At the Lowe Art Museum, a winning trifecta delivers a bit of everything from the relationship between art and politics across the ages to a retrospective of Cuban painter Rafael Soriano to a compelling slice of Americana by photographer Frank Paulin.
Curated by students and faculty of University of Miami's museum studies program, "The Changing Face of Art and Politics" culls works from Lowe's extensive collection, placing Renaissance-era prints by Hieronymus Hopfer alongside pieces by '60s pop icons such as Warhol.
The exhibit -- part of the ArtLab series operated jointly by UM's Department of Art and Art History and Lowe -- presents a broad array of work and media that covers politically freighted themes that include war, revolution, protest, colonization, repression, equality, segregation, and religion.
On view are images that gallop from the medieval combat between cavalry and infantry in Italy to full bore Southern-fried race riots and antiwar Vietnam protests during the Summer of Love. The more than 30 works on display span five centuries of political upheaval and reflect the discourse between artists, the societies they lived in, and the iniquities they wrestled against.
The next exhibit, Lowe's box-office attraction, is a retrospective of the prolific career of Rafael Soriano, which opens with his early explorations of geometric abstraction and culminates with his mastery of a style that has been described as "oneiric luminism."
Beginning in the '80s, Soriano's mature works gave flight to a singular vision, resulting in images that are drop-dead gorgeous and oscillate with an inner light that practically pulses toward the viewer from deep within the canvas. He conjures a dreamy illusion of space by applying layer after layer of thinly veiled paint to create vaporous combinations of color and membrane-like forms that suggest spiritual amoebas or ethereal alien life forms.
His later paintings are rendered in a distinctive pallet that hews mostly to purples, blues, violets, and earth tones and strangely remind one of livor mortis. Soriano's exhibit alone merits a visit to the museum. Try not to miss it. His work is both distinctly original and a revelation.
The third exhibit is a collection of black-and-white photos by Frank Paulin, which were recently donated to Lowe. Many of Paulin's pictures on exhibit were snapped during the '50s in New York's Times Square, where he spent most evenings walking the streets and capturing his subjects in unexpected moments while they conducted their business.
In 1957, Paulin became the first artist to hold a solo show at Limelight, the sole art photography space in New York at the time, earning critical acclaim for his uncanny knack for recording "poetic accidents" and exuding "humor and compassion" in his works.
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Paulin's subjects range from a woman waving a Bible and quoting scripture under gaudy neon signs trumpeting sin palaces in the concrete jungle to a boy caught stealing furtive glances at the image of a scantily draped nymph shackled on a torture rack in a window display in front of "Ripley's Believe It or Not" exhibit in the Big Apple.
This gritty slice of Americana coupled with Soriano's luminous metaphysical musings and firebrand political art at Lowe are a good bet for anyone banking on an art trifecta that pays off in spades.
Lowe Art Museum, 1301 Stanford Dr., Coral Gables; 305-384-3535; lowemuseum.org. Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday noon to 4 p.m.