While it's gratifying to see South Florida arts institutions snagging big names -- Joan Mir— and Louise Nevelson at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, James McNeill Whistler and Andrew Wyeth at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Robert Rauschenberg at the Miami Art Museum -- it's equally exciting when a museum resurrects an artist many people have never heard of and many others have long forgotten. The Boca Museum is especially good at supplementing its flashier exhibitions with smaller shows that often pack an even greater punch. That's what happened when the museum paired its big but slightly bland "Seeing People: Paintings from the National Academy Museum" with "The Many Faces of Balcomb Greene: Abstractionist Against the Tide," which cast welcome light on an American artist whose career spanned the 20th Century but whose work has been sadly overlooked since his heyday in the 1940s, '50s, and early '60s.
Poet T.S. Eliot was wrong when he declared, "April is the cruelest month." In the South Florida art world last year, March was by far the cruelest month, because it marked the final days of the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, whose financial well ran dry after five years. And as far as PBICA was concerned, Eliot was equally wrong when he speculated that the world would end "not with a bang but a whimper." The museum went out with a big bang with its final exhibition, "I Feel Mysterious Today," a group show with an enigmatic title that summed up everything that was wonderful about the ill-fated contemporary art center.
Matt Carone has been a fixture on the South Florida art scene for so long that it's easy to take him for granted. The New Jersey native opened his famous, influential gallery on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale in 1959, and in the following decades, he built a roster that included such artists as Wolf Kahn, Leon Kroll, Wifredo Lam, and, of course, the great Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta. Meanwhile, Carone quietly continued his own work as a painter, urged on by Matta on his many visits to the area. And when the 41-year-old Hortt Memorial Competition was on the verge of going under a couple of years ago, Carone made his gallery available to the Broward Art Guild as one of the venues for the beleaguered exhibition. Last year, the artist sold his 10,000-square-foot space, which is now home to the Las Olas Art Center. But best of all, the 75-year-old Carone continues to paint, and if a recent one-man show at Lurie Fine Art Galleries in Boca Raton's Gallery Center is any indication, he's at the height of his creative powers.
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While it's doubtful that Broward and Palm Beach counties will ever seriously challenge Miami-Dade's art-gallery dominance, things are not nearly as dire as some skeptics claim. Yes, galleries come and go more often than they should. But there are also galleries that stay the course. One such veteran is New River Fine Art in the heart of the Las Olas business district in downtown Fort Lauderdale. New River has been around long enough to see the continuing transformation of the Las Olas neighborhood, but through it all, the gallery continues what it does best: providing a stimulating mix of old and new. New River embraces such contemporary talents as Luc Leestemaker, Karen Stene, and Pascal Chova, but it has also amassed an excellent track record when it comes to such big names as Picasso, Mir—, Chagall, and the Pissarro family. And last year, the gallery "rediscovered" Dali just before the art world as a whole began reassessing the still-controversial Spanish surrealist.
One of last year's most dramatic reaffirmations of the idea that less is more came in the form of "Reduced," a sort of nouveau minimalist exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood. With just a dozen works by only four artists, the show tweaked classic minimalism and conceptual art to come up with its own cheeky version of post-minimalism. Francis Trombly played optical tricks by creating objects made of substances other than what they seemed; Frank Wick explored some subtle if extreme possibilities of mixed media; and Tom Scicluna made oblique jokes about the center's former life as a funeral home. This small package of an exhibition was neatly tied up by the 1971 video I Am Making Art, a deadpan classic in which John Baldessari handily reduces everything to a statement of aesthetics.
Gordon McConnell was almost a one-man show of subtle exploration into the fleeting nature of fame in Mosaic Theatre's Match. As Tobi, the aging former Balanchine dancer and Julliard choreographer haunting a sad and lonely apartment at the northern edge of Manhattan, McConnell was quietly magnificent as the solitary egotist who kept his toenail clippings in a jar and desperately longed for the touch of another human being. Even when a duplicitous married couple came to his cloister to interrogate him about the past, it was clear that McConnell's Tobi had full control of the room. He was gregarious, menacing, authoritative, giving, pansexual, seductive, and lecherous, all at the same time. Remember the cloyingly gay character played by George Carlin (who otherwise has always been fabulous) in The Prince of Tides? Well, McConnell was exactly the opposite.
One of the best things about Claire Tyler's work in the past year, whether in The Pull of Negative Gravity and Match (both at Mosaic Theatre) or Educating Rita at Palm Beach Dramaworks, has been her expressively malleable face. Regardless of the play, Tyler throws her entire body into her game, a style that finally paid off with her role as the low-class Liverpudlian hairdresser yearning to join the high-brow literary establishment. If you want to know how difficult the role of Rita is, pick up a copy of the play and read through the nonstop banter as you follow Rita's evolution. Tyler fully lived up to the demands of Rita, both the sad yearning for education and the finally confident assumption of her place in life as brainy literature scholar. Tyler, clearly showing her stuff, gave you no choice but to love Rita no matter where she was in her evolution.
If you were to graph out geography versus number of theaters in South Florida, with north-south location on the y axis and numbers on the x axis, you'd get a pyramid. Miami's southern theaters form a wide base, Broward's occupy the narrower midsection, and Palm Beach Dramaworks sits pretty much alone at the graph's northern point. Regardless of its lonely place in WPB, though, PBD consistently offers a moving world inside 322 Banyan Blvd. that balances out the smarminess of Clematis a block away. Pulling off those productions has a lot to do with director Nanique Gheridian. In a period of just a few months this year, "Nanique of the North" wheeled out Hand of God and Educating Rita -- something new and something old. Both plays, with her nurtured stable of well-chosen actors, offered different worlds of deep contemplation that Gheridian seems to know, at heart, is a primary reason for going to the theater in the first place.
Michael McKeever is probably the South Florida theater community's MVP this year. He writes plays. He acts in plays. He designs sets. Oh, and the playbills you use to fan yourself? It's very likely he designed their covers. Hand of God, McKeever's new play about Catholic priests could, in theory, make you wince from the possibility of bringing out the clergy's dark secrets. But the play is really about introspection and the miracle of kindness in daily human interaction, which makes Hand of God almost feel warmly out of time, the same way that gentle chess-playing priests bantering in a sunlit rectory also seem to be from another time. This sense of slowing down, of deliberate thought, and of welcoming the unexpected in life, binds the play together. If you were from someplace frigid, like New England (or, for that matter, Palm Beach County), you could say that Hand of God feels like the first warm day of spring, when you can sit in the sun on the grass and talk with your friends after a long, cold winter inside.
Sisters of Swing, at Florida Stage, was a musical play about the Andrews Sisters -- LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty. But the sisters never existed in an all-female world. There were husbands, managers, and band leaders, and, of course, the thousands of soldiers for whom the girls came to symbolize every wife and girlfriend left behind as they fought in the trenches of World War II. Terrell Hardcastle and Tom Kenaston moved quickly through Sisters of Swing to play all of these boys and men, with the softness of homesick G.I.s and with scene-stealing hilarity as they crafted unforgettable impressions of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

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