It may or may not be a compliment to Roland DesCombes to say his drawings look like photographs. On one hand, the comparison is a testament to DesCombes' incredible technical skill. On the other, the comparison speaks to the biggest problem in his current exhibit, "Reflections," at the Jeannette Hare Art Gallery at Northwood University -- the technique often overshadows the subject. Not that skill is anything to sneeze at. On the contrary, DesCombes, as one of the comparatively few artists who uses graphite rather than the often more respected paint or the nebulous "mixed media," deserves all the praise he can muster. His drawings are two different experiences, up close and far away, similar to the effects of looking at Impressionist paintings from those two perspectives. From a distance, the images are sharp. Up close, there are sketched in art marks that imitate detail. In his landscapes, DesCombes considers composition in the same manner a photographer would, applying cropping techniques and paying attention to light and dark areas. His landscapes are the best, especially the titular "Reflections" drawings, with reflections on water of trees and root systems native to DesCombes' home in central Florida. "Wahula II" and "Wahula" are spectacular in their attention to detail and for the longing they convey for a quiet, secret place to paddle into. Maybe they're too realistic, but that's what's special about them. The interiors -- of bottles, dolls, fireplaces, and other household minutiae -- are less successful. Try as the objects might to anchor a space, to announce their place in a whole room, all that amazes is the skill with which a clear bottle is drawn. (On display through February 18 at the Jeannette Hare Art Gallery at Northwood University, 2600 Military Trl., West Palm Beach, 561-478-5538)
Now on Display
There's fullness and richness (perhaps even too much) to "I Feel Mysterious Today," the wonderfully titled group show now 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 turn 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. (On display 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.)
Although only three dozen or so pieces make up "Louise Nevelson: Selections from the Farnsworth Art Museum," this relatively lean exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood is an excellent overview of the great Russian-born American sculptor's career. There are few examples of the boxy (in a good way) wood assemblages that made Nevelson famous in her later years -- she died in 1988, at the age of 89 -- but there's a fascinating selection of works charting the evolution of her unmistakable style, including surprising oils from the 1920s and '30s and transitional sculptures in bronze, terra cotta, and stone from the '40s and '50s. The show could use more from her final decades, but as historical documentation, it's a smashing success. (Through February 13 at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., Hollywood, 954-921-3274.)
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. And 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 cloud-like 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.)
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