If you think furniture can't or shouldn't be thought of as art, a visit to E Coleccion might persuade you to reconsider. This latest addition to the southernmost reaches of Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors features nothing but handmade (hence one-of-a-kind) imports, and some of what you'll find there is breathtaking. Enrique Blanco, who opened the store in mid-July with brother Roberto, even identifies himself on a brochure as "Owner/Curator." That's understandable when you see a wooden coat rack, casually draped with a scarf, that's a study in graceful curves and soaring forms, more sculptural than decorative. (An ordinary valet rack is similarly ambiguous.) Much of the furniture is straightforward and utilitarian, although that doesn't keep it from being aesthetically pleasing. Blanco is drawn to clean, simple lines, but he avoids the chilliness of much post-modern design by emphasizing natural ingredients. There's lots of wood (much of it faintly fragrant), and when metal is used, it's used sparingly and tends to be dark with age instead of sleek and shiny. Most of what the brothers bring in is from Central America, and among their most seductive items are the ones made with used railroad spikes from Mexico, which prove surprisingly versatile when pressed into service for coffee tables, lamps, plant stands, wine racks, and magazine bins. The constantly changing collection also includes earthy clay vessels, hand-painted pillows, organic cotton linens, and papier-mâché apples that look temptingly real. A table in back bears a reproduction of one of Frida Kahlo's self-portraits, and there are sculptural wall hangings that make appealing use of basic geometric forms in wood and metal -- they're like harmonious extensions of the furniture. Other hangings, from a company called Papiro that gets its goods from South American artisans, come closer to fine art. They combine tree bark fibers with geometric shapes and gridlike patterns to create wall art that's highly sensuous but unobtrusive. (E Coleccion is at 2033 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-567-4600.)
Now on Display
Way off the beaten path in Oakland Park is the Exhibit Space at Chromatek Imaging, a tiny room to the side of the photo lab's service counter. This pleasantly surprising little gallery currently boasts the dramatic photography of artists Suzanne Scherer and Pavel Ouporov, a husband-and-wife collaboration that has received acclaim in the art world for their extraordinary mixed media works. The artists use a unique combination of modern and ancient techniques ranging from Polaroid 4 x 5-format photography to hand-mixed egg tempera paints and intricate gold leafing reminiscent of the early Renaissance. Scherer and Ouporov's collective projects, past and present, are the culmination of intellectual concepts that revolve around historical, fantastical, and personal observations and ideas. They do not create anything without substantial significance and meaning, which allows the work to breathe and gives the viewer an authentic experience. The couple recently began showing the photography that provides the figurative basis for their highly symbolic Byzantium-influenced paintings. In their exhibition, "Paradise," Scherer and Ouporov provide a stunning arrangement of photographs that capture the complicated beauty of the root structure of a tree and the romance of a languid female nude sleeping under the expansive canopy of a Banyan. "Paradise"'s images of dramatically lit nudes and mysterious landscapes have an ethereal quality that is further enhanced in the few that are gilded in 22-karat gold, making them striking black-and-gold compositions. The gilding used by Scherer and Ouporov emulates the luxurious texture found in the bark of the trees, the softness of the shadows, and the smoothness of the skin. (Through September 30 at Chromatek Imaging, 3400 Powerline Road, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-566-1082)
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California native William DeBilzan's mixed media, abstract expressionist pieces have gained popularity throughout the United States since the early 1990's. His visibility increased dramatically in the 1990's when popular prime-time television shows like Frasier and Just Shoot Me featured his paintings. New River Fine Art is currently displaying their recent acquisitions of DeBilzan's original, colorful works. His paintings of elongated, rectangular figures and brilliant hues are embellished by the appropriation of stenciled text and various found objects, such as corrugated cardboard and mesh. DeBilzan creates his own frames of rough, antique wood, adding a rustic quality to the paintings. Some of the frames still have a hinge or joint from their previous use, further enhancing the folksy appeal of the work. His canvases, saturated with colors that evoke New Orleans or the Caribbean, offer a bold backdrop to lines of highly representational houses, trees, or people. Once Again offers the viewer a vibrant shade of green painted on canvas layered with mesh and corrugated cardboard that serves as a background to two lovers holding hands with their heads tilted in affection toward each other. The clean whites of their shirts juxtaposed with the primary colors of his pants and her skirt create a sharp contrast to the muted tones of stenciled, spray-painted letters and the numbers of the floor they stand on. DeBilzan's subject matter never seems to reference anything other than the warm comfort and bright joys of daily life. That simplicity is the appeal of William DeBilzan's body of work. (Through November 5, at New River Fine Art, 914 East Las Olas Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. Call 954.524.2100)
"New Art 2005" at the Museum of Art culls an array of recent and older creations by nine winners of the South Florida Cultural Consortium Fellowship. Not only does the fellowship benefit the artists in terms of exposure and money ($15,000 to each artist, to be exact), but it also lets museum visitors see an unusually focused sampling of contemporary work. The artists explore a range of media -- painting, photography, sculptural installation, video, computer art -- but the exhibit is surprisingly consistent. The pieces eloquently marry materials and ideas, eliciting beauty and insight. For one of her installations, Miami's Karen A. Rifas has strung brown leaves on white threads which, arranged like shafts of light, emanate from the walls, floor and ceiling. As the organic shapes cast shadows against the surrounding walls, the piece simultaneously conveys stillness and energy. It's titled "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can." Hollywood's Thomas Nolan constructs a city of towers and skyscrapers out of hundreds of unused staples and screws, mounted on top of the base of a swivel chair. Called "Newerness," its tiny objects evoke a miniature cityscape, a fantastic juxtaposition of simplicity and complexity. Not for the queasy, filmmaker Lisandro Pérez-Rey is represented by several short videos, one of which shows a scientist dissecting an animal. But by capturing ordinary routines and interactions and splicing them with their subject's thoughts on life and love, Pérez-Rey also offers touching vignettes. Call them portraits for the 21st century. (Through November 6, at Museum of Art, One E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500)
Because Broward County's architectural gems are spread around -- unlike Miami's famous Art Deco neighborhoods, where they tend to show up in clusters -- visitors rarely get a sense of the scope of Broward's mid-century modern designs. "Going, Going, Gone? Mid-Century Modern Architecture in South Florida" now at the Museum of Art, seeks to rectify this situation, albeit in the two-dimensional medium of photography. Broward's best are at least the equal of those in Miami. On one wall of the museum, 27 photographs by Robin Hill offer dramatic glimpses of buildings, hotels, and inns that appear both retro and New Age. Shot from close and unusual angles, the energy-packed images are gripping. The icing on the cake is a 16-foot "Gold Coast" sign salvaged from the roof of the 1949 beachfront hotel of the same name. Its turquoise metal lettering with gold trim matches the hyper-bright colors in Hill's pictures. Also in the exhibit are Hill's 16 photographs of Miami-Dade County landmarks including the Fontainebleau Hotel and Giller Building. The structures' carefree colors and swirling arches recall a time of childlike exuberance. Fort Lauderdale's Hyatt Regency Pier 66, with its glass-enclosed lounge topped with a crown of lit columns, seems ideal for a visit from The Jetsons. The Jolly Roger and Yankee Clipper look more like blown-up toys than buildings, remnants of an era whose motto was "Because We Can" instead of "The Bottom Line." Afterwards, visitors can leave the museum and see almost all of the structures for themselves. (Through November 6 at the Museum of Art, One E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500)
Imagine the best vintage clothing store on the planet, filled with the top gets on any thrift store connoisseur's list -- Pucci, Chanel and Blass. At the Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History in Delray Beach, you can't buy or touch any of the many outfits currently on display from the permanent collection. While vintage clothes horses might experience a painful envy, the museum's mix of cool clothes from the late 19th century to the mod '60s is a great attraction. Accompanying the clothes are several timelines and essays that fit fashion into its historical context. Who knew (or knew they wanted to know), that the right to wear the color red sparked a 16th century peasant revolt in Germany? Or that Nancy Reagan's fondness for the color coined a new shade -- Reagan Red? (Eeeew. Yuck.) Or that World War II sparked a move towards casual clothes for men, and the ultra-feminine "New Look" for women as a reaction to war-time severity? There is an almost too-obvious tribute to the fashions of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, even the most cursory reviews of American fashion would be impossible without her. Also, in the '50s section, there's an unfortunate choice of kitsch over clothes, with a full-skirted, June Cleaver-esque dress displayed alongside a kitchen set. A small exhibit in the corner does the most to bring the show's point down like a hammer -- a display of what tragedy does to fashion. In two small glass cases are purses inspired by 9-11, one by Charleston, South Carolina, artist Mary Norton titled "After the Tragedy," and one bedazzled in the ubiquitous red, white, and blue that emerged right after the attacks. It's good stuff, and did we mention the Pucci shift dresses? (Through the summer at the Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History, 322 NE 2nd Avenue, Delray Beach. Call 561-243-2662)