: a pair of high-heel-wearing handlebars. The Moment: Ex's and Oh's is a clever approach to orgasmic release: Like a tick-tack-toe board, nine paintings of an ecstatic woman's face comprise a single piece. There's even a lovely brass Door Knocker that takes the term "brass balls" literally, with a matching shaft. The Temptation of St. Anthony is a cartoonish painting whose humor provides a little morality tale. Many works are homoerotic — but really, who can have enough cuddling male nudes? It's an uneven show, but it's a cheap way to get your jollies. (Through October 28 at Art Expressions Gallery, 1212 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-527-7700.)

Now on Display

It's a tiny exhibit, but "Mary Cassatt: Pastels and Drawings" evokes a reaction. "Loved the collection! Wished there were more," one patron wrote in the guestbook provided for comments. "Her best works are not represented," griped another, prompting a querulous response: "That is not the point! These are works that belong to this museum!" True enough, the exhibit's nine works on paper — some just inches in dimension — are owned by or promised to the West Palm Beach museum. And true, none of them are the American Impressionist's best works. Equally true, the exhibit leaves museumgoers unsatisfied, which speaks to the caliber of the artist and her work. The collection demonstrates the artist's oeuvre — images of women and children that are tender but unsentimental, with Cassatt lavishing detail on faces but less exactingly rendering clothing or setting. The accompanying informational placards provide context. In one pastel drawing, Baby Smiling at His Mother, a nude toddler is flung across his mother's lap as he looks up with a mixture of adoration and flirtation, perhaps as a challenge to his mother's grasp on his arm. The placard tells you that the work was produced just years before the artist quit painting and that it provides an example of her mastery of color. The sketches for larger works (her series of Paris theater scenes, for instance) offer an insight into process, while a Japanese-inspired etching done early in Cassatt's career shows the artist's professional growth. True, it is a tease, but the museum's publicity makes no pretensions ("a tightly focused exhibit... nine works") about the exhibit's scope. (Through October 29 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.) 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.)

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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