Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

A well-to-do couple was scooping out sections from grapefruit halves as they wondered aloud about a Crow Indian necklace made of beaver teeth and weasel fur (circa 1815). With spoon poised just inches from her mouth, the missus stopped, turned to the mister, and said, "Oh, honey, the natives have created genuine art from such charmingly rustic garbage!" "You're right, Muffin," the mister replied. "Let us enlighten the world!" And with that mission in mind, Eugene and Clare Thaw set about gathering artifacts showing that Native American art rivals the art of other cultures. Of course, the bit about the breakfast conversation never made it into the press release (call it the product of the overactive imagination of a reporter who has class issues), but that's not to say it didn't happen. Right? "Masterpieces of Native American Art From the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection" displays 108 of more than 800 pieces from the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, which the couple collected "not for their anthropological value but for their artistic aesthetic." Organized by geographic regions, we see how natural resources influence art. For instance, the fashion of arctic and subarctic zones includes a lightweight seal-gut parka in white with festively dyed purple, red, and green triangles made of tufts of walrus fur. The hand-stitched garment shares little with a Southwestern woman's shawl, woven and embroidered in cotton. Of course, on the runways, fur is a big P.C. no-no, but here in a Native American exhibit, it becomes a mere cultural difference. We think nothing of the eagle feathers and tufts of horse hair in the 1890 Plains indian headdress or the other animal remains incorporated into these objects. So the exhibit shows us not only how the artistic sensibilities of these cultures differ from one another but from our own as well. The exhibit includes masks, weaponry, clothing, jewelry, weavings, bead work, and souvenirs, and it provides cultural commentary to explain the imagery depicted within the objects. (Through February 4 at Society of Four Arts, 2 Four Arts Plaza, Palm Beach. Call 561-655-7226.)

Now on Display

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.)

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.)

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