When Rossetti Fine Art in Pompano Beach presented a show called "Best of the Best" last year, it smacked of hubris. Granted, gallery owner Tom Rossetti is a veteran judge with many, many shows under his belt, not to mention being an accomplished artist and teacher himself, but even so, who was he to declare what's best?
It turned out that Rossetti was simply gathering artists who had won "Best in Show" awards bestowed by other judges at his fledgling gallery. That softened the potential grandiosity of the show's title, as did the fact that the seven artists included John Patrick Kelly, Alfred Phillips, and Bonnie Shapiro, three of the top figurative painters in South Florida.
Those three aren't included in "Best of the Best II," which suffers only in comparison to its predecessor. Taken on its own merits, it's a solid show. Eight artists are featured, each represented by four to six works, and Rossetti has done an excellent job of hanging the exhibition.
"Best of the Best II," through March 8 at Rossetti Fine Art, 132 SW 15th St. (McNab Road), Pompano Beach. Call 954-247-9580.
It's tempting to say the scene stealer is Joan Sonnenberg, a Naples-based artist who snagged two "Best in Show" designations at the gallery this past year. The 80-something Sonnenberg has curtailed her travel since her husband passed away last year, and so Rossetti went to her, returning with four large-scale, mixed-media pieces that command his space. Her work here straddles abstract imagery and identifiable organic forms such as trees, giving these pieces a palpable dynamic tension.
But the show's strongest pieces are its sculptures and ceramics. Broward gallerygoers are probably familiar with Diane Lublinski, a ceramicist active in local group exhibitions. Here she's represented by half a dozen works. Three of them are relatively small, wall-mounted conglomerations inspired by coral reefs, but they're overshadowed by Lublinski's three large, freestanding human torsos covered with fish and sea plants. Droll, surreal, and strangely serene, they're enhanced by their quirky titles: Her Nature Cannot Be Changed, I Am Not What I Appear, and my favorite, There Is a Fish on My Head.
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Alyssa Ligmont's massive ceramic forms are equally arresting and imposing. Rossetti has grouped four of them — the "Hoodoo Series" — on black pedestals of varying heights, and the strategy pays off. Each towering form rises from a smooth, tapered, bowl-like bottom, with layer upon layer of clay accumulating until the final result looks like a giant anthill from a nature documentary. Ghostly pale on the outside, these sculptures reveal deep colors at their mouths, hinting at some dark, unseen interior.
Ligmont's other two contributions to the show tend toward the whimsical. On Top of the World is a pale, greenish, elongated form faintly reminiscent of its Hoodoo cousins, except that there's a tiny creature perched at its peak. And Bunnies Gone Wild is a fatter vessel punctuated by spiky protrusions around its perimeter and, less successfully, rabbits.
Whimsy gains center stage with the work of Tyler K. Smith, whose wood-and-metal sculptures hark back to the early days of surrealism and Dada. Smith's constructions look (and sometimes are) vaguely mechanical — they seem like they should do something, but closer inspection reveals that they have no conceivable practical use beyond confounding our expectations. They're like collaborations between Rube Goldberg and Jean Arp.
Busted, for instance, is an odd accumulation of found objects, a mass that includes a wheel, wooden cones, and assorted metal parts (including a saw blade), all adding up to what looks like a failed go-cart. Another piece, called Pin Head, is interactive. A conical device made of wood and metal is connected to a large spring that allows the viewer to move it to and fro like the needle of a metronome or back and forth so that it clanks, gonglike, against a metal strip. You might get caught up in doing either until realizing, in a moment of Zen clarity, that neither function serves any real purpose. In other words, Smith is a bit of a prankster and a huckster. His sense of artistic daring is matched only by his tongue-in-cheek showmanship.