"GEOMETRIC, why not?" the new exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, is an austere counterpoint to the current Latin American show at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. The artists in the Boca show are all Latin American, while the Hollywood show's Latin American majority is complemented by a handful of relevant artists from elsewhere in the world. The Boca roster includes quite a few internationally known artists, while the Latin American artists represented in Hollywood are, with a couple of exceptions, not nearly as well known.
Most significantly, however, the Boca Museum's exhibition, drawn from one private collection, brims with ripe, robust works, most of which are representational. The Art and Culture Center's exhibition, in striking contrast, is overwhelmingly abstract, emphasizing restraint and astringency. That's not to suggest that what's included here is drab or dull there's an abundance of vibrant color, and a few works fairly hum with kinetic energy.
The best views of the exhibition are from either end of the long main gallery, where you can take a good long look at the bulk of the Latin American work and see how the individual pieces play off one another. Curator Mariavelia Savino has strategically placed three freestanding sculptures in the center of the gallery, so that they break up the space and draw the eye back and forth among the works on the walls and those on the floor.
Two of those sculptures are especially impressive. Both are recent works by the Argentine artist Susana Lescano. For Gong Abiertoz, she groups stainless and painted steel shapes some round, some not so that they generate a sort of visual vibration. Falling Cubes (2006) suggests an even stronger sense of motion with its modified obelisk of stainless and lacquered steel, out of which colorful, open-sided cubes spill.
The center of the long wall on the east side of the space is dominated by a trio of 2001 acrylics, each 44 inches square, by Waldo Díaz-Balart, who was born in Cuba and is now based in Madrid. The artist clearly takes his cue from Mondrian, although instead of limiting himself to primary colors, he chooses bright, neon colors.
His work is nicely offset on both sides by much more subdued pieces. To the left, there's Black and White (1956), by Carmen Herrera, a pioneer of Cuban abstraction. It's an oil on a rounded canvas nearly 40 inches in diameter, with the upper half black, the lower white. And to the right, Cesar Paternostro's mixed-media Evocacion (Sun Gates Tiwanaku) (1999) is an iconic evocation of the possibilities of white, both tonally and texturally.
On the wall opposite are two deceptively simple, wall-mounted constructions by Narciso Debourg, a Venezuelan now working in Paris. Both are made of painted wood and use short cylinders with sharply angled ends, positioned in such a way that they play tricks on our perception worthy of Op art. The smaller one evokes an amazing array of grays set against a black square, while the larger uses white and a sunny yellow to similar effect.
The curved wall at the far end of the museum's main gallery is festooned with what looks like a gigantic kite an untitled, black-and-white work on raw canvas tied to a chunk of rock on the floor nearby. It's by Eugenio Espinoza, a Venezuelan artist now in Miami, and it's both dignified and whimsical, an odd combination that may account for its charm.
The exhibition goes international once you leave the big gallery. Directly across from the elevator there's a piece by the art-world superstar Christo, a Bulgarian who became a United States citizen in 1973. Here he's represented by Wrapped Book (1976), a more modestly scaled entry in his famous series of wrapped objects and places. (The book is Modern Art from Impressionism to the Present. ) Yes, the book is a rectangular solid; even so, it feels out of place in this particular show.
The long, narrow gallery on the other side is home to a hodgepodge. A handful of garish acrylics by Patricia Van Dalen of Venezuela distracts from the two untitled acrylics opposite by Francisco Fernandez, a Colombian whose vertical and diagonal bars of pigment seem to dance languorously against their backdrops. And lovely as they are, the two acrylic Prism sculptures by Vasa Mihich of Yugoslavia look like they've wandered in from another show. They may be geometric, but as presented here they look forlorn and orphaned, as does the small metal sculpture Solitary Man (1976) by the American artist Ernest Trova.
It's hard to imagine the great Russian-American Louise Nevelson not holding her own in any context. The Art and Culture Center had a small but illuminating retrospective of her work a couple of years ago. Here, however, she seems arbitrarily dragged in for a cameo appearance among the mostly Latin American cast. Taken on their own, however, they're perfectly fine: a pair of cast paper reliefs, one black, the other white, from 1975, and a small, untitled, undated wood assemblage, painted black and hinged to open like a box.
The exhibition more or less dwindles to its anticlimactic conclusion in the museum's smallest gallery, which features 10 color photographs of installations and architectural works by Jesús Rafael Soto, a prominent Venezuelan Op artist who, according to the text panel, got interested in geometry after seeing a Cubist painting by Georges Braque. Soto, who died last year, worked with an array of materials, including nylon filament thread, metal rods, steel, aluminum, Perspex (a transparent acrylic resin), and industrial paint.
The pictures here document some of his large-scale works in Caracas, Toronto, Paris, and Seoul, and they come across as shimmering and ephemeral. Unfortunately, the photos do little more than make us want to see a real Soto work in person. It's a shame the show couldn't have included one of his smaller mixed-media works.
Aside from the recent survey of works from Broward County's Public Art and Design program, "GEOMETRIC, why not?" is the Art and Culture Center's first exhibition since the departure of director/curator Samantha Salzinger this summer, and it's a stark reminder of how much she'll be missed. Salzinger, now teaching art history and photography at Palm Beach Community College's Boca Raton campus, demonstrated true vision and daring in both the exhibitions she curated and the ones she brought to the center. I mean no disrespect to Mariavelia Savino, who's identified as "transitional curator," but she's no Samantha Salzinger. Fortunately, Salzinger left the Art and Culture Center on good terms and is tentatively slated to curate an upcoming show there called "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice." I can hardly wait.
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