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

"Eden: A New Media Project"
"Eden: A New Media Project"
"Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel"
"Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel"

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.)

"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 — which he designed and built in 2001. Since then, he has used his invention to capture images of the good ol' U.S.A. 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 Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, 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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