Playing on the utopian Golden Age, Mark Twain had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he named the United States' gaily garish post-Restoration era "the Gilded Age." A visit to the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach provides a glimpse into the lifestyles during the age that birthed the extravagant excesses of Rockefeller and Carnegie particularly with its current exhibit. "Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age" offers a view of the work of an artist who was hot property during his day, sought after by industrialists, publishers, artists, and writers. The artist's work was so highly esteemed it was commissioned by the United States in fact, you might have some in your pockets or tucked away in a drawer somewhere for safekeeping. Renowned for both his public monuments and his sculpted portraits, Saint-Gaudens also designed some of the nation's early 20th-century coins, some of which are on display. The exhibit isn't just small change, though most of it is comprised of portraits in relief. Depicting primarily the era's hoity-toity society folks, the bronze portraits (and a few in plaster) range from seven inches to more than three feet. A dozen sculptures in the round pay tribute to esteemed personages from the Goddess Diana to General Sherman. To include those monuments that could not be moved, such as those of Abraham Lincoln and the Shaw Memorial, photo murals have been installed. Also on display are decorative objects created by the artist, including wood panels, jewelry, plaques, and the only surviving sketch. (Through April 15 at the Flagler Museum, 1 Whitehall Way, Palm Beach. 561-655-2833.)
Now on Display
It's not only first impressions but Impressionists that are important. So the dozen works that comprise "Collecting the Impressionists: Masterpieces From the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute" are given the star treatment. Exhibited in a shrine-like experience where each work is illuminated, they radiate with light the very thing that these artists are renowned for capturing in their paintings. It's a small but impressive exhibit of works selected to demonstrate the remarkableness of a much larger collection. Among the Clarks' favorites was Renoir, whose paintings dominate the exhibit, including the collectors' first Impressionist acquisition, Girl Crocheting. As in his other paintings, the movement of paint and its striking coloring practically animates the artist's work so that his subjects come alive, whether portraits (including a self-portrait) or still lifes. The exhibit also includes Monet and Pissarro landscapes, a Manet still life, a Degas ballerina scene, and a Morisot portrait. Seeing the originals makes you realize why these artists' paintings are some of the most popular poster reprints. It also makes it clear how much is lost in reproduction. Accompanying the exhibit is a ten-minute film, Art in Nature, which looks at the Clark Art Institute in its pastoral Berkshires setting. (Through March 11 at Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)
"Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age"
Gifted former Art and Culture Center of Hollywood curator Samantha Salzinger returns for a guest stint at her old digs with "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice," which, according to her intro, "examines the identity of the contemporary woman" by way of "female artists using the medium of photography to investigate the notion of what it means for a woman in a post-feminist society to be a stay-at-home mom, a beauty queen, or compete in 'man's' work." The show includes only three photographers, whose collective take on what might be termed "third-wave feminism" mostly skitters across the surfaces of the subject. Gail Albert-Halaban covers the stay-at-home mom territory with mostly generic images, while Rachel Papo's journalistic portraits of female Israeli soldiers lay claim to women doing "man's" work. The exhibition's real star is Colby Katz (staff photographer for New Times Broward/Palm Beach), whose shots of pint-sized beauty queens are as fascinating as they are disturbing. Katz shoots her young subjects not exactly in closeup and not exactly from a distance. She settles instead on a midrange perspective that yields distinct advantages. We get close enough to see how horrifically made-up and coifed these children are, and we're at enough of a remove to appreciate how their little gowns and bathing suits sexualize them far beyond their years. (On display through March 25 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954-921-3274.)
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Titillating us with a parental warning that the exhibit may be unsuitable for children, "Have a Nice Bidet" showcases the work of the Armory Art Center's five artists in residence and contrasts the beautiful and whimsical with the ugly and depraved. Ernie Sandidge paints fairies, mermaids, and a satyr and nymph as his subjects, but he catches his subjects with their pants down literally as his studies juxtapose everyday nudity (casually postured models in various states of undress) with the realm of fantasy (models are always depicted with wings or a tail). It seems to suggest that magic and divinity are something people "try on" but don't commit to because they are mired in their mortality. Brian Somerville's ceramic creatures are a sort of sculptural Animal Farm as his animals oppress and confront one another. For instance, a tortured pig is tethered to a crate by a demonic terrier (Revenge Is Best in Small Doses), and a large donkey brays madly at an emaciated cat (The Pussy Cat and the Wild Ass). Chris Ricardo's work drawing, sculpture, and painting is obsessed with sexuality and perversion, whether it is his sadomasochistic bronzes or his reinterpretation of Japanese paintings. Stephen Futej lifts the exhibit into a Seuss-like fantasy of stoneware. (Through March 3 at the Armory Art Center, 1700 Park Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-1776.)
"The Peacock's Feather: Male Jewelry of Old Japan" doesn't actually contain any colorful plumage. It's just a metaphor for how 18th- and 19th-century Japanese men called attention to themselves by displaying their finery (it's only the male peacock that has those lovely feathers). The exhibit displays a fine selection of intricately carved miniatures some just an inch in length of bone, ivory, and wood that were used to attach other fashion accessories to their kimono sashes. The museum's exhibit offers informational cards that explain the imagery of each object and how it relates to Japanese culture so you get to enjoy the artistry as you learn about aesthetics, values, and lore. For instance, Kiyohime and the Temple Bell depicts a figure cowering inside a bell encircled by a monstrous serpent. This references the story of a young woman who fell in love with a monk who refused her advances and hid from her beneath a temple bell, until her passion became hatred and transformed her into a hideous monster and her rage incinerated them both. The show also displays tobacco cases and pipe cases, which might not seem like jewelry to 21st-century Americans, but the symbolically adorned lacquered boxes and carved cases were fashion statements for the Japanese men two and three centuries ago. (Through March 18 at the Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.)
"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.)
In case you needed more proof that celebrity gives a person a big head, here's "Gerry Gersten: Face to Face," an exhibit of caricatures by the guy who was once an illustrator for Mad Magazine, capturing the enormous mugs of entertainment celebs and political personages. For instance, Willie Nelson's big melon with a facial expression that's either startled or disgusted is four times the size of his guitar. Unlike the photographs approved by the agents of today's celebrities to show them only at their most flattering, the 52 portraits by Gersten, whose line drawings have also appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek, capture the quirks and exploit the unique flaws of their subjects (sort of like the paparazzi but without the fistfights and car crashes). For instance, Woody Allen, drawn in profile, has a schnoz the size of Manhattan. Other images provide, in their artful exaggeration, a sort of public service, like the one of Billie Holiday and her horsy choppers, which reminds us to see the dentist. (Through March 18 at Cornell Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922. )