Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

It's not only first impressions but Impressionists that are important. So the dozen works that comprise "Collecting the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute" are given the star treatment. Exhibited in a shrine-like experience where each work is illuminated, they radiate with light — the very thing that these artists are renowned for capturing in their paintings. It's a small but impressive exhibit of works selected to demonstrate the remarkableness of a much larger collection. Among the Clark's favorites was Renoir, whose paintings dominate the exhibit, including the collectors' first Impressionist acquisition, Girl Crocheting. As in his other paintings, the movement of paint and its striking coloring practically animates the artist's work so that his subjects come alive, whether portraits (including a self-portrait) or still lifes. The exhibit also includes Monet and Pissarro landscapes, a Manet still life, a Degas ballerina scene, and a Morisot portrait. Seeing the originals makes you realize why these artists' paintings are some of the most popular poster reprints. It also makes it clear how much is lost in reproduction. Accompanying the exhibit is a ten-minute film, Art in Nature, that looks at the Clark Art Institute in its pastoral Berkshires setting in Williamstown, Massachusetts. (Through March 11 at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)

Now on Display

Gifted former Art and Culture Center of Hollywood curator Samantha Salzinger returns for a guest stint at her old digs with "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice," which, according to her intro, "examines the identity of the contemporary woman" by way of "female artists using the medium of photography to investigate the notion of what it means for a woman in a post-feminist society to be a stay-at-home mom, a beauty queen, or compete in 'man's' work." The show includes only three photographers, whose collective take on what might be termed "third-wave feminism" mostly skitters across the surfaces of the subject. Gail Albert-Halaban covers the stay-at-home mom territory with mostly generic images, while Rachel Papo's journalistic portraits of female Israeli soldiers lay claim to women doing "man's" work. The exhibition's real star is Colby Katz (staff photographer for New Times Broward/Palm Beach), whose shots of pint-sized beauty queens are as fascinating as they are disturbing. Katz shoots her young subjects not exactly in closeup and not exactly from a distance. She settles instead on a midrange perspective that yields distinct advantages. We get close enough to see how horrifically made-up and coifed these children are, and we're at enough of a remove to appreciate how their little gowns and bathing suits sexualize them far beyond their years. (On display through March 25 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954-921-3274.)

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, contrasting 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 is something people "try on" but don't commit to since 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. (Through March 3 at the Armory Art Center, 1700 Park Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-1776.)

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.)

Graham Flint's mural-sized photographs aren't just artistic — they're scientific. That's why they feel like portals to other places rather than mere photographic evidence that those places exist. It's almost surreal. No mere virtual reality, the images provide a kind of meta-reality. In New York Cityscape at Night (2006), for instance, the image is so crisp, so lifelike, that you actually feel like you're flying over the Big Apple and experiencing it firsthand. Pick up one of the magnifying glasses provided by the museum and you'll find that you can actually see even more detail — almost like you were looking at the urban setting with a pair of binoculars. Unlike other photographs that lose resolution as you get closer, these maintain their clarity. That's because Flint is not only a shutterbug; he's also a physicist, and among his inventions is a high-resolution camera — a Gigapxl camera — that he designed and built in 2001. Since then, he has used his invention to capture images of the good ol' USA. You'd think the exhibit would be an excellent way to see the country without all the hassles of travel. But only four of the 13 photographs that comprise "Portrait of America: Images From the Gigapxl Project,"at the Boca Museum, are from out of state. So, other than the NYC skyline, a couple of images of a Louisiana state park, and another of a Padre/White Sox game (which provides a fascinating opportunity to use the magnifier to study the crowd's expressions and postures), it's really more of an opportunity to get up-close and personal with Florida while experiencing a technological breakthrough in photographic documentation. (Through April 1 at Boca Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

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 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., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

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