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Teachers' Pets

You know the saying: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." That's not the case, however, at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, which is hosting its 21st Annual Faculty Exhibition in the school's Mark K. Wheeler Gallery. At the very least, the show demonstrates that these instructors are able to practice what they preach.

It's a relatively small exhibition of no more than 50 works, and a number of them are so clearly utilitarian that it makes little sense to approach them as aesthetic objects. On view are logos, fashion designs, and comics, as well as a series of panels for an ad campaign, a set of photographs illustrating the interior design of a luxury yacht, and even a copy of a screenplay. A couple of artists working in something called "sculpty clay" ended up with items that look like they belong in a souvenir shop.

Otherwise, an appropriate array of styles and media are represented. It's bracing to note, for instance, that there's still an appreciation of the value of old-fashioned drawing. Youssef Bahri's City of Sanaa/Yemen is a starkly graceful graphite rendering of densely packed, boxy buildings, while Christine David's Daydream is a plaintive double portrait in pencil and graphite (although I much prefer David's Analysis Explosion, a lively, energetic cubist-style abstract with geometric shapes in rich purples and browns).

Most of the photographs here, however technically accomplished they are, serve mainly as reminders of just how challenging it is to do anything truly fresh and original in photography these days without resorting to special effects or manipulating the image in some way. Some of these pictures might make sense as part of an exhibition by a single photographer, where we could see the artist's themes and preoccupations emerge and evolve. But without such a context, they're oddly flat and uninvolving. (The same is true, by the way, of many of the individual photos in the current Hortt and Salon Des Refuses exhibitions.)

The show offers at least one fine example of so-called traditional media. Mimi Botscheller's huge The Oracle is an extremely busy composition in which the conventional techniques of oil painting are used to capture fantastic subject matter. Working on an even larger scale, Rosanne Gibel puts pencil to paper for the 12-panel Waiting, which juxtaposes drawings of a pregnant nude with hand-written journal excerpts that establish links between pregnancy and other such creative endeavors as drawing and crocheting. A case in point: "When you are finally through, it is always a relief. You look at the finished product of your work and it takes some time to realize that, somehow, this came from you."

The often neglected medium of pastel gets its due in a lovely pair of complementary works by Janet Gold, both of them abstracts. Lyrical combines a palette of mostly soft shades of pink, blue, and yellow with a set of simple, strategically placed lines. Intellectual Response uses blacks and silvery grays offset by a blurry red line. The warmth of the former and the coolness of the latter play off each other beautifully. And there's an appealing wooden sculpture by Steven Bleicher called Large Fetish, a roughly two-foot-tall abstract the angular features of which suggest a human figure without ever actually fleshing one out.

Among the mixed-media works, the standouts are two tongue-in-cheek pieces by Debbie Rose Myers that face each other from opposite ends of a small alcove but would probably work better side by side. In A Perfect Life, three color photos of a cherubic baby mingle with flowery garden foliage, a piece of classical statuary (another angelic child), and a pair of framed, sepia-toned prints of blissful domestic life circa the '50s. Across the way A Time of Indiscretion works with a similar composition -- a couple of wistful-looking children, a pair of lovers, a ghostly man's face -- to hint at a darker side of the other picture's "perfect life."

The most arresting image in the whole show is tucked away in a corner, where it's almost overwhelmed by some larger mixed-media pieces (including Ron Kreszswick's amusingly garish triptych called Benevolent Manifestation of the Sacred Piercing). Using computer imaging Pierre Pepin has created a picture, called simply House, that hums with a strange, hard-to-pinpoint energy. It's a disarmingly direct composition -- a two-story country house backed by a couple of bare trees -- but Pepin has somehow transformed it into a vibrant mosaiclike pattern of small, irregular shapes that seem almost three-dimensional. There's no indication whether he started with a photograph that he then manipulated or generated the image from scratch in a computer. Either way it's a surprisingly commanding picture.

The 21st Annual Faculty Exhibition is on display through October 27 in the Mark K. Wheeler Gallery at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, 1799 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale, 954-463-3000.

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Michael Mills

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