A well-to-do couple was scooping out sections from grapefruit halves as they wondered aloud about a Crow Indian necklace made of beaver teeth and weasel fur (circa 1815). With spoon poised just inches from her mouth, the missus stopped, turned to the mister, and said, "Oh, honey, the natives have created genuine art from such charmingly rustic garbage!" "You're right, Muffin," the mister replied. "Let us enlighten the world!" And with that mission in mind, Eugene and Clare Thaw set about gathering artifacts showing that Native American art rivals the art of other cultures. Of course, the bit about the breakfast conversation never made it into the press release (call it the product of the overactive imagination of a reporter who has class issues), but that's not to say it didn't happen. Right? "Masterpieces of Native American Art From the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection" displays 108 of more than 800 pieces from the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, which the couple collected "not for their anthropological value but for their artistic aesthetic." Organized by geographic regions, we see how natural resources influence art. For instance, the fashion of arctic and subarctic zones includes a lightweight seal-gut parka in white with festively dyed purple, red, and green triangles made of tufts of walrus fur. The hand-stitched garment shares little with a Southwestern woman's shawl, woven and embroidered in cotton. Of course, on the runways, fur is a big P.C. no-no, but here in a Native American exhibit, it becomes a mere cultural difference. We think nothing of the eagle feathers and tufts of horse hair in the 1890 Plains indian headdress or the other animal remains incorporated into these objects. So the exhibit shows us not only how the artistic sensibilities of these cultures differ from one another but from our own as well. The exhibit includes masks, weaponry, clothing, jewelry, weavings, bead work, and souvenirs, and it provides cultural commentary to explain the imagery depicted within the objects. (Through February 4 at Society of Four Arts, 2 Four Arts Plaza, Palm Beach. Call 561-655-7226.)
Now on Display
The zen of tedium can produce the sweetest fruit. "Yozo Hamaguchi: Father of the Modern Mezzotint" proves it, though the contemplative exhibit might easily be overlooked, tucked in a quiet corner behind the flagrant Marilyn Monroe exhibit at the Boca Museum. You really would be missing something. The Japanese artist (1909-2000) renders his cherries, watermelons, and other natural subjects using a complex printing medium that is so labor-intensive that it has traditionally been used for practical reproductions rather than creative purposes. The method produces a velvety black background on which the artist displays colorful objects that are poetic (distilled down to their essentials like haiku) in their simplicity. The mezzotint process produces subtle color gradations that in Hamaguchi's hands give his subjects an otherworldly glow, infusing them with a spirituality not typically associated with produce. Presenting its little red orbs in a vertical line, Twenty-Two Cherries explores variation both in the fruits' stems and clefts and in the two little dissident cherries who have gotten out of line an exploration he takes one step further in six other prints that are identical except for cherry and stem colors. The effect is that we are first aware of similarities and then of the differences that distinguish each cherry, each print. Exploring the emotional quality of color is ideal for this printing medium. For instance, the only thing that distinguishes Bottle With Lemon and Red Wall from Bottle With Lemon in Darkness (besides their titles) are the colors, the yellows becoming less vivid and the red wall, gray in the second print. The medium also makes an excellent vehicle to consider process. Lady Bird and Leaf provides us with a series of different hued squares in different "stages" of completion. Some depict ladybugs while some provide just a circle but no defining ladybug dots. In this way, we can contemplate the form rather than just the objects themselves. (Through February 18 at Boca Museum, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-5200.)
Binding mortality, relationships, and blessings together poetically in one exhibit, Marsha Christo's "Contemporary Approaches to Printmaking" explores the art of replication. Using a variety of printing approaches silk-screens, stencils, woodblock stamps, and plaster and rubber relief prints the Albanian-American artist shows the power of printmaking to explore an image within different contexts. The obsessive repetition of images hands, butterflies, and a male-female couple allows each to take on new symbolic meaning, giving it more depth. For instance, the many hands in her Mortality series are printed in sepia and gray tones on beige silk that also has hands quilted into them; the delicate fabric, the color scheme, the erratically stitched quilting express a fragile human quality. In contrast, Blessings Brighten as They Fly uses a more colorful palette to render a pair of hands with Mendhi patterns on them as they release butterflies symbolically suggesting that our happiness lies in our own hands. Running concurrently is "One Thousand and One Nights," an intriguing, mixed-media installation of 1,001 collages on a single, 60-foot "magic carpet." Artist Grace Leal began work on the images in 2003 (the same year the U.S. declared war on Iraq) and juxtaposes images of war (missiles, soldiers, planes) with others that are comparatively frivolous (cupcakes, martini olives, gnomes), each collage on an Oriental carpet background to produce a surreal effect. Also showing is "20/20 Juried Exhibit," a group show of 20 artists and 20 works of art, each less than 20 inches. (Through January 13 at Armory Art Center, 1700 Parker Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-1776.)
"William Wegman: Funney/Strange," now at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, is a sprawling career retrospective of the artist best-known for Polaroids of his dogs, usually dressed up in outrageous outfits or posed in unusual situations. The show doesn't lack for examples of this work with the photogenic Weimaraners, which also turn up in videos and the occasional painting. Although these pooch pics are by far the most famous portion of the artist's output, the works included here (more than 200) include paintings, drawings, collages, artist books, and altered black-and-white photos. Through it all runs a thread of conceptualism, a sort of hyper-self-consciousness. In the past decade or so, Wegman has taken to creating mixed-media paintings with existing post cards as their starting point, expanded upon into much larger, more complex images an approach that is sometimes flat-out ingenious. These paintings alone might have made a fully satisfying exhibition. As it is, "Funney/Strange" feels overstuffed, a premature career retrospective for an artist who, at 63, hasn't earned it just yet. The show is not only exhaustive but also exhausting. (Through January 28 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)
Don't be too quick to dismiss it as just a college poster exhibition. And don't knock yourself if you find yourself enjoying FAU's exhibit more than, let's say, a show of "important" works by "serious" artists. There's a reason this stuff is appealing it's advertising, baby. "Graphic Noise: Art at 1,000 Decibels" and "The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Social Justice, and the Environment, 1964-2005" demonstrate that the most popular art isn't done on inspiration but on commission... just like in Renaissance times, when artists cranked out religious art for the church. Those with the dough get glorified in art, so it's no surprise that there are nearly five times as many contemporary rock 'n' roll posters for the "Graphic Noise" exhibit (500) than socially conscious ones for its "Graphic Imperative" counterpart (111). Even if you're not a fan of specific bands, you may still fall in love with their promotional artwork. For instance, a beautiful blond woman with her hair in carefree wisps shows off her assets in a clingy black outfit with a plunging neckline in Duran Duran's 2005 Los Angeles concert poster by Tara McPherson. Or maybe you're more into indie-rocker chicks like the one who scrapes her nails down the wall of an art gallery; on her arm, a tattoo of a winged red heart with Elvis written inside it to demonstrate her devotion to Elvis Costello in a poster by Leia Bell that announces his 2005 Salt Lake City show. Unlike the concert posters, the ones designed to help improve the world also provide a bit of a history lesson. For instance, in Lorraine Schneider's 1967 Vietnam War-protest artwork (which was used on a war-protest Mother's Day card sent to the White House), a flower blooms in red and black, and the text decries, "War is not healthy for children and other living things." Some make statements about today's concerns, like the AES Group's New Freedom, a photographic image of the Statue of Liberty dressed in a burqa and holding the Qur'an. Others, like Seymour Chwast's End Bad Breath (1967), which shows Uncle Sam with a mouthful of planes bombing homes, show that some issues have endured. Because many of these posters are silk-screened images, it's also an excellent opportunity to explore the medium. (Through January 27 at Florida Atlantic University's Schmidt Gallery, 555 Glades Rd., Boca Raton. Call 461-297-2661.)
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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