Look hard enough and most scenic designs betray their transience: the way the entire flimsy structure shakes at the slamming of a door, or the way the tops of buildings rooflessly taper off just before the lighting grid. Stage artifice inevitably exists somewhere, which is why realistic set designs are harder to perfect than conceptual ones. But I'll be damned if Amico's two Midwestern houses and shared backyard of Picnic (at Palm Beach Dramaworks) didn't look positively air-lifted from the play's 1950s setting, with nary a theatrical cog or plank or beam in sight. No facet of the set was stunning for its own sake; Amico's contributions generously complemented the production's other designers. Each element, from the disconnected shed where characters escaped the hot-blooded throngs to the functional (!) water pump, proved significant to director William Hayes' naturalistic evocation of everyday life. Trees towered behind the impressive midcentury wood structures, littering the roofs with leaves and allowing lighting designer Donald Edmund Thomas to refract sunlight across the sweltering exterior. Kansas, you never looked so good.
The "Up" in "ArtsUP" stems from the fact that when you walk into the gallery, which just opened in April, your eyes are uncontrollably drawn toward the ceiling. The space inside is massive — 5,000 square feet — and the art hangs (or floats, or soars) from the ceiling. The effect is awe inspiring: In artist Jamey Grimes' recent installation, called "Wash," neon, coral-like ripples glide high above the viewer, appearing to bob up and down on the air. It's dreamlike, and unlike any other gallery in South Florida. The setup also has a bonus feature: Since there's rarely anything on the ground, the space can be used for events.
Readers' choice: Gallery of Amazing Things
Tucked away among the Irish pubs, the Mexican restaurants, and the gaudy storefronts of Mizner Park is a beacon of both local and world culture. The Boca Raton Museum of Art is a 44,000-square-foot facility that opened in 2001. It is simultaneously an inviting space that celebrates human creativity and a humble work of art itself. In addition to the revolving exhibitions featuring painters, photographers, and sculptors from across the breadth of the American experience, the museum houses a permanent international collection that has over 5,000 works of art spread throughout the building and the outdoor sculpture garden. The museum's current exhibitions include environmental portrait photographer Arnold Newman and New York-based portrait painter Kehinde Wiley, whose colorful work of contemporar brown-skinned people striking heroic poses in regal, Anglo-European settings is the epitome of what the Boca Museum of Art is striving for. From film screenings to wine-and-cheese gala openings, the museum welcomes the full scope of society's dreams and visions and is as varied and diverse as South Florida itself.
Readers' choice: Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens
In March, an eccentric two-day performance art festival was launched in Fort Lauderdale's artsy FATVillage. "The Nerve" introduced 14 artists and creative groups performing conceptual pieces. The majority were slightly bizarre (a good thing!) and totally mesmerizing. Artist Lisa Marie Stephens attempted to break 50 cement bricks with a sledgehammer. Karina Pais carved words onto carrots. Rosemarie Romero got into character using a hyper-kitschy nail salon as her backdrop. Jen Clay brought stop-motion animation, handmade costumes, and puppets all together to give silly yet creepy vibes in her projected pieces, "Let's Be Friends" and "It's All Really Real."
It's been almost a decade since artists started setting up studios in the Flagler Arts and Technology Village. Husband-and-wife team Leah Brown and Peter Symons, both graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design, were among the first to move in, and their presence helped build FAT's reputation as a place where serious artists could execute sophisticated work. The ideas never stop coming with these two. Not only do they build killer installations themselves (to walk into one of Brown's mythical forest-scapes is to be transported to a calm but unsettling alternate world), but they've fostered a sense of community by organizing and curating group shows that manage to be fun, high level, inclusive, and of the moment. "Beep Bop Boop" was an attempt to make sense of digital culture. "Game Show" incorporated the idea of play. "The Nerve" was perhaps the best-realized performance art exhibition to ever take place in Broward, and a current show on political art seizes the Zeitgeist. Brown and Symons' current space, called the Projects in FATVillage, is a 10,000-square-foot hangar-like warehouse and remains the go-to spot every last Saturday of the month when Fort Lauderdalians are out in full force for the monthly art walk.
It's easy to take captivating pictures in exotic or busy places like New York City or Mumbai, where the surroundings do the work. But even the most talented National Geographic shutterbug would have trouble keeping things interesting given the parameters of shooting the same subject at the same time, daily. That's why Andy Royston's work is so fascinating. Every day at dawn, he takes his trusty iPhone4 and snaps photos on Fort Lauderdale Beach where he manages to eke out a vast range of images, from abstract shots of waves crashing to ethereal images of wildlife silhouetted against the horizon. He posts his shots on his popular Twitter feed @FtLauderdaleSun, which hovers at more than 27,000 followers.
Bizarre cartoons are the specialty of Christopher Ian MacFarlane, a self-taught 30-something who works with vibrant color palettes in a rare, playful way. Influenced by Looney Tunes cartoons and cubism a la Picasso, MacFarlane's murals are full of characters who look like they've gone mad, like a wolf riding a trash-can rocket, or a lady with a schoolmarmish hair bun and dress but a grotesque face. His work has been commissioned all over town at sites including Young at Art Museum, FATVillage, Respectable Street, and Broward College. In addition to his 2-D work, he's been experimenting with movable robot sculptures, like an "animatronic raccoon" and a "spaghetti mutant" with light-up devil eyes.
Usually, the phrase "street artist" conjures up the idea of some crust-punk with paint cans scrawling graffiti or a Wynwood hipster painting a wall. But Robin Merrill outdoes them all. A woman who defies stereotypes (she's a Christian missionary with a wicked sense of humor, a white lady who hangs with Seminole and Miccosukee Indians), she's always thinking up projects to improve the world. At her brick-and-mortar shop, the Upper Room Art Gallery, she sells fair-trade gifts and paintings. In 2013, she won a Knight Foundation grant to keep alive the tradition of cypress canoe carving. And this May, she took action to combat one of her pet peeves: dangerous intersections. The City of Fort Lauderdale won an "Art of Community" grant from the Community Foundation of Broward for their "Connecting the Blocks" project and Merrill was hired to paint her design at crosswalks along Breakers Avenue in bright, eye-catching colors and geometric designs. The project works as a beautifying measure but doubles as a traffic calmer, since people slow down to check out the works. A third effect is that the patterns evoke the underground aquifers that nourish us and our land. Genius!
Lake Worth-based artist and filmmaker Jacques de Beaufort boasts an oeuvre that is made of magic. His paintings and drawings usually consist of shamanistic, slightly surreal images (and exotic topless chicks); red, gold, and orange tones convey power and mystery. This past year, he won us over with "Deep Inside the Man-Cave," a series of portrait drawings (and his self-portrait) in which he masterfully captures the aura and essence of masculinity in his male subjects, all friends like PureHoney magazine publisher Steve Rullman and Raggy Monster bandmates Sage Duvall and Billy Schmidt. With pastels, pencil, and white conté, de Beaufort allows the men's individual personalities to jump off the page and prompts the viewer to wonder more about each person. De Beaufort is also an associate professor of visual arts at Palm Beach State College.
Readers' choice: Christopher Ian Macfarlane