Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

The stuff is bizarre enough that you might expect to see it pried from the clinging fingers of a vintage shopping virtuoso on an episode of BBC America's What Not to Wear and tossed into the trash barrel by hosts Trinny and Susannah. It's feisty duck feathers, kinky Moroccan lamb fur, drawstring suede boots, drapes turned into capes, and everything common sense says shouldn't be worn together. But these are far from common — part haute couture, part flea market finds — paired by fashionista Iris Apfel. So back off, fashion fascists — it's art! You can too pair chunky coconut bangles with Rorschach-patterned silk without sending an "I'm nuts" message if you are an eccentric society type. A repackaging of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibit "Rara Avis: Iris Apfel and the Art of Fashion," "Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel"begins with a mock runway-show setup complete with flashing cameras, and the first gallery develops the theme. To the sounds of jazz, the gallery offers virtual Apfels — throughout the exhibit, presented as identical, white mannequins, often with the trademark owl glasses of the fashion maven — dressed in urban neutrals and posed as if seated in the audience or strutting down the catwalk. Offering more of an installation art experience than just a mere tour of wacky costumes, the exhibit's music and backdrop themes evolve with the fashion trends. So the gallery with the exotic tapestries and animal prints offers tunes with Oriental flair. The mannequins in the last gallery play circus music for its clownish displays of sparkly, ballooned jumpsuits, and acrobatically inspired counterparts. If you're inspired to hit the vintage stores and put together your own kooky attention-getter, a video interview with Apfel offers an insight into the method behind her divine madness. (Through May 27 at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)

Now on Display

American politics has pretty much become a mockery of itself, but that doesn't mean that art can't celebrate the sad state of our nation, which — founded on truth, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — is collapsing into spin, gluttony, and the pursuit of world domination. "John Alexander: New Works on Paper and Important Early Paintings" makes the statement in several ways. The artist paints jokers' masks on the fat, ugly faces of his anonymous political subjects, each with an American flag behind him or in his lapel. The subjects of this exhibit are almost entirely male, making us wonder what happened to equal opportunity for those greedy, two-faced female politicians!? It's easy to want to hate them, but you can't help but be moved by the pathos, the terror, and the desperation evident behind the masks. Some subjects are literally animals, personified by their greed such as the hog with the gaping mouth trying to swallow gold coins. A series of monkey portraits with expressions that match titles like Shy Teen, The Thinker, and Love Sick suggests the assertion that we really are nothing more than monkeys' uncles (and, even though the alliteration isn't as good, aunts!). (Through March 24 at Eaton Fine Art, 435 Gardenia St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-4766.)

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 that 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 the exhibit is comprised of portraits in relief. Depicting mostly 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 Gen. 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. Call 561-655-2833.)

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. (Through March 18 at Cornell Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922. )

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