Aquarian Age in Boca Raton smells incredible, with a light incense infusing the air. The shop, part boutique and part art gallery with a spiritual theme, opened April 1 in a storefront inside a bright-yellow, upscale minimall on just another unremarkable stretch of Federal Highway. Paintings, glasswork, and pottery from local and far-flung artists are propped up along the floors, mounted on the walls, and placed on the shelves amid books and bundles of sage. Much of it is good; all of it is worth a look. Particular standouts include a half-dozen watercolors by Coral Springs resident Lynne Kroll. Her work is far from the tepid landscapes of craft fair watercolorists. The work has depth, rich color, and an abstract quality that appeals to women, according to the shop's co-owner, Julia George. This is Florida, however, and much of Kroll's work contains the flora and fauna seen in so much local art. But it's far from chirpy and tropical. Harlan Whitman, a design student at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, has two eye-catching industrial-art pieces on display. His Balance of Time clock, made of stone, wood, copper, and metal bolts, is irresistible, like something you once saw in a weird dream. You can't resist touching the base and the clock hands or getting up close to see (ouch, can't help it) what makes it tick. Aquarian Age is not for those who are befuddled by a lack of boundaries between the books and incense for sale and an exhibit space, as everything in the store occupies every available surface. It isn't, however, cluttered. As soon as the shop owners find an artist with enough work to display, they plan to feature an artist for a gallery show -- right next to the wind chimes and hand-painted glass. (Aquarian Age, 2884 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Exhibits ongoing. Call 561-750-9292.)
Now on Display
The best reason to visit Art Expressions right now is a small but powerful one-woman show, "Selene Vasquez: In No Strange Land." About two dozen acrylic paintings by the Hollywood-based Vasquez take up nearly half of this tiny Fort Lauderdale gallery, which has been open in an easy-to-miss strip mall since March 2004. Works by a handful of other artists are also on display, most notably the mosaics of Mike Bauman, who applies shards of mirrors and colored, textured glass to mannequins and other forms. But Vasquez is the current featured artist for the gallery, which co-owner Francisco Sheuat (an artist himself) says highlights a different local artist every month or so. Most of Vasquez's work here emphasizes the human face, although she insists she isn't a portrait painter. "I make heads," she says in her artist's statement. "The reproduction of features is an almost superficial task and I maintain minimal allegiance to realism. What I favor is distortion in the brushstroke and a palette of forceful colors to probe the interior." Indeed, Vasquez is far less interested in how someone looks than she is in how to use human features to suggest various emotional and mental states -- she's an heir to classic expressionism. In such aptly titled pieces as The Grimace and The Illness, she creates haunted-looking faces with minimal details to conjure up generic human conditions. In Phobia #1 and Phobia #2, she seems to be channeling Edvard Munch with a pair of pale, gaunt faces that are almost identical except for gender. Often, Vasquez floats her heads on a background of intense color, and she likes to create texture by raking or scratching the surface of the painted canvas. Like the stylized squiggles used to convey sensation in comics, her radiating lines suggest tension, anxiety, pain. The show also includes a couple of nude torsos and four animal paintings, but Vasquez clearly realizes that her strong suit is the human face. (Through July 15 at Art Expressions, 1212 NE Fourth Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-527-7700.)
The Hollywood All-Media Juried Biennial was established just two years ago by the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood's ever-resourceful curator of exhibitions, Samantha Salzinger, and already she's tweaking it. This year, artists working in film were eligible to compete, with awards given for Best Short Film (Kinesis - First Movement, from Loitering Goat Productions) and Best Feature Film (Mark Moorman's Tom Dowd and the Language of Music) as selected by juror Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez, a filmmaker who's currently an artist in residence at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach. The rest of the exhibition includes the work of roughly 30 artists, culled from nearly 200 entries. Juror Nick Cindric, director of Miami's Rocket Projects Gallery, picked the award winners and a handful of honorable mentions. Some of his choices seem willfully perverse, so that the exhibition comes off as a reminder that there's no accounting for taste when it comes to juried art competitions. Look for strong contributions from Matthew Cox, Iris Even, Christina Pettersson, and Carol Prusa, (Through July 10 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood. Call 954-921-3274.)
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Magdalena Abakanowicz's 95 Figures stand in diagonal rows, like bronze sentinels, on the second floor of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale. The human-sized sculptures provoke a heavy sense of foreboding. Some take a step; others are static; they're all headless and armless. The work is easy to appreciate for its size, the precision of the figures' placement, and its ability to draw a visceral reaction. The urge to climb in and stand among the figures, to be amid the crowd and absorb the mob's purpose, is almost irresistible. At the same time, the work provides no pleasure or enjoyment. There are five other pieces displayed with the figures. One at the end of the hall leading to the exhibit, The Second Never Seen Figure on Beam with Wheels, is looming and unique, a perfect counterpoint to the crowd. (Through October 30 at the Museum of Art, One E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)
Robert Rauschenberg: Considered a central figure in late-20th-century art, Rauschenberg is also a long-time resident of Captiva Island, Florida. His recent work has begun to reflect distinctively local input: gators, punchy shadows, pink and green. His move to water-based media, inspired by safety and environmental concerns, forced his palette into a gentler range of intensity. This makes his new works more pleasant to look at than the saturated images he became known for, but the oomph has gone out of them as well. They're fun and lighthearted (the man is famous for being the same), but they seem to want for more resolution and gravitas. (Through July 3 at the Miami Art Museum, 101 W. Flagler St., Miami. Call 305-375-3000.)
The creatures in "Anne Chu," at the Museum of Contemporary Art, are simultaneously alien and familiar, fascinating and repellent. Chu, who was born in New York in 1959 to Chinese émigré parents, freely fuses past and present with her work. There are clear-as-a-bell echoes of Chinese funerary figures, medieval European sculptures, and marionettes, and yet Chu's creations are unmistakably contemporary. The exhibition features roughly three dozen sculptures and about 20 watercolors. Curator Bonnie Clearwater has given them great expanses of space -- the entire museum, in fact -- so the works have plenty of breathing room. Two relatively small pieces even have the whole Pavilion Gallery, which is separate from the rest of the museum, to themselves. The strategic use of space is especially striking in the two installations in the Pavilion Gallery. For House with Bamboo Trees and Court Lady (1999), Chu combines an ornate ceramic figure four to five feet tall with a small bronze house on the floor about two feet away. It's a jarring juxtaposition, until you take into consideration that the artist is intentionally toying with our spatial perceptions. There's a similar yin-yang dynamic in play among many of Chu's other pieces in the main MOCA galleries. The Bear (2002) is a surprisingly evocative sculpture that touches on a great many aspects of the complicated relationship between human beings and bears. Chu continues her explorations of duality in other works and other media. (Through July 3 at Museum of Contemporary Art, Joan Lehman Bldg., 770 NE 125th St., North Miami.)
"At This Time, 10 Miami Artists": Donald and Mera Rubell's newly refurbished warehouse and legendary art holdings make the Rubell Family Collection one of America's best privately owned contemporary venues. Its current exhibit suggests Miami artists are internationally respected. Curator Mark Coetzee created a dynamic interaction among the pieces by not hanging each artist's works separately, thereby allowing viewers to move from the awe-inspiring -- José Bedia's raft installation -- to the bizarre -- Cooper's cryptic and angst-ridden Our American Cousin assemblage. Naomi Fisher offers some of her color-saturated and visually enticing Assy Flora series, while Jiae Hwang showcases I'm the Real Princess of the Magical Land, a witty and delicate collection of pencil drawings. Miami and its art scene are relatively young, and with an eye on the future, one easily understands why shows like this are needed: They bring to light historic points of reference for tomorrow's artists and historians. (Through October 30 at the Rubell Family Collection, 95 NW 29th St., Miami. Call 305-573-6090.)