It's a tiny exhibit, but "Mary Cassatt: Pastels and Drawings" evokes a reaction. "Loved the collection! Wished there were more," one patron wrote in the guestbook provided for comments. "Her best works are not represented," griped another, prompting a querulous response: "That is not the point! These are works that belong to this museum!" True enough, the exhibit's nine works on paper some just inches in dimension are owned by or promised to the West Palm Beach museum. And true, none of them are the American Impressionist's best works. Equally true, the exhibit leaves museumgoers unsatisfied, which speaks to the caliber of the artist and her work. The collection demonstrates the artist's oeuvre images of women and children that are tender but unsentimental, with Cassatt lavishing detail on faces but less exactingly rendering clothing or setting. The accompanying informational placards provide context. In one pastel drawing, Baby Smiling at His Mother, a nude toddler is flung across his mother's lap as he looks up with a mixture of adoration and flirtation, perhaps as a challenge to his mother's grasp on his arm. The placard tells you that the work was produced just years before the artist quit painting and that it provides an example of her mastery of color. The sketches for larger works (her series of Paris theater scenes, for instance) offer an insight into process, while a Japanese-inspired etching done early in Cassatt's career shows the artist's professional growth. True, it is a tease, but the museum's publicity makes no pretensions ("a tightly focused exhibit... nine works") about the exhibit's scope. (Through October 29 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)
Now on Display
We need to tend the garden of Mother Earth," photographer Barry Haynes urges in commentary that accompanies his "Spiritual Places" exhibit, which literally offers a mountaintop experience. The environmentalist photographer's images of mountains, lakes, sea, and sky are lovely (although the pocked, stained white bulletin boards on which the framed photos hang distract from their beauty). The pictures capture nature at its most glorious, sharing his reverence for nature with others who might not have had the opportunity to experience these wonders firsthand. Bryce Stone Woman, for example, offers a view of the exquisite rock formations of Bryce Canyon; the photographer's title results from the central formation's figurative features. Some images show human interaction with nature. Cliff Place is such a work, offering a view of ancient cliff dwellings in Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. Besides being inspirational, the exhibit is also educational, offering informative placards to accompany each photo. These let the viewer know a little more about the subject such as the canoe for which Skookum Kalitan is named that, like others of its kind, has a spirit as well as what sort of film, equipment, and digital manipulation the image received. Running concurrently is "Haitians of Florida: The Hope and the Future," a small exhibit of student photography as part of the center's outreach to disadvantaged youth. (Through November 11 at Palm Beach Photographic Center, 55 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-276-9797.)
"Mary Cassatt: Pastels and Drawings"
Inevitably, Giannina Coppiano Dwin ends up with ants in her pants. That's because the lacy bikinis, discretely named Untitled, are made of sugar. They are "drawn" with the loose crystals. These are among the works exhibited in "2006 South Florida Cultural Consortium Visual and Media Arts Fellowship Exhibition." The show features work from all 12 recipients of these hefty awards (some as much as $15,000). Denise Moody-Tackley's expertly tailored wedding dresses deftly raise questions about gender roles and marital expectations in the material they employ, whether it's a strapless gown made of trash bags or a corseted gown of bedspreads, sheets, and mattress cover. In fact, many of the works in this exhibit use art as a medium to raise social awareness. Some even with a sense of humor, like Tim Curtis' Please Keep Your Internal Dialogue Internal, an installation of hundreds of chalkboards of varying sizes inscribed with messages, some wise ("The great equalizer: death") and others, inane ("Clapping makes me feel like I'm contributing"). On video, documentaries by Chad Tingle, Rock Solomon, Julie Kahn, and Eric Freedman also artistically explore revolution, globalization, gentrification, and poverty. Contrasting with these weighty themes are works like Jacin Giordano's Spin, a colorful sculpture of glitter-encrusted colored pencils that have been wrapped up like a giant jelly roll and whittled to a point where thick, acrylic paint has dried into a colorful plastic wheel. (Through October 28 at Florida Atlantic University Schmidt Center Gallery and Ritter Art Gallery, Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Call 561-297-2966.)
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' cities 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, composed of just 11 works from the museum's permanent collection. Despite its size, the exhibit not only honors the artist but 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 ones 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 art 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/Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)
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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.)