Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Playing on the utopian Golden Age, Mark Twain had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he named the United States' gaily garish post-Restoration era "the Gilded Age." A visit to the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach provides a glimpse into the lifestyles during the age that birthed the extravagant excesses of Rockefeller and Carnegie — particularly with its current exhibit. "Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age" offers a view of the work of an artist who was hot property during his day, sought after by industrialists, publishers, artists, and writers. The artist's work was so highly esteemed it was commissioned by the United States — in fact, you might have some in your pockets or tucked away in a drawer somewhere for safekeeping. Renowned for both his public monuments and his sculpted portraits, Saint-Gaudens also designed some of the nation's early 20th-century coins, some of which are on display. The exhibit isn't just small change, though most of it is comprised of portraits in relief. Depicting primarily the era's hoity-toity society folks, the bronze portraits (and a few in plaster) range from seven inches to more than three feet. A dozen sculptures in the round pay tribute to esteemed personages from the Goddess Diana to General Sherman. To include those monuments that could not be moved, such as those of Abraham Lincoln and the Shaw Memorial, photo murals have been installed. Also on display are decorative objects created by the artist, including wood panels, jewelry, plaques, and the only surviving sketch. (Through April 15 at the Flagler Museum, 1 Whitehall Way, Palm Beach. 561-655-2833.)

Now on Display

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 Clarks' 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, which looks at the Clark Art Institute in its pastoral Berkshires setting. (Through March 11 at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)

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 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. (Through March 3 at the Armory Art Center, 1700 Park Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-1776.)

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