The two-man show "Recent Works 09: Drawings, Paintings, Digital, Sculpture," now at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale's Mark K. Wheeler Gallery, pairs current Art Institute instructor Jon Hunt with former Art Institute instructor Jim Radford, and it's an odd-couple affair that works wonderfully. Both men are essentially realists, although in other regards, their work could hardly be more different. Radford often casts his gaze backward to an idealized antiquity, conjuring scenes of, say, an elegantly gowned woman sitting on stone steps that run alongside a waterfall (the oil painting Quiet Devotions) or a female warrior slaying a mythical beast (the resin sculpture Sydney & the Dragon). Or else he creates small, delicate still lifes in which butterflies perch on a head of garlic or an apricot or pomegranates and kiwi fruit occupy the same space as the humble tomato. Even when he paints works rooted in the present, such as his large-scale portraits of family members, there's a neo-Classical feel. Hunt, on the other hand, is more of a post-modernist, as apt to delve into a cheekily retro past, such as the Old West of the ink/digital drawing Dante, as he is to posit a vaguely dystopian present or near-future. Sometimes you get the feeling that even when he tries to be straightforward, as in his renderings of a toad and a hare with antlers, the surrealist prankster in him comes out. And then he'll blindside you with a couple of graphite baby portraits that are anything but ironic. Both artists are at the top of their form here, displaying the sort of casual mastery that makes this easily the best exhibition the Art Institute has mounted in the past decade. The only thing missing is a handout to provide a little more info on these two talents. (Through August 31 at the Mark K. Wheeler Gallery, Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, 1799 SE 17th St. Cswy., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-463-3000.)
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