Artbeat

Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Kimonos are too lovely to be trusted; surely, they have something up their long, silky sleeves. "The Secret Life of Japanese Textiles" brings their mysteries out into the open, unveiling not only these traditional vestments commonly associated with Japanese culture but also their lesser-known counterparts. For instance, the Ni Kumi firefighter's jacket, which mimics the robe shape of the kimono, including the long, wide sleeves, seems to offer a magnificent way to go up in flames. In addition to apparel, the exhibit offers an array of fabric-created pieces — from bed covers to horse wear — including a Boss's Day banner, which proves that brown-nosing spans the cultures. The curator's accompanying text says the weaving and dyeing techniques used to produce the images in the fabrics, like the genji (oxcart) wheels in water motif on one kimono, reflect the Japanese aesthetic; the blurred edges are part of the appeal. Any fashion bug knows that clothes make only half the man or woman; fabulous hair is also a must. So showing concurrently is "Japanese Combs." More than something to arrange the hair, the combs are decorative works of art to be worn in upswept tresses. Adorned with lacquer, gold, and delicately painted designs and inlaid with mother-of-pearl and coral, these combs of ivory, tortoise shell, and wood create an exhibit with teeth to it. (Through June 10 at the Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.) — Marya Summers

Now on Display

"You come for the exhibit and you get a whole city," museum educator Brandy Brownlee told me enthusiastically on a guided tour of "The Good News Gospel Exhibit" at Spady Cultural Heritage Museum. The first floor, formerly the dining room and living room of the home of community leader and educator Solomon D. Spady, houses the traveling gospel exhibit with a modest collection of posters, promotional photos, and songbooks. Curated by Sante Fe Community College professor Sherry Sherrod Dupree, who wrote the accompanying 1992 book on the subject, the exhibit offers memorabilia that range from the 1902 poster of the Sons of Harmony of Gainesville, Florida, to the text-only rainbow-colored 1990s concert posters. The exhibit's promotional materials promise the personalities of gospel's golden era (the 1940s to the 1960s) and deliver with likenesses of such performers as Sister Rosetta Tharpe (the glamorous diva forerunner of Mahalia Jackson), Aretha Franklin, and more. The "whole city" visitors get is West Delray Beach in its early days, exhibited permanently on the second story of the 1926 mission-style home. Photographs and cultural artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when the African-American community was still segregated from its white counterpart east of Swinton) offer discussion prompts for the docents, who give unscheduled tours for all visitors. Photographs of structures (the first churches and homes) and people (including those of young ladies in formal gowns on the day of their piano recital and young gentlemen with their tennis racquets) demonstrate a thriving African-American community. (Through June 26 at Spady Cultural Museum, 170 NW Fifth Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-279-8883, or visit www.spadymuseum.org.)

For evidence that great things can come in small packages, check out "Pleasure From Their Presence: Chinese Bird and Flower Paintings," a micro-exhibition in a tiny side gallery at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. It includes only seven works, all culled from a University of Michigan Museum of Art show: fans, hanging scrolls, and album leaves with self-descriptive titles, presented with as much care and attention to detail as any larger exhibition (the space is painted a somehow-perfect brilliant red). The earliest item is The Peach Blossom Spring, a 1542 fan mounted as an album leaf; as the wall text notes, the painting is by Qiu Ying, with calligraphy by Wen Zhengming, both from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A Ming piece from just 70 years later, Chen Zun's Cat Under Flowers, is a dramatically different image of a ghostly cat nestled among rocks, flowers, and grasses, all portrayed in swift, broad strokes that are more suggestive than illustrative. Jump forward into the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and there are two lovely mid-18th-century album leaves of a day lily and a lotus by Jin Nong, identified as one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, whose patrons were wealthy salt merchants. From the 18th Century, Li Shan's Day Lily and Bulb is an album leaf mounted on a hanging scroll, a starkly beautiful small rectangle that seems to float on its pale-blue silk backdrop. Perhaps most exotic of all is Bird on a Bamboo Branch, a fan painting with imagery on one side and calligraphy on the reverse. It's attributed to Lang Shining, the name adopted by Giuseppe Castiglione, an 18th-century Italian Jesuit who was assigned to China and became court painter to three generations of Manchu emperors. There's a novel's worth of intrigue in that one tidbit of information. (Ongoing at the Norton Museum of Art, 1401 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)

As the title indicates, "Georgia O'Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction," now at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, is a tightly focused look at a very specific component of its subject's output — her highly varied use of more or less circular forms in more or less abstract works. That may sound like a gimmicky premise, but curator Jonathan Stuhlman, formerly of the Norton, has put together a small but disproportionately thrilling exhibition that provides new revelations about one of America's most important 20th-century artists. It's an abbreviated retrospective, really, with apt examples from all major phases of O'Keeffe's long, prolific career. The work flows both chronologically and thematically, with text panels that illuminate the artist as well as her connections to (and contrasts with) other artists. There are nearly 50 pieces, mostly oils, supplemented by watercolors, charcoals, pastels, graphite drawings, and a pair of white-lacquered bronze sculptures. The subjects run the full O'Keeffe gamut: flowers, leaves, rocks, pieces of fruit, bones, landscapes both urban and rural, and other items that defy classification. And amazingly, the artist was no less daring at the start of her long haul — she was born in 1887 and died a year short of her centennial — than she was near the end. It's an exhibition full of high points. (Through May 6 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1401 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)

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