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Artbeat

Take a look around you. Do it now — whether you're at a café table, your work desk, your living room couch. How much of the everyday objects surrounding you could be considered art? "Objects of Design: Decorative Arts and Elements of Frank Lloyd Wright" shows that in the hands of a genius, nothing — no matter how ordinary — is exempt from becoming a work of art. The exhibit displays stained-glass windows, china, furniture, fabrics, sculpture, screens, photographs, stationery, drawings, and copper panels that make you consider the opportunities we have to surround ourselves with things of beauty. For instance, chairs and lamps can be sculptures that just happen to provide us with a place to sit and a little light to read by. The show, presented in the front gallery, is modest in representation but vast in the array of the architect's design elements. According to the gallery catalog, Wright's philosophy — that space "should be experienced as a whole, without division between inside and outside or between the table and what's on the table" — is employed in the presentation of his works. For instance, the fabrics are displayed on a long, dark, wooden bureau and are folded into rectangles and squares in geometric asymmetry for which the architect/designer is famous. The gallery also offers an opportunity to watch two 1987 Mike Wallace interviews for a better understanding of Wright and his aesthetic and philosophy. In the rear gallery, the black-and-white photographs (gelatin silver prints) "Lewis Baltz: Important Prototypes and Portfolios" of exploited landscapes, unimaginative structures, and the refuse of modern life starkly contrasts with the beauty of Wright's shimmery, iridescent stained glass, copper inlaid screens, and colorful geometric patterns. Baltz's documentation of the ugly side of modern living and of what critics have called "landscape as real estate" offers a counterpoint that deepens the significance of Wright's contribution. (Through February 10 at Eaton Fine Art, 435 Gardenia St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-833-4766.)

Now on Display

"Life as a Legend: Marilyn Monroe," a sensory overload of an exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, includes roughly 300 works in various media by more than 80 artists. The emphasis is on photography — as befits a woman whose most enduring love affair was with the camera — and even the nonphotographic works are inspired by or influenced by either still photos or motion pictures. The show includes the work of such acclaimed photographers as Eve Arnold, Peter Beard, Cecil Beaton, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Philippe Halsman, and many others, as well as the famous silk prints by Andy Warhol and other paintings and sculptures. Some of the artists seem less interested in Monroe herself than in her potential as raw artistic material to be manipulated. Much has been made, and continues to be made here, over Monroe's iconic status as a product of her dramatic rise and fall, culminating in a tragic, mysterious death 45 years ago that froze her at age 36 in our collective memory. We are mesmerized by her, according to this view, because she is eternally young and ageless, her beauty preserved like an insect in amber. No doubt that is part of her apparently perennial appeal. But it's also a bit sad that none of the art included here takes the imaginative leap to envision an elderly but still elegant Monroe (although a couple of artists use the famous photo of her taken just after her death as a starting point to harrowing, even ghoulish, effect). (On display through April 1 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

Graham Flint's mural-sized photographs aren't just artistic — they're scientific. That's why they feel like portals to other places rather than mere photographic evidence that those places exist. It's almost surreal. No mere virtual reality, the images provide a kind of meta-reality. In New York Cityscape at Night (2006), for instance, the image is so crisp, so lifelike, that you actually feel like you're flying over the Big Apple and experiencing it firsthand. Pick up one of the magnifying glasses provided by the museum and you'll find that you can actually see even more detail — almost like you were looking at the urban setting with a pair of binoculars. Unlike other photographs that lose resolution as you get closer, these maintain their clarity. That's because Flint is not only a shutterbug; he's also a physicist, and among his inventions is a high-resolution camera — a Gigapxl camera — that he designed and built in 2001. Since then, he has used his invention to capture images of the good ol' USA. You'd think the exhibit would be an excellent way to see the country without all the hassles of travel. But only four of the 13 photographs that comprise "Portrait of America: Images From the Gigapxl Project," at the Boca Museum, are from out of state. So, other than the NYC skyline, a couple of images of a Louisiana state park, and another of a Padre/White Sox game (which provides a fascinating opportunity to use the magnifier to study the crowd's expressions and postures), it's really more of an opportunity to get up-close and personal with Florida while experiencing a technological breakthrough in photographic documentation. (Through April 1 at Boca Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.  

Eugene and Clare Thaw set about gathering artifacts that show that Native American art equals — or rivals — the art of other cultures. "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, that 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 each other but from ours 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.)

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.)

"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.)


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