Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

"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, 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.)

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