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In the small brochure that accompanies "The Return of the Magenta," German artist Henning Haupt calls his latest body of work "a color-space construction in which the three-dimensional physical form is generated out of a visual color space composition." In person, walking through the large-scale installation, he says a little more accessibly, "It's all about the materials and how they interact with the space."
The space, in this case, is one of the two cavernous warehouses known as the Projects. They're part of FAT Village, the thriving district of art studios and related enterprises that has sprung up in downtown Fort Lauderdale, mostly along NW First Avenue and NW Fifth Street. Haupt's one-man show, housed in the southernmost building of the Projects, includes drawings, paintings, and a massive construction that almost defies description — not that I won't try.
Paintings of various sizes and two suites of huge drawings — 65 inches by 59 inches — are displayed along the north and south walls of the space. But it's the big... thing in the center that draws viewers inexorably to it. It's unavoidable when one walks in the door: a sprawling mass of wooden beams supporting upright but tilted panels made of plywood, configured in a shape that's hard to immediately grasp.
One likely response is amazement. The layout invites curious viewers to walk around the structure to figure out what the thing is. They're meant to experience this external armature first — to see how the sausage is made, so to speak.
Eventually the dramatic curves of this outer framework yield to a wide opening, and viewers can literally walk into the piece. Those contiguous panels, it turns out, are painted on the inside, with each panel bleeding into the next to form a more or less continuous ribbon of colors and patterns. Even the panels themselves are not all what they initially seem — many of them have been cut into two or three pieces that are strategically angled, both to interrupt and to accentuate the flow of the installation.
It's all very ambitious and ingeniously complicated, and so it comes as no surprise to learn that Haupt's Ph.D. is in engineering or that he is an architecture professor at Florida Atlantic University. The artist says he has previously done similar works on a much smaller scale, but it took a perfect storm of circumstances — a large enough space, appropriate funding, and the time and energy to put it together — to pull off a project this size.
There is an inevitability about Haupt's work here, a sense that, once all the components were available, he had to make "The Return of the Magenta." It's the kind of visionary fervor that led another German, filmmaker Werner Herzog, to drag a real ship across a mountain for his Fitzcarraldo.
As impressive as the scale of Haupt's endeavor is, however, I'm ultimately drawn more to the individual works that line the walls: the paintings and, especially, the drawings. The former owe a great deal to color-field painting and such artists as Morris Louis and Mark Rothko, as well as abstract expressionism; the latter display an extraordinary feel for the line that can come only from a combination of instinct and formal technique, spontaneity and discipline.
Haupt is one of two recent additions to the Third Avenue Art District, which has its annual art walk from 6 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, February 4. That means his Fort Lauderdale studio, as well as those of ten fellow artists, will be open to the public. The Museum of Art|Fort Lauderdale and the Girls' Club gallery will also participate.
The loose-knit group that makes up the Art District has taken shape over the course of the past 14 years. For many of those years, nine artists were involved; they recently invited Haupt and Michel Pellus, a French-Canadian realist painter, to join them.
The newcomers are welcome additions to a set of diverse artists that includes nary a stinker. In a sense, printmaker and mixed-media artist Rosanna Saccoccio is its pioneering matriarch, having first established her studio at the edge of downtown more than 40 years ago.
Her cohorts include Tobey Archer, best-known for her light-based art; abstract painter Madeline Denaro; collagist Janet Gold, whose body of work also includes photography and oil pastels; Francie Bishop Good, who works in a variety of media; sculptor and mixed-media artist Tin Ly; architect Margi Glavovic Nothard; painter Mary Lou Siefker; and Wilma Bulkin Siegel, known for her watercolor portraiture.
About half of these artists have won well-deserved South Florida Cultural Consortium fellowships, and I've followed the work of all of them for years. I've also been on the art walk several times, and there are few ways in this area to take in so much first-rate art in one night. And it's free — the tour, not the art itself, most of which is for sale. For a map and additional information on this one-night event, visit thirdavenueartdistrict.com.