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Crowded House

Visitors contemplate Samantha Salzinger's Skin Deep Series
Michael McElroy

About three months ago, the Fine Arts Gallery at Broward Community College's Central Campus in Davie showcased an eclectic retrospective of works by five full-time faculty members. Now the gallery weighs in with the fourth annual "Adjunct Faculty Exhibit," an even quirkier and more ambitious show featuring the works of 16 artists whose affiliation with BCC is more tentative.

Their works, however, are anything but tentative. The show includes nearly four dozen pieces, and they run the gamut from sculpture and installations to photography and paintings in oil, acrylic, and encaustic. And gallery director Beth Ravitz (who also contributes a mixed-media installation to the exhibition) has done a fine job of juxtaposing the pieces so that they play off, and sometimes against, one another; most of the show evinces a natural progression.

Five large color photographs by Samantha Salzinger, called the Skin Deep Series, take up most of the first wall. They include a woman getting a bikini wax, with a white towel draped over her groin; a topless woman in a tanning booth; a headless woman with her bra half on, half off, exposing her sagging, wrinkled breasts; a disembodied arm with a wax-coated hand hovering above a small vat of wax; and another topless female torso, this one shrink-wrapped in plastic and wearing some sort of masklike apparatus over her face.

Salzinger is obviously critiquing cultural attitudes toward the female body, and her commentary might seem heavy-handed if not for the detachment with which she approaches her subject matter. Both her gaze and the lighting are so cold and clinical that her images take on some of the creepiness of morgue photos.

Adjacent on the same wall is a more oblique work, a mixed-media¯on-glassine composition by Ellen Leinbach called Bears Fruit Only Once. It begins about 10 or 12 feet up the wall, then flows down to and out on the floor another five or so feet. It's essentially abstract, although the dribbles of black, white, silver, and gold, along with a waxy substance that runs down the left side of the piece, suggest a more or less humanoid form.

The next wall starts with eight color photos by Teresa Diehl that play off Salzinger's pictures by focusing on body parts: closeups of closed eyes, lips, bloody fingers. Then the show shifts gears with a large oil on canvas by Robert Flynn labeled Untitled (Peep Series). And no, the innuendo-laced title refers not to voyeurism. Flynn's subjects, faintly visible beneath a wash of pale, splotchy, drippy blue pigment, are countless tiny birds, some sketchily outlined, others partially filled in, still others fully fleshed out.

The rest of this wall is taken up by eight pieces in encaustic and collage on board by Anita Drujon. The long, narrow vertical Garden Nymph was a standout at another faculty show in late 1999 at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Its petal-like slivers of paper and other forms in red, green, black, pink, and gold that seem to float beneath the translucent wax are a welcome sight here, too, although I couldn't help wishing Drujon had contributed a newer piece instead.

Fortunately she compensates with a lovely untitled square piece that echoes Flynn's neighboring birds with birds of its own, afloat in a cloud of dense, highly textured, and colored wax, some so faint they verge on the subliminal. The birds also reappear in all but one of half a dozen small panels identified as Series in Progress. The panels include such accents as a butterfly, portions of women's bodies, and in one case an olive-green ribbon tied in a bow and affixed to the surface. As striking as these images are individually, they work even better, as the title indicates, as a series.

The wall opposite is devoted to a trio of pieces that similarly work as a sort of series, even though they're from two different artists. LeeAnna Yater's The Red House is a fiber panel with a small family grouping embedded in its embroidery and quilting, and her Boxes is a brightly colored fiber panel with geometric shapes. Linda Payne's untitled watercolor nearby plays off the family in the former piece with imagery of an elderly woman, a young mother, and a child in a stylized composition that looks to be a takeoff on stained-glass windows.

Although the gallery's remaining wall is glass, director Ravitz has pressed it into service as display space by suspending large panels on it. On one hang two small, highly contrasting pieces. David Epstein's portrait of a swanlike bird floating in water and surrounded by foliage is a pen-and-ink drawing that has been scanned into a computer and then manipulated; its appealing simplicity is the result of a complicated process.

The adjacent acrylic by Carlos Hidalgo, on the other hand, represents a different kind of simplicity. It's a small, squat, modified T¯shape canvas with minimalist blocks of color -- dark green, medium green, black, and a silvery gray -- that give it an almost monochromatic sheen.

The show peaks with two complementary paintings, each roughly five feet by five feet, by Robert Nathans. The first, in oil and enamel, features a muscular male figure rendered in streaky white, gray, and black, his arms raised and fists clenched, as if he's subduing a creature that turns out to be an oversize bird of paradise plant. Nathans' dynamic, gestural handling of the paint makes this surreal image both disturbing and invigorating.

With the oil Eros Minor Barouque, Nathans applies the same gestural ferocity to a more cluttered composition in which another bird of paradise is surrounded by human shapes that seem to be fading in and out of the picture: a partially obscured face here, a lunging figure there. Above the center is a color reproduction of a Caravaggio cupid, which has been stuck on the canvas and then painted over around the edges.

Three artists are consigned to the gallery's dreary entry area. Jan Johnson's three monotype prints with black cat motifs -- one perched on the end of a small boat, another lurking beneath a shroud with only its tail and paws sticking out, another curled and sleeping in what's apparently a bird's nest -- deserve better. So do Rosalyn Gatcombe's half-dozen acrylic portraits, including one of a man in military attire who looks like the young Ernest Hemingway.

Only Onajide Shabaka's Installation, just inside the front door, really seems to inhabit this space. It's a large section of wall painted black and adorned with sketches in white chalk surrounded by such items as snail shells, skulls, tree branches, and mysterious bundles of straw, leaves, and seedpods.

The sculptures dotting the main gallery left me cold: a glazed ceramic stoneware piece by Lori Foster that looks like a congealed tree, the asymmetrical and oddly proportioned porcelain Water Pitcher by Barbara Mazur, and Stan Tuppler's Gene Kelly, a colorful explosion of acrylic shards that summons up the dancer's energy but none of his grace.

Gallery director Beth Ravitz's Self-Portrait: Meditation for Women Who do too Much fares better. It's a sprawling clay-and-wood installation that consists of segments of tree trunks and branches with body parts cast in clay attached. The catch is that the bodies are breaking down, fragmenting into pieces that trail off the wood and onto the floor. About two dozen clay hands also dangle from the ceiling on monofilament.

Ravitz has done an excellent job of assembling this show. And she has done so against considerable odds, because this boxy little gallery has to be one of the least-inviting art venues in Broward County. Given the obvious wealth of talent among the BCC art faculty members, it's a shame the school doesn't have a more hospitable place to show off their works.


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