Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

So this is paradise? Apparently so, if you take the title and intention of Jeanne Hilary's documentary photographs, "Eden: A New Media Project," as any indication. Both video and stills document small town America often with playful juxtapositions (like a huge print of five yellow flashlights in the foreground of a portrait of a small building topped with a giant stuffed bear) and other times with poetic narrative (like the diptych images of rodeo cowboys roping a steer fallen in the blood-red mud). The chromogenic prints are displayed in a format so ridiculously huge (some 5-feet-by-5-feet) for the tiny space in which they are exhibited (squeezed behind the Marilyn Monroe exhibit) that less than a dozen are included, which aren't enough to encompass the scope of the project. Thankfully, the exhibit includes a small book of other images that comprise Hilary's project since, sadly, the big ones on the walls aren't the best of the lot. In conjunction with the exhibit, a public art project on Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach, a photo of a pool diver was displayed on a billboard (without any explanation or signage) next to another that advertised a gun show. The image is included in an accompanying video ("new media") on a flatscreen TV set hung on the wall like a painting. Asserting that "our ground time here will be brief," the video is a composite of images from a basketball game and the landmark Dairy Queen in West Palm Beach. Hilary's goal is to have viewers consider "their place in time, and see their environment as a historical place." Too bad a forgettable exhibit doesn't make our time and place feel as historic and remarkable as the artist intends. (Through June 3 at Boca Museum of Art, Mizner Park, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

Now on Display

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 re-packaging 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 set-up 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 and red. The mannequins in the last gallery play circus music for 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.

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.)

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