A recent quintessential Fort Lauderdale experience -- squiring visitors from out of town down Las Olas Boulevard -- yielded an unexpected dividend, in the form of a reminder that I hadn't checked out New River Fine Art, formerly New River Gallery, in more than a year.
What caught my eye were the seven glass pieces occupying one of the gallery's front window areas. From my vantage point on the sidewalk, I could have sworn they were by Lino Tagliapietra, an Italian artist whose works I praised not long ago in a review of "Fire and Form: The Art of Contemporary Glass," a crowd pleaser at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach that ended a month or so ago. The out-of-towners, however, were more interested in dinner than in art, so I didn't make it back to New River until a week or so later (with another set of out-of-town visitors).
Those graceful teardrop-shaped glass pieces, with their delicate tapered necks and thin striations of black over vivid translucent colors, turned out to be the work of Alberto Dona, another Italian, born in 1944, a decade after Tagliapietra. Dona specializes in glass and even has his own operation in the famous glass-making city of Murano. All but one of the pieces at New River recall the similar forms grouped as Sombo do Brasil in Tagliapietra's section of the Norton show.
On the other side of the gallery entrance is a handful of glass pieces by John Lotton, four of which are essentially glorified vases that blossom into irregular shapes. At once more utilitarian but also more elegant is White & Pink Floral Vessel, a bowl-like piece with leaf shapes that seem to float in the layers of glass.
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Elsewhere in the gallery are glass works by a New River mainstay, Dino Rosin. At his most literal, as in his glass miniatures of musical instruments such as Violin, Piano, and Mandolin, Rosin is a touch prosaic. When he ventures into abstraction, however, his work can soar. Balancing Rocks, for example, consists of two irregular pieces of calcedonia glass with startling layers upon layers that suggest the wavy forms of sea anemones.
After taking in the glass pieces, I took a quick glance at Gary Mirabelle's Museum Security Guard, a life-sized, life-like mixed-media figure that, at least on my visits, has never failed to draw people in off the boulevard. That's because it's situated so close to the entrance and because it's so realistically rendered that you almost can't help doing a double take. Upon closer inspection, however, the sculpture just seems like a modestly successful homage to the similar -- and much more realistic -- work of Duane Hanson.
I also quickly wearied of the stylized bronze figurines by Dan McDermott that are scattered throughout the gallery. He seems to be aiming for uplift but ends up mired in sentimentality in such pieces as Dance of Life, which features a woman who looks as if she's flinging her child through the air, and Rejoice, which also has a woman holding a child aloft.
Fortunately, there's so much variety and eclecticism on display at New River that it's easy to find something to hold your attention almost everywhere you look. The gallery prides itself on a mix of old and new art. There's a handful of Rembrandt etchings here, a few Dalís there. The last time I stopped by, the mix also included a few Chagalls.
Another point of pride for the gallery is its exclusive relationship with the great French painter Camille Pissarro's artistic dynasty -- New River is the family's only Florida dealer. Last time, there were four pastels and an oil by grandson H. Claude and a watercolor by his father, Paulemile, the youngest of Camille's five sons.
This time, the patriarch himself is represented by two simple but impressive paper pieces, one in pencil, the other in pencil and ink. There are also works by the aforementioned H. Claude; Camille's third son, Georges Henri (who exhibited under the name of Manzana); and Camille's fourth son, Ludovic-Rodo. New River has also displayed art by Camille's first son, Lucien; Lucien's only daughter, Orovida; and H. Claude's daughter Lélia. Whew! And I think there are still a few paintbrush-wielding Pissarros not mentioned here.
New River's modern-masters selections, good as they are, are almost overshadowed by some of the gallery's contemporary artists. There are still a few acrylics and prints on display by Karen Stene, whose eerily empty Mediterranean scenes dominated the gallery a year ago. The best is Dancing Palms, which combines an unpopulated terrace around a pool with nearly two dozen palms and the placid ocean in the distance. There are also several wire-mesh sculptures of nudes by another long-time New River favorite, Randy Cooper; unfortunately, they're his smaller pieces, not the near-life-sized ones, and some have been positioned somewhat carelessly, so that you can't see the dramatic shadows cast when they're properly lighted.
One wall showcases three medium-sized Brian Davis floral prints. Such florid works can easily become merely decorative accessories, but one of these -- French Lace Trio -- has an in-your-face, near-hallucinatory intensity. It's a simple composition with three white roses, but they've been captured in extreme close-up, so big and fleshy that they seem, at least from a distance, more like huge magnolia blossoms almost overflowing their space.
New River is currently touting two newcomers to its lineup. The Dutch-born, Los Angeles-based Luc Leestemaker is represented by a grouping of various-sized mixed-media pieces. Some of Leestemaker's early work includes large, striking abstract expressionist works, but in the ones on display here, he concentrates on stark, empty landscapes, often beaches, that depend upon the slightest suggestion of a horizon for their effects.
Those effects are most impressive when several similar panels are grouped together, as in Inner Landscapes, with its nine symmetrical 12-by-12-inch panels, or Transfigurations #15 Triptych, which consists of a trio of long, roughly textured horizontal panels. In fact, the whole grouping at New River comes across as one large installation, and I got the sneaking suspicion that any one piece on its own would be a bit of a bore.
That's because there's not much variety in Leestemaker's recent work. When I visited the artist's slick, self-important website, it came as no surprise to learn that his art has been used in movies, including Erin Brockovich, Spider-Man, and the current Bringing Down the House. His work is bland enough not to distract from whatever is going on in front of it.
That's certainly not the case with the work of the French artist Pascal Chove, whose mixed-media pieces would call attention to themselves regardless of the setting. The 43-year-old Chove, who is from the Brittany region of his native country, started out painting landscapes but now does pieces focusing on the human figure.
The backgrounds are created first, using such coarse materials as resin and wire and pieces of metal and wood. Often the edges of the canvas are made intentionally raw, as if the images have been applied to fragments of parchment or frayed canvas.
In sharp contrast, the figures -- all but one of the half-dozen I saw are female -- are creamy smooth. They're nude but typically partially draped in fabric, and Chove has such an extraordinary feel for human flesh that his style approaches photorealism in its attention to detail. In one piece, Storm, the spine of a woman sitting with her back to us, posed against a stormy plain, is captured with the vividness and immediacy Francis Bacon always claimed to be reaching for in his male nudes -- an admittedly odd comparison, given the two artists' wildly different styles, but a valid one.
New River has a real find in Chove. If we're lucky, the gallery will continue to discover and promote new artists like him even as it continues to push its Rembrandts and Pissarros and Dalís.
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