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' countries 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, comprised of just 11 works from the museum's permanent collection. Despite its size, the exhibit not only honors the artist but also 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 paintings 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 nonspecific 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 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, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)
Now on Display
You may finally understand the afterlife desire to go into the light once you see Matthew Schreiber's "Platonic Solids." As you ascend the stairs to the Museum of Art's second floor, Pipeline pulls you into its sanctuary as if with a divine tractor beam; its purply-blue columns of light form a majestic hall as they arc across a huge darkened gallery. A site-specific work, the installation's curve follows the lines of the museum, designed by architect Edward Larrabee Barnes. The installation inspires viewers to continue into the ever-narrowing space, see what secrets lie at the tunnel's end. But it also guards the mystery, since the space between the columns becomes too slender to allow passage. From the far side of the gallery, the "backstage" view is lovely too the bluish-purple light contrasts with the orange light filtering up the stairwell from the museum's lobby and the yellow light of the gallery that displays the Highwaymen exhibit. In a second installation, "Garnet Cross" (inspired by an earlier Egyptian exhibit), the Miami-based artist uses pyramids to create a kind of sacred space in an adjoining gallery. A docent's guiding flashlight will help you navigate the pitch-black "ante-chamber." Red lasers shine from ceiling to floor and create two pyramids, the top one inverted so that its point balances on the other. The docent will encourage you to enter the space, and as you do, you become an artistic collaborator, since the work changes as you move. Together, the two have a spiritual quality that instills a meditative calm you'll feel a lot like you've gone to heaven but without the whole messy death thing. (Through October 16 at Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale, 1 East Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)
"Karel Appel: In Memoriam"
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 at Art Link International, 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 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.)
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 30 at Eaton Fine Art, 435 Gardenia St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-4766.)
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