Peter Yalaniz, Jan Kolenda, and Bob Bagley at the Coral Springs Art Museum
Coral Springs has a museum?!" I have heard that refrain almost every time I've mentioned the Coral Springs Museum of Art over the course of at least a dozen years, and it resurfaced again before my most recent visit. It seems that no matter how often I sing the praises of this underappreciated arts resource, the place remains virtually unknown.
So, for the record, yes, Coral Springs has a museum, and a very fine one at that. It has a sculpture garden on one side and the sculpture-dotted International Peace Garden on the other, along with a large outdoor mural of the Everglades in between. It has an artist-in-residence program and a reference library. It even has a small but popular art school.
Most impressive, the Coral Springs Museum of Art has one of the best display spaces in the area: spacious, airy main galleries with big plate-glass windows looking out over a lush, tree-filled landscape, coupled with a suite of smaller, interlocking galleries off to one side.
For years, I have joked with Barbara O'Keefe, the museum's executive director and de facto curator, that I feel like packing a bag when I head to her museum. I'm only half-kidding. It's a long haul out into northwest Broward County to reach the Coral Springs Museum, but there's always something worth seeing upon arrival.
On this visit, I found "All Sides of the Parthenon — Peter Yalanis: Photography," an exhibition of nearly three dozen large-scale photographs in the main galleries. All but four images are in color, and those four feel almost like an afterthought, shoehorned into the main body of the show.
True to the title, Yalanis, who was born in America to Greek parents, explores the Parthenon from just about every imaginable perspective. He has a great feel for architecture, and he's especially good at capturing how this most famous of buildings fits into the dense urban landscape of Athens surrounding it.
And yet the exhibition feels the least bit thin. O'Keefe confirms that the sponsor, the American Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, was unable to provide some of the supplementary materials that might have made the show feel fuller. As it is, the exhibit seems almost like a pretext for propaganda — an argument for returning to Greece the many Parthenon sculptures that have been dispersed throughout the world over the years, mostly during the 19th Century, when the artifacts that came to be known as the Elgin Marbles made their way to Great Britain.
I wish the Parthenon photography could have swapped spaces with the much more powerful exhibition that occupies the secondary galleries. "Inspired by Nature: Beyond Function" features works by Jan Kolenda and Bob Bagley, and much of it is simply breathtaking.
There are portions of the show devoted to each artist individually as well as a handful of collaborations between the two, but their sensibilities are so in sync here that the exhibition comes across as a seamless whole. You could be forgiven for wondering where one artist leaves off and the other begins — harmony and balance are everywhere in evidence.
Kolenda, a transplant to South Florida from Michigan, has worked with clay for more than two decades, which probably accounts for how deftly she manipulates her medium. She was one of two ceramicists who, in 2003, worked with 30 volunteers to create the museum's aforementioned Everglades mural.
Here, Kolenda's emphasis is on the organic. In accordance with the exhibition's title, she has started with nature and moved on to make objects that look functional but have actually gone far beyond function into a purely aesthetic realm. Her stoneware creations have the feel of things that have grown into being rather than having been formed by human hands.
Take the objects she refers to as "treepots," for instance. They vaguely resemble teapots but retain a close connection to the plants from which they take their inspiration, such as crepe myrtle, live oak, bougainvillea, and mangrove. However functional they might appear, you would never actually use something characterized by such otherworldly beauty.
The Parkland-based Bagley, a woodworker with a background building and restoring pipe organs for churches, takes a similar approach to his wooden objects. In his case, the functional items that inspire his work seem to be ceremonial in nature, as in Chalice of the Elven Lords, with its graceful, tree-based curves. Among the woods Bagley works with are mahogany, rosewood, maple, fir, and jacaranda.
When Kolenda and Bagley join forces, the results can be hypnotic. The piece at the entrance to the exhibition, Cypress Knee Basin, for example, is one of the most exquisitely alien-looking things I have ever seen, a clearly nonfunctional object in which the distinctions between the components — Australian pine and ceramic — seem to vanish.
The mainstream media have long looked down on the Coral Springs Museum of Art as some sort of provincial outpost, probably because it concentrates on showcasing artists who live in the area. That's a shame. As the distinctly un-Floridian-flavored work of Kolenda and Bagley makes clear, good art knows no boundaries.
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