To the jaded South Floridian eye, they might look like just more hotel art you know, those ubiquitous palm-tree portraits and sea-meets-skyscapes that adorn the walls of the rooms for hire to remind travelers where they are. These idyllic images were once all the rage in a more romantic time specifically the 1950s and '60s when folk artists in Fort Pierce eked out a living by selling their paintings roadside from their cars. "The Highwaymen," as they were accordingly dubbed, are experiencing a resurgence of popularity. Finally, they are being recognized not only by historical and cultural societies but by actual art institutions. The Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, for instance, has on exhibit works by two of the most famous Alfred Hair and Harold Newton of the 26 artists of the movement (that show continues through November 1). You can save yourself the museum admission and see more than 250 works by 21 of the Highwayman, including Mary Ann Carroll, the only woman artist included in the bunch, and James Gibson, whose work was recently commissioned by Jeb Bush for display in the governor's office. Also on display are those who influenced them, such as A.E. Backus, and those who were influenced by these self-taught African-American artists. They're sort of a throwback to the American dream not only in the idyllic landscapes themselves but in the entrepreneurial DIY spirit of the artists who painted them. It makes sense that in a troubled political climate, there'd be a renewed interest in a simpler, idealized Florida where slow-drying oil paints set the pace and life was only as complicated as a sorbet-colored sunset. (Through February 20 at Art Link International, 909 Lucerne Ave., Lake Worth. Call 561-493-1162.)
Now on Display
"World's Largest Hell Factory," the remains of a damaged Shell store sign attests (the s was blown away). You'd think that'd pretty much sum up "Mean Season Florida's Hurricanes of 2004," which documents the statewide legacies of Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. Of course, many of the photos document collateral damage ruined infrastructure, demolished homes, damaged vehicles, and wrecked boats. But there are also those that capture the human element of natural disaster. A photo of diverse hands male and female, thin and pudgy, pale and dark, single and wed raised to request plywood demonstrates the fact that calamity is undiscriminating. The exhibit takes you through a range of human responses from the grief of a young woman who lays hands on a beam of her destroyed childhood home to the resilience of an elderly man as he walks away from the mobile home that was demolished while he was in it. The exhibit also demonstrates tenderness as, for instance, a caregiver lays a kiss on the forehead of an elderly woman at a shelter. Kindnesses extend to the animal kingdom as well. Photos document townsfolk rescuing a manatee that had washed into the street, and they show spoonbills and ibises being sheltered in women's bathrooms. (Through September 23 at Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 55 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-276-9797.)
Don't think of it as commitment-phobia; think of it as curatorial caprice! Eaton Fine Art assures only one thing about its summer exhibit, "Summer Sculpture: A Changing Exhibition" that visitors will see modern sculpture by a dozen respected artists, many of them innovators in their field. Depending upon what day you visit, you may see Rosemarie Castoro's black-painted steel Portrait Flasher, Knotched Head. But don't count on it. The same goes for Bernar Venet's abstract Arc series, its individual works named for the degree and number of arcs it contains. One day, you might see 82.5º Arc x 14, its rusted steel pieces extending three feet above its pedestal; on another, you might be confronted with 237.5º Arc x 4, its black steel near-circles nested on the bare floor. There's just no telling. It's probably a safe bet, however, that the large works in the sculpture garden outside like Dennis Oppenheim's whimsical tree of flying toilets (Aerial Water Closets) will remain for the duration of the exhibit. The same is true of Donald Lipski's sculptural installation Gathering Dust, a collection of diminutive "found items" (code for garbage). Each lost or discarded item some independent (currency, candy packaging, half a book of matches) and some artfully combined (pieces of wood encircled with wire, toothpicks protruding through metal, cardboard wound around a pencil eraser) is affixed to the wall with pins with the same obsessive precision one might give a rare collection of precious items. Also on display are works of Alexander Archipenko, Alexander Calder, Nassos Daphnis, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, Patrick Ireland, Mark di Suvero, and William Zorach. (Through September at Eaton Fine Art, 435 Gardenia St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-4766.)
Now that it's summer and the locals have reclaimed their turf from the snowbirds, we have a chance to celebrate ourselves. It doesn't matter that most of us hail from somewhere else; now we're Floridians, and we're showcasing our talents in All-Florida art exhibits. The Cornell Museum at Old School Square launches the "13th Annual All-Florida Juried Fine Art Exhibition," which displays 59 works of its nearly 300 entries. Artists from Key West to St. Augustine entered works in a myriad of media watercolor, oil, acrylic, graphite, mixed media, collage, pen and ink, batik, stone, wood, and digital and traditional photography. The idyllic subtropical culture here is the theme in Old School Square Commemorative Stamp, an acrylic painting that depicts its host venue on a larger-than-life stamp. But you can also find the uglier side of Florida living images you'll never see come out of our state's department of tourism in the six-pack of photos, Postcards, that pairs images like a moldy orange with the text "Beautiful Boca Raton" or dead fish with "See Sunny Sanibel." The exhibit is not as competitive as the concurrently running Boca Museum All-Florida Show, which is exhibiting nearly the same number of the best of more than 1,000 entries, but, hey, the Boca exhibit has 42 years up on its Delray counterpart. (Through September 9 at the Cornell Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922.)
Despite the current state of affairs in the Holy Land, "Treasures From the Cornell Museum: Voices of Israel" is not an explosive exhibit nor one with its voice raised in battle cries. In fact, if anything, the 30 exhibited works of Judaica paintings, drawings, etchings, and mixed media by 20th-century Israeli artists seem to whisper prayers as they reflect spiritual traditions and biblical lore. Some are images inside a synagogue; others read like storyboards telling the continuing saga of how the Jews were plucked from the hands of their enemies like their exodus from slavery in Egypt and their salvation by Queen Esther from the evil plots of Hamen. Prominent artists Moshe Castel and Itzik Asher lend their names to this exhibit, which is mostly composed of their lesser-known compatriots and a couple of non-Israeli Jews. The Castel pieces are serigraphs rather than originals, among them El Ritual, in which six stylistic figures stand before a religious text. And the exhibit offers just one untitled Asher piece a painting rather than the sculpture he is known for from the artist's "erotic period," though there's little erotic about it. The sea creatures, the many-oared boat, and the giant eye all seem to suggest the themes he ascribes to his later "journey period." Also included is an untitled oil painting of what looks a lot like a sea anemone work by Soshana not actually an Israeli but included perhaps because of the Viennese artist's Jewish heritage; it's not quite clear. The same is true of Lennart Rosensohn, a Swedish Jew, whose hand-colored etchings are displayed. (Through September 9 at the Cornell Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922.)
George W. Bush may have famously (and incomprehensibly) once uttered that "human beings and fish can co-exist peacefully," but "Fresh From the Sea: Tairyobata and the Culture of Fishing in Japan" isn't doing anything to help improve the historically violent relationship between the two. If anything, the exhibit celebrates attacks on these marine creatures. OK, so they've got whimsically exotic names, but Tairyobata are actually large colorful flags flown from the fishing ships to celebrate the largest massacres (i.e., the big catches). And the exhibit perpetuates human violence against fish here in our homeland by displaying equipment and revealing techniques used in these fishing practices. Of course, the Japanese love eating fish once they're captured and killed, so the exhibit offers handmade dishware featuring images of fish on which they may be served post-mortem. The exhibit is a colorful variety of cultural and artistic artifacts from the skeletal remains of one creature used for people's auditory pleasure to a fish-shaped Buddhist temple wooden "sounding board" on which visitors may announce their arrival that celebrate human dominion over sea life. In sum, the exhibit is proof that we have a long way to go to improve human-fish relations before we can reach the piscine-homo sapien utopia our president believes in. (Through September 17 at Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.)
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