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"southXeast" at the Ritter Art Gallery

When an art gallery decides to feature a sculpture created with fettuccini noodles drying on a wooden rack, it hardly ever combines it with a warren of artistically rendered rabbits gleaming in the back of the space. Whichever way you see the impressive "southXeast," spread over two gallery spaces at Florida Atlantic University, you notice the biggest things first. Unfortunately, everything is big, making the exhibit immediately overwhelming. With 12 artists from seven Southeastern states exhibiting, the show is more about showcasing the talents of unknown artists than it is about theme. Those craving cohesion would do best taking one artist at a time. At the Schmidt Gallery, from one angle it is possible to see a map of the United States composed of bottle caps and lids, flames, and the wink of a cartoon rabbit. The epicurean Jason Hedges, who celebrated the aforementioned fettuccini, portrays all the senses of food and drink in his art. His In Vanilla Grove, Man and Horse, is made from vanilla, smells like vanilla, and, for the intrepid gallery-goer, probably tastes like vanilla. The spectacular collages of Marcus Kenney, cobbled from vintage wallpaper, children's illustrations, car decals, and in one case the artist's own hair, evoke Asian landscapes with pop-art cartoonishness. And the rabbits -- Joseph Peragine paints and sculpts what can better be described as bunnies, moving simultaneously from Disneyland warm and fuzzy to that moment in Bambi when you suspect something might happen to the eponymous deer's mom. His bunny fountain (Untitled) is lovely, but the rabbit is crying. At the Ritter Gallery, one is treated to a garden of garbage with Sallie Heller's sparkling Trees. Why not? We make the trash, so we might as well find a beautiful use for it. Then there are A.A Rucci's dreamy figurative paintings and Russell Biles' faux-'50s kitschy figurines. Biles especially is worth a close look, particularly Jesus Christ!, a parody of free will. A cherubic yet devious porcelain child is poised with a gleaming box of matches over a gasoline can, with both box and can bearing bows, as though they were gifts. It's chilling. (Through March 12 at the Ritter Art Gallery, then through April 9 at the Schmidt Center Gallery, Florida Atlantic University, 777 Glades Rd., Boca Raton, 561-297-2966.)

Now on Display

There's fullness and richness (perhaps even too much) to "I Feel Mysterious Today," the wonderfully titled group show at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art in Lake Worth. Twenty-six artists from nearly a dozen countries are represented in roughly 70 works, most created since the term of the century, more than half of them by men. Guest curator Dominic Molon of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago interprets the term mysterious generously and characterizes the art as "presenting us with fantastic or supernatural imagery, peculiar everyday situations, and radically transformed objects and images." Roe Ethridge's big color photos, for example, turn lowly pigeons into creatures of great grace and beauty. And Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt's Enchanted Forest is really just an inspired installation of dozens, maybe even hundreds, of brightly colored plastic streamers. (Through March 27 at the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, 601 Lake Ave., Lake Worth, 561-582-0006.)

When the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach opened its new wing almost two years ago, it added 14 galleries with more than 12,000 square feet of exhibition space. Much of that space is devoted to the museum's justly acclaimed collections of Chinese art and pre-1870 European art, as well as a splashy ceiling installation by glass master Dale Chihuly. What often goes unmentioned is that the expansion also lets the Norton showcase more of its contemporary collection. The wing's first-floor galleries feature nearly a dozen pieces worth viewing. But it's the wing's largest gallery that features the most imposing works: a pair of mixed-media pieces by Richard Long. In August 2004, the artist worked directly on an expanse of blackened wall using clay and water to create the abstract Seminole. For the 2002 piece Mohawk, Long challenges our notions of what constitutes a landscape by covering most of the gallery's floor space with a vast, oval-shaped installation that suggests a stream of smooth gray Mexican river rocks flowing through chunks of white marble. (Through fall 2005 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)

If you visit Artists' Haven, a tiny gallery that opened in a Fort Lauderdale strip mall in December, go directly to the sculptures of Miles Laventhal, whose work handily outshines what surrounds it. To judge from the handful of pieces on display when Artbeat stopped by, Laventhal isn't afraid of experimentation. For a couple of wall-mounted pieces, for instance, he combines acrylics on paper with resins and pieces of aged steel, to dramatic effect. The two-part Courtship Flight consists of cloudlike forms painted with a palette ranging from dark browns to pale blues, while Tectonic View uses a larger panel of metal and more angular shapes to suggest a portion of the Earth's crust. Laventhal isn't as impressive with works featuring thin pieces of brushed stainless steel perched atop black-light boxes, but he strikes gold with a simple, freestanding sculpture called Fred and Ginger, which summons up the great dancers with nothing more than some mimosa branches wrapped in linen. The gallery's other standout is Beaujedar Tudzarov, who's represented by a few abstract sculptures in copper and some computer-generated giclées that use wine bottles and glasses and chess sets to mess with the viewer's sense of scale. The rest of Artists' Haven is cluttered with borderline work. Co-owner Donna Zoley creates small, meticulous oils modeled after paintings by other artists such as van Gogh, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Highwayman A.E. Backus, but to what end? (Tellingly, her best piece is an original image.) Fellow owner Barbara Seigel fares a bit better with her oil landscapes, and a couple of acrylics by Barbara Copanos have a feel for light abstraction. Steer clear of the acrylic paintings and clay sculptures of Heidi Kramer, however, whose cloyingly cutesy images of cats and dogs might send you fleeing from the gallery before you have a chance to explore its subtler works. (Artists' Haven is at 2757 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-630-2655.)

 

The 18 works that make up "Alan Dayton: Portraits," now at the Broward County Main Library's Gallery Six, can stand on their own merits. They're best appreciated, however, as behind-the-scenes glimpses of other artists. Most of Dayton's subjects are active in the visual arts in South Florida -- either as artists themselves or as arts supporters -- although he also includes representatives from the worlds of music, dance, theater, and literature. They're invariably captured looking the artist (and by extension us) straight in the eye, as if peering into a camera and saying cheese. But Dayton eschews photographic realism in favor of a moodier, more idiosyncratic approach. One of his techniques, and it's a risky one that usually pays off, is to work small details into the otherwise straightforward portraits that comment on the subjects, such as snapshots and other personal mementos. In the background of the portrait of novelist Vicki Hendricks, for instance, is a tiny image of skydivers, a striking detail that makes even more sense when you read in the program notes that Hendricks is "an avid skydiver." Dayton's pieces are supplemented, wherever possible, by original works by the artists portrayed. Lynne Kroll's portrait is paired with a lovely abstract watercolor by the artist, while the painting of Janet Gold is displayed opposite one of the small, evocative oil pastels for which she's known. It's a smart move that fleshes out what might otherwise seem like a sparse show. It's also a nice touch that the library's new exhibits coordinator, Sharon L. Morris, provides a modest exhibition catalog that includes black-and-white reproductions of the portraits as well as information on Dayton and his brief bios of the artists. (On display through March 5 at Gallery Six, Sixth Floor, Broward County Main Library, 100 S. Andrews Ave., Fort Lauderdale, 954-357-7443.)

"Andrew Wyeth: American Master," a small but fairly comprehensive retrospective that includes more than 50 works from a career that spans an astonishing 70 years, is one of four exhibitions now at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. If the crowd checking it out opening weekend is any indication, Wyeth's standing as the most popular living American artist remains unchallenged. The exhibition might just as easily be called "A Sense of Place." Wyeth is celebrated for his portraits and his sentiment-soaked rustic scenes, but the strength of this show is in his landscapes, many of which are set in his native Pennsylvania and in Maine, where he spends his summers. Wyeth invigorates landscape by pushing it toward abstraction. The 1967 tempera The Sweep, for instance, is only nominally a landscape in that it captures a stretch of stony wall at the edge of some woods, with a hint of country road and the suggestion of a building in the distance. Yet the image exerts a hold way out of proportion to its content. This is even truer of what is this show's masterpiece: a large tempera from 1947 called Hoffman's Slough. Again, there is a landscape of sorts, a sweeping expanse of swampy countryside painted in rich, varied earth tones with black-and-white highlights. Look closely and you'll pick up on the two tiny buildings in the distance at the top of the image, the wispy dirt road in the upper left corner, a few blades of grass in the foreground. The representational details seem added almost as an afterthought. But there's no question that Wyeth knew what he was after -- and that he got it. (Through April 17 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton, 561-392-2500.)


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