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By John Thomason
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Girls' Club Collection is a large industrial art space inside a converted warehouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale, miles inland from the beach. So it is a tad disjointing to hear a soothing ocean breeze, the cooing of seagulls, and an endlessly rolling tide floating down from the mezzanine and echoing off the high ceilings.
If one follows the sounds, the quiet, sleep-machine ambience grows slightly more tumultuous, the increased proximity giving higher definition to the seagulls' shrieks and the looped crashing of wave after wave. The sounds come from one of only two video pieces on view at the gallery, Endless Ocean (2011) by Latvian-born artist Diana Shpungin. This is a hand-drawn, monochromatic animation depicting her father at the seashore, clad in swim briefs and clutching the leg of a seagull suspended in midflight as it frantically flaps its wings. As the video replays, a complicated sense of yearning emerges from the juxtaposition of the minimal natural imagery and aural atmosphere with the ambiguous sadism of the father's gesture.
An exhibition dedicated to the age-old practice of drawing and the role of "the line" in contemporary art could have come across as one-dimensional or passé, as the art world is increasingly focuses on digital media, mass spectacle, and public space. Yet "Following the Line," curated by Miami gallerist Carol Jazzar from the Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz private collection, succeeds at reminding us of the power and relevance of drawing. The medium may not be glamorous, but it communicates immediacy and intimacy, partly because of the closeness to the artist's hand and inner world.
117 NE Second St.
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Category: Art Galleries
Region: Fort Lauderdale
Shpungin's animation is one of 46 line-based pieces in the show, which features 30 artists, mostly women, from nearly 15 countries, including a few strong local picks. Graphite, ink, colored pencil, layered mylar, etching, and aquatint are the materials, essential and direct, that allow the artists to quickly commit a fleeting concept or feeling to paper or get down a first sketch as part of a much longer process.
Process is a strong thematic string tying together the collection of delicately and meticulously rendered drawings. Works like Julie Mehretu's Rogue Ascension (2002), Felice Grodin's The Collaboration (2012), and Joanne Greenbaum's Untitled (Orange and Blue) (2007) employ complex, systematic layering approaches to create abstract compositions that reflect chaotic cityscapes, cartographic systems, and architectural structures. Miami artist Karen Rifas' Random Numbers to Be Repeated Until Two Sets Match (2009) choreographs thread into geometric patterns to explore relationships between material and form, order and chaos, geometry and chance.
The idea of process comes into play again in the selection of works. Archetypically feminine themes of sexuality, pregnancy, and motherhood are reflected, but just as tasteful complements to an exhibition touching on a wide range of concepts and themes. Of particular interest are Jamaican-born Shoshanna Weinberg's three drawings depicting female body parts distorted, malformed, and mutated or tied up and constricted with rope. The striking images are a comment on the awkwardness females endure growing up and the psychological impacts of stereotypes in a beauty-obsessed society.
When large private collections are opened to the public, we sometimes get a peek at high-profile or historically significant works. In this case, Pregnant Woman (2008) by Louise Bourgeois, the first female artist to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, makes a nice addition to the show. The gauche-on-paper illustration, produced when Bourgeois was 97 years old, depicts the profile of a pregnant woman, the unborn infant suspended head-down and arms outstretched, an expression of a mother's love as both nurturing and prison-like.
Miami artist Naomi Fisher's Untitled, (Making Fire, Venezuela) (2000) depicts a dark-haired, snarling woman hunched over in the wilderness and striking stones. Jazzar thoughtfully placed it near Prague artist Klara Kristalova's series of three ink drawings, which used the doubling and displacement of limbs and faces to explore identity with a darker, childlike imagination. Jen Stark's colored-paper explosion What Does Organic Matter? (2008) is unprocessed yet hypnotizing. The origins and intentions of Tara Donovan's radiant, crystalline growth patterned Untitled (2002) are literally traceable with a finger.
Less interesting were selections from Georgia-born artist Mel Kadel, whose ink and collage illustrations depicting straw-haired girls in Mary Janes traversing whimsical, nightmarish scenes in muted pallets called to mind Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. The cartoonish depictions in Beatriz Monteavaro's Outer Space series also left little impression.
In her catalog essay on the exhibition, Girls' Club Creative Director Michelle Weinberg postulates: "Is a hand-drawn mark the most spontaneous method of illustrating a thought? A mouse click or a finger swipe may be more efficient and can be accomplished without the dexterity required to maneuver a pen or pencil. A piece of paper may no longer be at hand as easily nowadays as a smartphone."
In today's media-saturated world, more and more computer programs attempt to bridge distances among artist, art, and viewer. But one of art-making's most basic tools — the line — might still accomplish this best of all.