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 time lines and essays that fit fashion into historical context. Who knew (or knew they wanted to know) that the right to wear 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 toward casual clothes for men and the ultrafeminine "New Look" for women as a reaction to wartime severity? There is an almost-too-obvious tribute to the fashions of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, though it would be nearly impossible to have even the most cursory review of American fashion 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? (On display through summer at the Museum of Lifestyle and Fashion History, 322 NE Second Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-2662. Admission is $5.)
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.)
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.)
"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.)
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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 crafts-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 on featuring 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.)