Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

The zen of tedium can produce the sweetest fruit. "Yozo Hamaguchi: Father of the Modern Mezzotint" proves it, though the contemplative exhibit might easily be overlooked, tucked in a quiet corner behind the flagrant Marilyn Monroe exhibit at the Boca Museum. You really would be missing something. The Japanese artist (1909-2000) renders his cherries, watermelons, and other natural subjects using a complex printing medium that is so labor-intensive that it has traditionally been used for practical reproductions rather than creative purposes. The method produces a velvety black background on which the artist displays colorful objects that are poetic (distilled down to their essentials like haiku) in their simplicity. The mezzotint process produces subtle color gradations that in Hamaguchi's hands give his subjects an otherworldly glow, infusing them with a spirituality not typically associated with produce. Presenting its little red orbs in a vertical line, Twenty-Two Cherries explores variation both in the fruits' stems and clefts and in the two little dissident cherries who have gotten out of line — an exploration he takes one step further in six other prints that are identical except for cherry and stem colors. The effect is that we are first aware of similarities and then of the differences that distinguish each cherry, each print. Exploring the emotional quality of color is ideal for this printing medium. For instance, the only thing that distinguishes Bottle With Lemon and Red Wall from Bottle With Lemon in Darkness (besides their titles) are the colors, the yellows becoming less vivid and the red wall, gray in the second print. The medium also makes an excellent vehicle to consider process. Lady Bird and Leaf provides us with a series of different hued squares in different "stages" of completion. Some depict ladybugs while some provide just a circle but no defining ladybug dots. In this way, we can contemplate the form rather than just the objects themselves. (Through February 18 at Boca Museum, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-5200.)

Now on Display

Binding mortality, relationships, and blessings together poetically in one exhibit, Marsha Christo's "Contemporary Approaches to Printmaking"explores the art of replication. Using a variety of printing approaches — silk-screens, stencils, woodblock stamps, and plaster and rubber relief prints — the Albanian-American artist shows the power of printmaking to explore an image within different contexts. The obsessive repetition of images — hands, butterflies, and a male-female couple — allows each to take on new symbolic meaning, giving it more depth. For instance, the many hands in her Mortality series are printed in sepia and gray tones on beige silk that also has hands quilted into them; the delicate fabric, the color scheme, the erratically stitched quilting express a fragile human quality. In contrast, Blessings Brighten as They Fly uses a more colorful palette to render a pair of hands with Mendhi patterns on them as they release butterflies — symbolically suggesting that our happiness lies in our own hands. Running concurrently is "One Thousand and One Nights," an intriguing, mixed-media installation of 1,001 collages on a single, 60-foot "magic carpet." Artist Grace Leal began work on the images in 2003 (the same year the U.S. declared war on Iraq) and juxtaposes images of war (missiles, soldiers, planes) with others that are comparatively frivolous (cupcakes, martini olives, gnomes), each collage on an Oriental carpet background to produce a surreal effect. Also showing is "20/20 Juried Exhibit,"a group show of 20 artists and 20 works of art, each less than 20 inches. (Through January 13 at Armory Art Center, 1700 Parker Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-1776.)

The seven photographers included in "Before the Camera: Remaking Reality and the Make-believe" confront the notion of realism versus illusion with often startling ingenuity. In this small but stunning exhibition, now at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, they steer clear of ordinary digital manipulation in favor of more sophisticated ways of exploring the medium's possibilities. Their means differ dramatically, which makes the show's concision and coherence even more impressive. The artists: Americans David Levinthal and James Casebere, who work with miniatures that they conspire to pass off as life-size realities; hot young German Thomas Demand, who works with meticulously assembled 3-D models made of colored paper; Cindy Sherman, perhaps the best-known artist here, whose trio of shots is from her familiar series of self-portraits as other people; Brit Gillian Wearing, whose large images are ostensibly portraits of family members but are really self-portraits in disguise; young Brazilian Vic Muniz, who creates an ingenious hybrid of fine art and photography by drawing famous photos from memory, then photographing the results. The show's star is Gregory Crewdson, an American whose elaborately staged shots suggest narratives that might go on indefinitely — each is like a movie still that somehow encompasses the entire film. (Through January 7 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)

"William Wegman: Funney/Strange," now at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, is a sprawling career retrospective of the artist best-known for Polaroids of his dogs, usually dressed up in outrageous outfits or posed in unusual situations. The show doesn't lack for examples of this work with the photogenic Weimaraners, which also turn up in videos and the occasional painting. Although these pooch pics are by far the most famous portion of the artist's output, the works included here (more than 200) include paintings, drawings, collages, artist books, and altered black-and-white photos. Through it all runs a thread of conceptualism, a sort of hyper-self-consciousness. In the past decade or so, Wegman has taken to creating mixed-media paintings with existing post cards as their starting point, expanded upon into much larger, more complex images — an approach that is sometimes flat-out ingenious. These paintings alone might have made a fully satisfying exhibition. As it is, "Funney/Strange" feels overstuffed, a premature career retrospective for an artist who, at 63, hasn't earned it just yet. The show is not only exhaustive but also exhausting. (Through January 28 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)

Don't be too quick to dismiss it as just a college poster exhibition. And don't knock yourself if you find yourself enjoying FAU's exhibit more than, let's say, a show of "important" works by "serious" artists. There's a reason this stuff is appealing — it's advertising, baby. "Graphic Noise: Art at 1,000 Decibels" and "The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice, and the Environment, 1964-2005" demonstrate that the most popular art isn't done on inspiration but on commission... just like in Renaissance times, when artists cranked out religious art for the church. Those with the dough get glorified in art, so it's no surprise that there are nearly five times as many contemporary rock 'n' roll posters for the "Graphic Noise" exhibit (500) than socially conscious ones for its "Graphic Imperative" counterpart (111). Even if you're not a fan of specific bands, you may still fall in love with their promotional artwork. For instance, a beautiful blond woman with her hair in carefree wisps shows off her assets in a clingy black outfit with a plunging neckline in Duran Duran's 2005 Los Angeles concert poster by Tara McPherson. Or maybe you're more into indie-rocker chicks like the one who scrapes her nails down the wall of an art gallery; on her arm, a tattoo of a winged red heart with Elvis written inside it to demonstrate her devotion to Elvis Costello in a poster by Leia Bell that announces his 2005 Salt Lake City show. Unlike the concert posters, the ones designed to help improve the world also provide a bit of a history lesson. For instance, in Lorraine Schneider's 1967 Vietnam War-protest artwork (which was used on a war-protest Mother's Day card sent to the White House), a flower blooms in red and black, and the text decries, "War is not healthy for children and other living things." Some make statements about today's concerns, like the AES Group's New Freedom, a photographic image of the Statue of Liberty dressed in a burqa and holding the Qur'an. Others, like Seymour Chwast's End Bad Breath (1967), which shows Uncle Sam with a mouthful of planes bombing homes, show that some issues have endured. Because many of these posters are silk-screened images, it's also an excellent opportunity to explore the medium. (Through January 27 at Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt Gallery, 555 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Call 461-297-2661.)

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, comprised 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 non-specific 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., Ft. Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

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