Boca Museum of Art Exhibits Turn Up the Weird This Summer

A trip to the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Mizner Park this spring and summer can yield an education in contemporary art and, surprisingly, cast a spell of maniacal and slapstick weirdness thanks to the museum's current exhibitions.

"I feel like we've opened a universe that hasn't been touched yet."

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Most intriguing is the video showcase "Shannon Plumb: What a Character," featuring the namesake performance artist in a solo exhibit that runs till August.

Short videos and Super-8 films are shown on nearly 20 small flat-screens mounted to the wall and on box television sets, with others projected onto walls. In them, Plumb portrays a "cast of oddball characters" such as a cowboy, a runway model, a sunbather, and a tourist. "The characters Plumb creates recall those invented by silent screen greats such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton," writes Kathleen Goncharov, the museum's curator of contemporary art.

For example, in Plumb's Paper Collection (2007), which is the first video attendees will see in the show, she frolics along a fashion runway dressed in a paper-made outfit with her headdress made of paper spikes. In another getup, she sports a lioness-like hairdo as she whips up and down the runway, playing with the idea of visual beauty and superficiality.

There's an intense palpable feeling of madness when observing her acting out in each video. Is she on to something with her weirdness? I wondered. Can being a freak and effectively saying no to social constructs be the way to actually live a fulfilling life?

As you stroll about these showcases of her dashing about in these zany characters re-created in old-fashioned low-quality production, your mind begins to absorb the absurdity. There are headphones attached to each video, if you dare listen to the audio. Depending on your mood, this could be a good or bad thing. If you're stressed, you might find relief in this artist's contained chaos, like in the black-and-white, Super-8 transferred to video Tack or Musical Chairs (2003) in which she sits in a chair and sporadically hops up and down, as if riding a roller coaster.

You don't know whether to laugh, feel uncomfortable, or pop a pill and get stoned to truly experience the New York native's world of merriment. She plays women from the ordinary to something a bit special — ballerina, pinup, circus performer — and claims to take a feminist approach while using humor to address gender issues and life's problems through her work.

"It's like starting over with silent film," Plumb shares in the curator's exhibition description. "The comedy of the silent era never explored women's issues — it's so exciting to explore that now. I feel like we've opened a universe that hasn't been touched yet."

Moving away from the wildness is another solo show, "Helena Rubinstein: Beauty Is Power," which runs into July. This exhibition, way more subdued, examines the life of the Polish businesswoman and art collector, Rubinstein, who was credited with redefining beauty in the modern age. She immigrated to New York at the beginning of World War 1 and opened a beauty salon that propelled her to the top of the cosmetics industry.

The intimate show feels like walking through the woman's bedroom and closet. The pieces include portraits of Rubinstein created by Picasso, Warhol, and Matisse. Vintage advertisements and photographs from her marketing collateral are also featured.

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Andrea Richard