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Capsule reviews of current area art exhibitions.

Burton Gallery sits amid multiplying restaurants that are quickly overtaking Atlantic Avenue in downtown Delray Beach. Right now, in the gallery's large storefront windows, the colorful paintings of William DeBilzan and the bold photography of Mitchell Parnes seem to call to passersby. Burton's space is stark, allowing the powerful artwork a free rein. Parnes' photography of Southeast Asia confronts gallery visitors with a raw look at life in lands that probably few have been fortunate enough to travel to, providing a glimpse into the fascinating foreign cultures of Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. DeBilzan's canvases are saturated with vibrant colors that evoke the Caribbean and provide a pulsating background to his geometric houses, trees, and people. Parnes assembles his own sculptural frames much like Californian DeBilzan. Parnes takes his framework a step or two further by painting some of the pieces of wood to look antiqued, having Taoist poetry inscribed by a local on others, and leaving hinges hanging and nails protruding on the rest. Pictures like "Man Sleeping on Bench" and "Cigarette Guy" have elaborate frames that reinforce the meaning and significance of the photos. The handwritten sign, sunken face, and expectant stare of "Cigarette Guy" are further enhanced by a frame that stands like a rickety sign with broken hinges and chipping paint. Parnes does not take photos that any ugly American tourist would be capable of; he travels off the beaten path and captures the essence of countries he explores. (Through March 18 at Burton Gallery, 38 E. Atlantic Ave., Delray Beach. Call 561-274-8532.)

Now on Display

By Staff Writers

Confetti, an 1893 Lithograph by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, advertised the advent of the very practical paper version of confetti. The previously plaster substance had caused injuries among partiers, and the new, less dangerous kind was promoted with Lautrec's poster of a smiling, carefree woman having handfuls of confetti tossed at her painlessly. Toulouse-Lautrec and His Poster Contemporaries: Art Takes to the Street, now on display at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, takes the viewer on a journey through the 1890s and the merging of commercial and fine art. Toulouse-Lautrec is the first known artist whose career emerged from the world of advertising; he framed and exhibited his posters like paintings. Promoting everything from opera and world's fairs to absinthe and chocolate, Lautrec's and his colleague's posters provide an allegorical history and exemplify designs that transcended the commercial realm and became works of art. One of the rarest posters featured in the exhibition is from a series of five created by Jules Chéret in 1900 for the Palais de Glace, the famous ice-skating rink at the Champs-Elysées. Chéret used color in a revolutionary and inexpensive way that brought the production of these posters to an entirely new level. Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries transformed French lithography during the turn of the century with their experimental and bold use of color and lines. The influence of Japanese printmaking is apparent in many of the posters, including the simplistic May Belfort lithograph by Toulouse-Lautrec that juxtaposes geometric blocks of red and negative space and the highly stylized patterns and flowing lines of the art nouveau works by Mucha and Steinlen (known for the now-trendy Chat Noir poster). Although Toulouse-Lautrec's easily recognizable Jane Avril and cabaret girls stand out against his contemporaries, subtleties of his influence are evident in almost all of the posters exhibited. (Through April 2 at 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

The small collection of pre-Columbian and ancient Mexican ceramics and sculptures currently on display at the Norton Museum of Art is aesthetically magnificent and historically significant. Earthen Images: Ceramics from Ancient America features 17 objects from six South American civilizations that flourished thousands of years before the discovery of the Americas. Three highly ornamentalized cylindrical vases sit together in a glass case, reflecting skeletal figures and organic designs in natural, subtle hues of orange, red, and cream. A sleek "Coprador"-style Maya funerary sculpture of a dog holding an ear of corn in its mouth casts an unsettling gaze at its audience. Even more disturbing is the fact that these iconographic dogs from Colima were actual hairless creatures bred as ceremonial food and companions for the afterlife. The late Pre-Classic (100 to 300 BC) figures were found in eight of every ten Maya tombs. Another creepy but fascinating object is a ladle, used during the ritual of human sacrifice. It depicts the sacred ulluchu fruit, which was believed to have anticoagulant properties, shaped into a ladle to hold the blood of sacrificial victims. These ceremonies were practiced by many pre-Columbian cultures, based on beliefs that the gods needed human blood to maintain harmony and order on Earth and in the universe. Although Earthen Images is tucked away in a small room, the installation provides a fulfilling and educational experience. (Through May 28 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-5196.)  

The mummy of Tutankhamun, discovered in 1922 in a burial chamber near Luxor, Egypt, remains in its home country, as does Tut's elaborate, gold-plated sarcophagus. But 50 burial objects are now on display at the Museum of Art in "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," as well as 70 objects from other tombs and a nifty video reproduction of the grimacing mummy, revealing itself on a flat, bed-like screen with an accompaniment of spine-tingling movie music. The exhibition is shamelessly overpriced (top tickets are $30). But you can't argue with the show's artistic merit. The anonymous Egyptian sculptors and goldsmiths who created the objects to facilitate the young pharaoh's passage to the Other Side were great artists. Here, for example, is a striking, 18-inch, gilded, wood statuette of Horus the Elder, with a long, tight-fitting tunic, folded arms, straight Cleopatra tresses, and the face of a falcon. Horus, according to a book written to accompany the show by Egypt's antiquities czar, Dr. Zahi Hawass, is "a sky god linked with the ascension of the king to the stars." The statuette's creator has given him a short, predatory beak, sharply focused eyes, and a remarkable spark of life. There are the carved heads of cow goddesses, one of them leaving the graceful wood grain exposed, like fur markings. Lanky panthers are caught midstride. There's a winged sphinx, carved on a gilded ceremonial shield, trampling Nubian warriors underfoot, and a carved wood serpent goddess, its wings stretched protectively forward. And there are dozens of images of Tut himself, doe-eyed, visionary, emanating a vast calm. You begin to understand the excitement of those who broke into Tut's tomb 83 years ago. (Through April 23 at the Museum of Art, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)

The notorious Whistler's Mother is not among the dozen oil paintings included in "James McNeill Whistler: Selected Works from the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, Scotland," at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. It now belongs to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and it's rarely seen in the artist's native country. And maybe that's a good thing, because without the glaring spotlight of its fame to distract us, we're left to look at Whistler's work in an altogether different light. This exhibition draws on one of the world's most extensive Whistler collections and features items culled from a 40-year period. Along with those 12 oils are dozens of drawings, etchings, and lithographs, a few watercolors, and a smattering of such personal memorabilia as letters, manuscripts, and books. Aside from a couple of the oils, however, we don't get much sense of Whistler's achievement as a painter. That's a shame, because since his death in 1903, he has largely fallen out of favor, overshadowed by, for instance, impressionism, which he arguably anticipated. There's even a pale, ineffable trace of Vermeer's Street in Delft in the 1897 small oil panel The Priest's Lodging, Dieppe. But the portraits here, including a self-portrait circa 1896 and some obscure nudes, aren't of much interest. The show does include one of the series of Nocturnes painted in the mid-1870s, inspired by a favorite subject: London's Thames River at nightfall or in the evening. There's almost no attempt at realism and instead an emphasis on mood, although the artist never gives in to abstraction completely. In A Distant Dome, which he painted during a trip to Corsica near the end of his life, he comes close to suggesting the substance of a real landscape rather than just its feel. Despite Whistler's undeniable technical mastery, his overall cultural contribution seems to have been eclipsed, ultimately, by his flamboyant life and personality. This uneven exhibition from the Hunterian Gallery seeks to reclaim the artist's rightful position in art history and to restore some perspective to his reputation. It's a valiant effort, even if it's only partially successful. His mother, of course, would probably disagree. (Through April 2, at Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)

The big draw at the Boca Raton Museum of Art right now may be the Whistler show, but don't miss a smaller, less flashy exhibition tucked away on the museum's second floor in the Walter and Lucille Rubin Gallery. "Milton Avery: A Retrospective of Nudes" features not quite three dozen works, but they form a fascinating cross-section of the long, full career of this American artist. Included are oils, gouaches, and drawings in ink, charcoal, and pencil, covering the period of 1930 to 1963, two years before he died. All come from the sizeable Avery collection of the Harmon-Meek Gallery in Naples, Florida. Avery's many influences show up here, especially the cubism of Picasso and Braque. As the artist himself neatly sums up: "I try to construct a picture in which shapes, spaces, colors form a set of unique relationships, independent of any subject matter." Indeed, the fact that the works included here all portray nudes is almost incidental — the pull of abstraction is present in most of the pieces, regardless of the artist's style of the moment. As one text panel emphasizes, Avery was something of a workhorse whose motto was "Keep painting - day in, day out. Be absorbed by it." Critic Barbara Haskell writes that Avery "viewed painting as a duty" and "likened himself to a shoemaker — working every day, regardless of mood or inspiration." Such dedication to the work is admirable, even if it also guarantees that Avery's output is uneven. Still, this slight show is, in its own way, more satisfying than the Whistler exhibition downstairs. (Through April 2 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-2500.)  


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