They stand in diagonal rows, like bronze sentinels on the second floor of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale -- or, as one security guard who watches over Magdalena Abakanowicz's 95 Figures commented, like an army of zombies. At any rate, the bronze, human-sized sculptures provoke a strong reaction -- a heavy sense of foreboding. About half the figures are children. The rest are adults, some taking a step and others static. The figures are all headless and armless. The work is easy to appreciate for its largeness, 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. Of course, art doesn't have to be an insipid landscape to be worthwhile. 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. If you stand behind the figure, you get perhaps the best view of the crowd streaming in front of you. Abakanowicz grew up in Poland in the 1940s, during the Nazi rise to power, and she still lives in Warsaw. She has commented on the parades and marches held in celebration of leaders "who soon turned out to be mass murderers." The sculptures share a floor with three other exhibits that are part of an artistic memorial to the lasting effects of the Holocaust. It could be the exhibit's placement or the artist's statement and biography, but a strong, perhaps incorrect impression is left that the members of the crowd are victims. (Through October 30 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)
Now on Display
To her fans, Michelle Newman's exhibit at the Cornell Museum in Delray Beach's Old School Square is a dream come true. For the rest of us, her collection of hand-decorated textiles and garments is merely an inspired mix of colors and clothes that have been hand-dyed, woven, silk-screened, and painted on. That's a good thing. Newman, a Miami Beach native, has appeared on every DIY-driven channel, including TNN, HGTV, and the Discovery Channel. There's a fine line between a flattering imitator and a copycat, a line that Newman sometimes walks but never crosses. In a work labeled Peter S. Melusy, she has taken a piece of cork, silk-screened a photo onto it, cut it into strips, and woven it with yarn to create a work of art. It is unusual, rough, and, because it's so quixotic, definitely worth a look. In the same room are three beautifully complex pieces inspired by Ballet Russes that are red, rich, and luxurious. Newman completes each one in several steps, from screening to batik-style dyeing to painting. Several of the pieces include how-tos. The exhibit, for all its brilliance, ends up being colorful, pretty, and funky. (Through May 21 at Old School Square's Cornell Museum of Art and History, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-243-7922.)
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