Coral Springs Potpourri | Art | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Coral Springs Potpourri

Necessity, so it goes, is the mother of invention. In the case of the Coral Springs Museum of Art, the need is to fill about 8,000 square feet of display space on a regular basis. Amazingly, director Barbara K. O'Keefe does it and does it well, continuing to work with limited resources (a minuscule budget, a staff consisting mostly of part-timers and volunteers) and within the confines of city government.

Visit at pretty much any given time and you'll see the results of O'Keefe's inventiveness. Right now, for instance, the museum is host to four solo exhibitions: "Yuroz's Narrative Culture of Cubism," "Felipe R. Luque: Arte Decorativo," "Grace Dubow: Simply Grace!", and "Grace Fishenfeld: Moving Along Through Media and Idea." The big center gallery is also temporarily home to a separate Yuroz work, the massive painting installation United Nations' Human Rights Mural 2004.

Off to one side of that main gallery, the museum's current artist in residence, Barbara W. Watler, is also at work. (Let's just say, for the moment, that a sewing machine and fingerprints are involved.) Adjacent to Watler's makeshift workspace are the beginnings of a new art library, featuring books donated by patrons and custom-made bookshelves. And in the formerly open space on the other side of the center gallery, behind the Yuroz mural, there's now a little seating area furnished with functional art by W.F. Withers, whose fluid designs for a trio of chairs and a table beautifully mesh with the museum's overall look and feel.

As for the exhibitions, while they're all respectable -- O'Keefe rarely curates a clinker -- they also vary in quality. Yuroz, born Yuri Gevorgian in 1956 in the Soviet (at the time) Republic of Armenia, is the headliner here. His "Narrative Culture of Cubism," originally scheduled to end in November but now extended through mid-February, consists of nearly 30 works, most of them fairly large oil paintings on canvas or board, supplemented by a few charcoal drawings.

Yuroz, as the show's title indicates, specializes in cubism, making him something of an oddity in contemporary art. He hasn't, as might be expected, imposed any radical reinterpretation on the once-revolutionary technique of using multiple points of view simultaneously. Rather, he has adapted the classic cubism of Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris to his own ends.

At first glance, some of Yuroz's paintings could almost be mistaken for the work of such early-20th-century cubist pioneers. The carefully controlled palette, the emphasis on geometric shapes, even the subject matter -- all the basic elements are there. Again and again, Yuroz returns to the same visual ingredients: men holding or playing guitars, women, wineglasses, flowers, fruit.

And the subjects are almost always couples. There's one threesome (two men and a woman) included in the show, and a few paintings feature solo men or women, although the women, in particular, tend to look forlorn or at least bored without male companionship. Then again, all of Yuroz's characters have more or less the same blank look. Almost anything could be read into this lack of affect. In at least one piece, Evening Light, a woman's pose and demeanor suggest that she's a prostitute waiting for a customer -- naked except for a pair of bright-red heels, she sits alone with a glass of wine at a small table, legs crossed, one arm propped on the table with the hand cupping her chin, a cigarette dangling from the other hand, an impossibly world-weary look on her face.

It's tempting to speculate that women, who are almost always nude in Yuroz's pictures, are little more than props for the artist, except that his men aren't much more animated. In the exhibition's handout, Matthew Lutt writes: "In the art of Yuroz, lovers embrace each other with such passionate intimacy that it is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. They offer roses, exchange fruit, or dance in celebration of their togetherness."

This sounds exciting, but the paintings don't exactly bear it out. The couples indeed seem to melt together, although their closeness seems more a function of the cubist style than any physical intimacy or emotional connection. (Occasionally they even resemble conjoined twins.) Those blue roses and pomegranates Lutt refers to, like the ubiquitous guitars and glasses of wine, are there to lend variety to the compositions. Cubism's tendency to freeze its subjects is probably why its inventors favored the still life and may be why a Yuroz painting such as Still Life with Blue Roses by Window is, paradoxically, more alive than his portraits of people.

A huge exception -- literally -- is the United Nations' Human Rights Mural 2004, which, despite the generic title, is full of vibrant life. It consists of six big canvases of overlapping imagery, crammed with people engaged in all sorts of activities. Individually, the components were the artwork for stamps issued in the United States, France, and Austria; together, they form a dramatic narrative of the worldwide struggle for human rights.

Surrounding the mural and stretching beyond the center of the main gallery are a dozen and a half pieces of furniture by Felipe R. Luque. The native Spaniard, who settled in Boca Raton after living in New York, works with wood, iron, and glass, accented with marble, granite, and quartz, all of which he transforms into tables and consoles of varying dimensions and shapes (and, in one dazzling piece, into a tiny bench that serves as a base for a long, narrow, smoky mirror framed by pieces of wood that look like tree branches).

As the introduction by Roger S. Selby explains, Luque is fond of working with found objects, each of which might once have been part of something else -- "It might have been a tool, an armoire or a part of a machine. It already had a predetermined configuration and a patina from constant use" -- which are then incorporated, often with minimal alterations, into the artist's work. This accounts for the irregular forms, as well as for a certain poignancy unusual for furniture.

The small galleries clustered on the museum's south side feature two Graces with very different styles and approaches. Grace Dubow, a Texan who came to Florida by way of Michigan, is the more traditional of the two, working mostly in watercolors and favoring floral compositions. One grouping features six versions of Egrets, each executed in a different medium (the batik version is the best); it's an interesting experiment made less interesting by its subject matter. Of the florals, the watercolor White Cattleya and White Orchid Tree, in painted silk, are the standouts.

Grace Fishenfeld, who still splits her time between Florida and New York, is more adventurous, dabbling in media ranging from watercolor, pastel, and acrylic to collage, woodcut, and gouache. She's also more ambitious, which can be admirable or lamentable, depending upon the outcome.

Fishenfeld often runs the risk of overconceptualizing, as in the mixed-media piece Adam & Eve in the City or the dozen gouaches that make up The Myths. And she can't seem to resist editorializing, as in this description of the pastel Anticipating a Visit: "The elderly eagerly await a visit from children and friends and hope not to be forgotten." She's much better off when her lofty subject matter is secondary to the medium, as in the woodcut Acrobat and in several mixed-media reliefs incorporating sand.

If Artist in Residence Barbara Watler is at her post, don't be afraid to approach and ask her about her art, and don't be taken aback if she keeps right on sewing. Quilting, of all things, is the Hollywood-based artist's medium of choice, and sample panels and photo albums of her work are available for examination.

It's Watler's quilting quirk, however, that's of interest. She takes individual fingerprints (there's an ink pad and paper at hand if you'd like to donate yours), enlarges them to varying degrees, then transforms them into lovely abstracts on her trusty sewing machine. Leave it to the Coral Springs Museum's O'Keefe to find such an unusual artist and bring her to our attention.

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Michael Mills

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