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Function Uncertain

There is crockery, and then there is crockery. As in the earthenware bowls and other vessels commonly used to store things in and serve them from, and as in the ceramics found in "Peter King & Xinia Marin: Ceramics for Architecture & Music," now at the Coral Springs Museum of Art.

The difference isn't strictly utilitarian, although that's part of it. As this small, uneven exhibition demonstrates, the work of the husband-and-wife team of King and Marin — the museum's artists in residence for 2008 — finds itself beautifully at home in the realm of the functional. Among the couple's most striking works are ceramic arches designed to bracket residential fireplaces.

Although the oversized color prints that document King and Marin's architectural work (they also design home bars) are pleasing to the eye, they pose a problem for anyone attempting to present the artists' work in a fine-art context. There's no getting around the awkward logistical challenge of representing this work. Although it's unreasonable to consider ripping the arches from people's homes to show them off in a museum, it's also somewhat frustrating for museumgoers to experience the work only from a distance.

The museum's ever-resourceful director and curator, Barbara O'Keefe, compensates with a couple of large-scale works. Turquoise Column is the closest thing the show has to pure sculpture: a tall, elegant, freestanding tower that features a segmented serpentine form snaking down both sides of a faux-brick wall. Castle Chimney is displayed less successfully on an outer wall along the perimeter of the museum. Unfortunately, apparently no one noticed (or bothered to conceal) the obtrusive electrical outlet in the space that would normally be occupied by a fireplace. It's a carelessly overlooked detail that mars the presentation of the piece.

A couple of photos hint at the grandeur King and Marin are capable of when they set out to make a bold statement. As the titles make evident, Temple to Mars and Monument to "911" are nothing if not ambitious. Displayed outdoors, these ornate arches are imposingly formal. If only they and the other architectural photographs were accompanied by even the most basic wall text about the works.

As it is, we have to settle for what context we are given. A coffee-table book on a table in a seating area proves to be King's Architectural Ceramics for the Studio Potter, and a handout confirms that he's at the forefront of his field. Having worked in construction while developing an interest in pottery in college, King set out to combine the two. According to the bio, he founded StoneHaus in 1977 "with the firm idea of making it the first pottery studio in America dedicated to making one-of-a-kind architectural ceramics."

Marin entered the picture when her future husband taught a workshop on the subject at the University of Costa Rica in 1995. A native of that Central American country, she grew up in villages steeped in pre-Columbian techniques for working with clay and went on to study in Italy and Brazil. Today, she is a partner in StoneHaus, which is based in Pensacola and has an outpost in Coral Gables.

Both Marin and King also create more traditional ceramics, examples of which are scattered throughout the main galleries. The most satisfying of these are generally the ones that stray furthest from functionality. Marin's "spaceships," for instance, are delightfully whimsical objects with no discernible use. And her Brick Bench is appealing precisely because its size and proximity to the floor make it impractical for actually sitting on, just as King's wall-mounted Medieval Shield isn't big or sturdy enough for use in battle.

As part of their residency, the couple will continue the tradition of creating a permanent installation for the museum's sculpture garden. Gateway to Peace will draw on King's architectural experience and Marin's expertise in the area of ceramic musical instruments for a work that will "sing" as the wind blows through its open spaces. Visitors can watch the progression of the piece as the artists and their volunteer assistants work on it on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays through March 15, when the finished gateway will be dedicated.

Another show at the museum, "Susan S. Buzzi: Eye on Our Environment," includes photography supplemented with poetry. There are nearly three dozen examples, most in black and white; with a few exceptions, the color images are so muted that the effect is near monochromatic. Nothing wrong with that.

Some of the shots are from the Everglades. The remainder are from Alaska, including some especially strong images of glaciers. The idea seems to be to contrast two environmental extremes. In her artist's statement, included on a handout, Buzzi says her intention is "to provide tranquility and thoughtful insight; and most importantly, to encourage viewers to get involved with conservation efforts in order to participate in the global journey." She adds: "We are the designated guardians of the earth; what we learn and share will eventually determine our fate."

Call me cynical, but somehow I doubt that an exhibit of photos, no matter how brimming with tranquility and thoughtful insight they are, will inspire anyone to rush out and become a conservationist. This is the kind of fuzzy thinking that can give even the best-intentioned environmentalism a bad name.

As for the photographs themselves, they're competently executed if often a little on the bland side. There's certainly nothing here to jar anyone out of his or her complacency, if that's the point. During Buzzi's tenure as head of the Broward Art Guild, she seemed to relish stirring things up from time to time. Here, she plays it safe.

She does, however, display a flair for a certain kind of composition. Again and again, she ends up with landscapes that feature interlocking layers of roughly triangular forms. Well into the show, I picked up on this distinctive element and backtracked to find that, sure enough, it recurs regularly enough to suggest that it's an effect Buzzi consciously pursues. And even if it's something she's stumbled onto, it's a stylistic quirk worth hanging onto and exploring further.

Buzzi's pairing of poetry and photography, on the other hand, should definitely be discouraged. Even her best images groan under the weight of overripe lines like "I embrace the deafening quiet and the infinity of it all," "a hundred thousand colors paint the horizon," and "heart burst asunder; soul on fire/my spirit free/yes, i am ready!" My classmates and I couldn't get away with such lazy writing in creative writing classes long ago. Neither can Buzzi.

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Michael Mills

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