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Eugene and Clare Thaw set about gathering artifacts that show that Native American art equals — or rivals — the art of other cultures. "Masterpieces of Native American Art From the Eugene and Clare Thaw Collection" displays 108 of more than 800 pieces from the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, New York, that the couple collected "not for their anthropological value but for their artistic aesthetic." Organized by geographic regions, we see how natural resources influence art. For instance, the fashion of arctic and subarctic zones includes a lightweight seal-gut parka in white with festively dyed purple, red, and green triangles made of tufts of walrus fur. The hand-stitched garment shares little with a Southwestern woman's shawl, woven and embroidered in cotton. Of course, on the runways, fur is a big P.C. no-no, but here in a Native American exhibit, it becomes a mere cultural difference. We think nothing of the eagle feathers and tufts of horse hair in the 1890 Plains indian headdress or the other animal remains incorporated into these objects. So the exhibit shows us not only how the artistic sensibilities of these cultures differ from each other but from ours as well. The exhibit includes masks, weaponry, clothing, jewelry, weavings, bead work, and souvenirs, and it provides cultural commentary to explain the imagery depicted within the objects. {Through February 4 at Society of Four Arts, 2 Four Arts Plaza, Palm Beach. Call 561-655-7226.)

The zen of tedium can produce the sweetest fruit. "Yozo Hamaguchi: Father of the Modern Mezzotint" proves it, though the contemplative exhibit might easily be overlooked, tucked in a quiet corner behind the flagrant Marilyn Monroe exhibit at the Boca Museum. You really would be missing something. The Japanese artist (1909-2000) renders his cherries, watermelons, and other natural subjects using a complex printing medium that is so labor-intensive that it has traditionally been used for practical reproductions rather than creative purposes. The method produces a velvety black background on which the artist displays colorful objects that are poetic (distilled down to their essentials like haiku) in their simplicity. The mezzotint process produces subtle color gradations that in Hamaguchi's hands give his subjects an otherworldly glow, infusing them with a spirituality not typically associated with produce. Presenting its little red orbs in a vertical line, Twenty-Two Cherries explores variation both in the fruits' stems and clefts and in the two little dissident cherries who have gotten out of line — an exploration he takes one step further in six other prints that are identical except for cherry and stem colors. The effect is that we are first aware of similarities and then of the differences that distinguish each cherry, each print. Exploring the emotional quality of color is ideal for this printing medium. For instance, the only thing that distinguishes Bottle With Lemon and Red Wall from Bottle With Lemon in Darkness (besides their titles) are the colors, the yellows becoming less vivid and the red wall, gray in the second print. The medium also makes an excellent vehicle to consider process. Lady Bird and Leaf provides us with a series of different hued squares in different "stages" of completion. Some depict ladybugs while some provide just a circle but no defining ladybug dots. In this way, we can contemplate the form rather than just the objects themselves. (Through February 18 at Boca Museum, 501 Plaza Real, Mizner Park, Boca Raton. Call 561-392-5200.)

"William Wegman: Funney/Strange," now at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, is a sprawling career retrospective of the artist best-known for Polaroids of his dogs, usually dressed up in outrageous outfits or posed in unusual situations. The show doesn't lack for examples of this work with the photogenic Weimaraners, which also turn up in videos and the occasional painting. Although these pooch pics are by far the most famous portion of the artist's output, the works included here (more than 200) include paintings, drawings, collages, artist books, and altered black-and-white photos. Through it all runs a thread of conceptualism, a sort of hyper-self-consciousness. In the past decade or so, Wegman has taken to creating mixed-media paintings with existing post cards as their starting point, expanded upon into much larger, more complex images — an approach that is sometimes flat-out ingenious. These paintings alone might have made a fully satisfying exhibition. As it is, "Funney/Strange" feels overstuffed, a premature career retrospective for an artist who, at 63, hasn't earned it just yet. The show is not only exhaustive but also exhausting. (Through January 28 at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-832-5196.)

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Marya Summers

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