Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Titillating us with a parental warning that the exhibit may be unsuitable for children, "Have a Nice Bidet" showcases the work of the Armory Art Center's five artists in residence and contrasts the beautiful and whimsical with the ugly and depraved. Ernie Sandidge paints fairies, mermaids, and a satyr and nymph as his subjects, but he catches his subjects with their pants down — literally — as his studies juxtapose everyday nudity (casually postured models in various states of undress) with the realm of fantasy (models are always depicted with wings or a tail). It seems to suggest that magic and divinity are something people "try on" but don't commit to because they are mired in their mortality. Brian Somerville's ceramic creatures are a sort of sculptural Animal Farm as his animals oppress and confront one another. For instance, a tortured pig is tethered to a crate by a demonic terrier (Revenge Is Best in Small Doses), and a large donkey brays madly at an emaciated cat (The Pussy Cat and the Wild Ass). Chris Ricardo's work — drawing, sculpture, and painting — is obsessed with sexuality and perversion, whether it is his sadomasochistic bronzes or his reinterpretation of Japanese paintings. Stephen Futej lifts the exhibit into a Seuss-like fantasy of stoneware. From a practical standpoint, these are vases (thanks to long "necks" and "orifices"), but they beg to be considered sculptures instead. Some works are abstract beasts with imaginative titles (Loose Caboose Goose and The Ostrich Effect), while others are just metaphoric (The Meaning of Dire). Rishar Miranda's jewelry just happens to be small-scale, semiprecious sculpture that can be worn. The exhibit is a provocative array of work, but it won't actually clean your backside. (Through March 3 at the Armory Art Center, 1700 Park Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-1776.)

Now on Display

Demonstrating that sabbaticals really are more than just a fancy word for a vacation from academia, Professor Carol Prusa returns from a yearlong absence with an exhibition of new works, "Drawn In/Drawn Out." Her images here are delicate and organic — sometimes floral, sometimes vaginal, and sometimes cellular. Though billed as a show of drawings, the artist's approach pushes the boundaries of the medium so that it takes on painterly qualities. The images float in suspension as the silverpoint and graphite take on the fluidity of watercolors. Repeating patterns in all her work, Prusa must have contorted her face in a wry smile when she titled An Awful Rowing, an eight-foot work that meticulously repeats an organic form from a slightly shifted perspective each time so that the rows finally form a large bowl for two flowers to grow in. The theme of fertility is also captured in her use of mirror images that suggest the coupling of sexual reproduction. But it's all done subtly, almost like scientific illustrations. Prusa's work also has an eye on the three-dimensional in more than just the shading of her forms. For instance, in three individual works (displayed as a lovely triptych), the artist uses wood ovals as a background for her images; the edges are sanded so that the strata of wood give warmth and solidity to the otherwise colorless and fluid forms. (Through February 24 at Ritter Gallery, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Call 561-297-2661.)

In case you needed more proof that celebrity gives a person a big head, here's "Gerry Gersten: Face to Face," an exhibit of caricatures by the guy who was once an illustrator for Mad Magazine, capturing the enormous mugs of entertainment celebs and political personages. For instance, Willie Nelson's big melon — with a facial expression that's either startled or disgusted — is four times the size of his guitar. Unlike the photographs approved by the agents of today's celebrities to show them only at their most flattering, the 52 portraits by Gersten, whose line drawings have also appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek, capture the quirks and exploit the unique flaws of their subjects (sort of like the paparazzi but without the fistfights and car crashes). For instance, Woody Allen, drawn in profile, has a schnoz the size of Manhattan. Other images provide, in their artful exaggeration, a sort of public service, like the one of Billie Holiday and her horsy choppers, which reminds us to see the dentist. Showing concurrently in the upstairs gallery, "Gathering of Kuumba" brings together the artwork of regional African-American, Haitian, and Caribbean artists. New this year for the seventh-annual showcase is the "Children of Kuumba," Palm Beach County students of similar ethnic origin who present their work alongside their elders'. (Through March 18 at Cornell Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922. ) "The Peacock's Feather: Male Jewelry of Old Japan" doesn't actually contain any colorful plumage. It's just a metaphor for how 18th- and 19th-century Japanese men called attention to themselves by displaying their finery (it's only the male peacock that has those lovely feathers). The exhibit displays a fine selection of intricately carved miniatures — some just an inch in length — of bone, ivory, and wood that were used to attach other fashion accessories to their kimono sashes. The museum's exhibit offers informational cards that explain the imagery of each object and how it relates to Japanese culture — so you get to enjoy the artistry as you learn about aesthetics, values, and lore. For instance, Kiyohime and the Temple Bell depicts a figure cowering inside a bell encircled by a monstrous serpent. This references the story of a young woman who fell in love with a monk who refused her advances and hid from her beneath a temple bell, until her passion became hatred and transformed her into a hideous monster and her rage incinerated them both. The show also displays tobacco cases and pipe cases, which might not seem like jewelry to 21st-century Americans, but the symbolically adorned lacquered boxes and carved cases were fashion statements for the Japanese men two and three centuries ago. Running concurrently, "Traditional Japanese Ceramics" features 64 pieces that demonstrate the myriad techniques in ceramics, a medium used in Japan before anywhere else in the world. The selection ranges from rustic, unglazed stoneware to elegant, glazed porcelain, to sensual, marbleized clay. (Through March 18 at the Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.) "Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe," a sensory overload of an exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, includes roughly 300 works in various media by more than 80 artists. The emphasis is on photography — as befits a woman whose most enduring love affair was with the camera — and even the nonphotographic works are inspired by or influenced by either still photos or motion pictures. The show includes the work of such acclaimed photographers as Eve Arnold, Peter Beard, Cecil Beaton, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman, and many others, as well as the famous silk prints by Andy Warhol and other paintings and sculptures. Some of the artists seem less interested in Monroe herself than in her potential as raw artistic material to be manipulated. Much has been made, and continues to be made here, over Monroe's iconic status as a product of her dramatic rise and fall, culminating in a tragic, mysterious death 45 years ago that froze her at age 36 in our collective memory. We are mesmerized by her, according to this view, because she is eternally young and ageless, her beauty preserved like an insect in amber. No doubt that is part of her apparently perennial appeal. But it's also a bit sad that none of the art included here takes the imaginative leap to envision an elderly but still elegant Monroe (although a couple of artists use the famous photo of her taken just after her death as a starting point to harrowing, even ghoulish, effect). (On display through April 1 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

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