Best Theater 2005 | Palm Beach Dramaworks | Arts & Entertainment | South Florida
Even in its infancy, crammed into a tiny space on Clematis Street in West Palm, Dramaworks has always demonstrated a fidelity to quality and integrity. Now in its fourth season, the company is enjoying a new theater space and a string of superior productions. What makes the 'works work? For starters, this company doesn't talk down to its audiences; it challenges them with rarely produced classics by Sartre, Albee, and other giants. And then there's the fine array of talent, featuring some of our area's top actors and designers.

For more than two years, 20-somethings Yvonne Colón and her curly-haired partner, Garo Gallo, have been developing the local arts community, one rock show at a time. It was back in '02 that Colón first solicited her folks for the seed money to start BTW; since that time, she and Gallo have become the advance team -- a sort of hipster infantry -- that brings art, music, and culture to places previously renowned for lingerie shows and dollar beers. They began promoting local bands at the Fort Lauderdale Saloon, giving the ailing bar and music scene a much-needed shot in the arm, and continued with forays into Broward's less-than-glamorous underbelly. The Las Olas Art Center, the Salt Box, and venerable titty bar Gum Wrappers have all benefited from their insight and effort. As of this writing, the promotion duo continue trailblazing with their latest venture at Karma on Riverwalk, hoping to revive a once-thriving dance club as a live music mecca. You gotta wish them luck -- the harder they work, the better the scene for all of us.

Before April of last year, the Fort Lauderdale Saloon was just another cinder-block and plywood rat trap on Federal Highway. Sure, the place had charm (and a laundry machine), but it was of the "let's go slumming" variety, hardly a draw to anyone other than aging drinkers and long-time regulars. Then during spring and summer of last year, a tiny but significant renaissance occurred. Affable owner Walter Ciuffini partnered with local promoters By the Way to bring favorite local acts into the joint -- bands like AC Cobra, Humbert, and Southern Flaw. Soon, it became clear to all that good shows bring hip folks, and hip folks drink a lot of beer. Eureka -- there's money in that there music! BTW has moved on, but Rock Bottom Hip-Hop Nights have taken its place on a nearly weekly basis. Now Friday nights mean breaking b-boys, graffiti in the parking lot, and rappers from all over South Florida strutting their stuff. All this killer music, and the Saloon still offers cheap beer and chicken nuggets. Now that's true South Florida culture.
When the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art closed its doors for the last time in late March, it was the end of a noble experiment that lasted five years. PBICA, as it was known in the alphabet-soup art world, had been a work of love, not to mention considerable cash, for South Florida arts patrons Robert and Mary Montgomery. The lovely old Art Deco movie theater in downtown Lake Worth that was PBICA's home had been a museum before, when it held the collection of J. Patrick Lannan in the 1980s, then again in the 1990s after the Lannan Foundation turned it over to Palm Beach Community College. The Montgomerys, who bought the building from the school, hoped that other support for the museum would materialize once they got it up and running. They were wrong, unfortunately. During its brief, shining moment, however, PBICA presented exhibitions that attracted national attention, including its inaugural venture, "Making Time: Considering Time as a Material in Contemporary Film and Video." Other highlights included the exuberant group show "Brooklyn!" and "The Smiths: Tony, Kiki, Seton," which brought together for the first time the works of three prominent artists from the same family. At least the museum went out with a bang: Its final exhibition, "I Feel Mysterious Today," was a multimedia extravaganza every bit as exciting as its first.

The next time someone you know whines about how lackluster the South Florida art world is, give 'em a good smack and recite the list of artists who have had solo shows here in the past year alone. It includes established giants (Andrew Wyeth at the Boca Museum, Robert Rauschenberg at the Miami Art Museum, Louise Nevelson and Joan Miró at Hollywood's Art and Culture Center) and lesser names of exceptional promise (Michael Joo at the Palm Beach Institute, Zhang Huan at the Norton, Ignacio Iturria at the Boca Museum). They're all outshone, however, by "Louise Bourgeois: Stitches in Time," which enjoyed an all-too-brief run at the Museum of Contemporary Art. While not exactly a career retrospective for Bourgeois, who at 94 is still active, the exhibition was an outstanding look at an artist whose vast output has come to be seen as more and more important over the past quarter of a century. "Stitches in Time" was a landmark show for a landmark artist.

Art exhibitions with a gimmick run the risk of being too... well, gimmicky. Which is why "Birdspace: A Post-Audubon Artists' Aviary," last summer at the Norton, was especially amazing. For one thing, it was a large show that included more than 70 works by 50 artists. For another, it paid homage to an artist of great historical importance, the peerless John James Audubon. The art was limited to works connected in some way to our fine feathered friends, but beyond that, anything was fair game. And while most of the artists were Americans born in the mid-20th Century, their art was all over the map. A few stuck to fairly traditional media; others pushed boundaries and political hot buttons. Despite all these things, or maybe even because of them, it was an enormously satisfying exhibition in which an array of often fascinating parts added up to an even greater whole.

Sometimes, if you come from New York, Boston, San Francisco, Bogotá, or Buenos Aires, it seems that South Florida is a cultural wasteland. But then you visit the Norton. It's a beautiful piece of property located a stone's throw from the Intracoastal Waterway. There, you can immerse yourself in the work of Duane Hansen, Jose Bédia, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollack, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, and Paul Klee, among others. Indeed, the permanent collection includes more than 5,000 pieces. Founded in 1941 by an industrialist named Ralph Hubbard Norton, the Art Deco/neoclassical gem has grown like crazy in the past 12 years. It doubled in size in 1993, then added a wing in 2003 that included 14 new galleries -- and almost doubled the gallery space again. It is, in our view, the one place in this overcrowded subtropical morass where you can lose yourself in the great thoughts of great thinkers. You say you live in Fort Lauderdale or Hollywood or Boca Raton and you've never been there? Well, dumbbell, go! Maybe jump on the TriRail and pack a bag lunch. It'll be a trip you will never, ever regret, no matter how many times you do it. During the summer, the Norton is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $8 for adults.

There's a reason so many artists resort to naming their works Untitled. Titling a work of art can be almost as tricky as creating it. You want to be clever but not too clever, striking the right balance between the evocative and the descriptive, between poetry and prose. The same goes for exhibitions, and curators don't have the luxury of leaving one without a moniker. That's why "The Inspired Moustache: An Exhibition of Diverse Expressions of Salvador Dalí through Books and Memorabilia from the Collection of Rik Pavlescak" seems to be just about perfect. The "inspired moustache" part is the poetry: an image that all at once summons the artist's appearance along with his affectations and his maniacal creativity. The rest of the title is the prose, precise and descriptive to an almost comical extreme. Best of all, it slyly alludes to Dalí's penchant for such flamboyant titles as Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate One Second Before Waking Up and Soft Construction with Boiled Beans: Premonition of Civil War.

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