At 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.
Lowe Art Museum
"The Changing Face of Art and Politics" Through April 24
"Rafael Soriano: Other Worlds Within, a Sixty Year Retrospective" Through March 27
"Frank Paulin: American Documentarian" Ongoing
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.
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.
One of the more unusual works on display is a canvas by Reginald Murray Pollack painted in 1967.
Peace March riffs on James Ensor's Christ's Entry into Brussels (1889) painted during the seething class struggles brewing in the wake of the spread of socialism to Belgium, according to a gallery handout.
Next to Pollack's energetic rendition of anti-Vietnam sentiment is a small video monitor playing an old episode of Star Trek televised the same year the artist completed his painting.
In it, a fictional immortal character owns one of Pollack's opuses in his collection on a planet suffering from a galactic plague. In a key scene, Mr. Spock assumes the role of an art historian comparing Pollack to Da Vinci.
Across from the boob tube, a 1964 Warhol screen print captures the violence that roiled Birmingham in May 1963 after police loosed snarling attack dogs and turned fire hoses on civil rights demonstrators.
The plight of slaves is powerfully portrayed down the hall by William Blake, a member of the British abolitionist movement. His 1793 engraving depicts a seminude female slave dangling by wrists tied to a tree branch. The agonized woman's body appears convulsing under the lash of her slave master in Surinam.
Yet another image that makes the bile rise is the picture of a slain union leader, his prone body outlined in a halo of blood. The photo was taken by Manuel Alvarez Bravo in 1934, when the striking laborer was assassinated at a sugar mill in Tehuantepec by gunfire.
Goya captures the religious hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church in his native Spain during the late 18th Century in an etching from Los Caprichos modeled on an Assumption scene. In the image, a decked out Virgin Mary receives a one-way ticket to heaven courtesy of three grotesque crones who are members of the clergy.
The more than thirty 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 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.
Poetic pieces such as The Angel 1989 evoke comparisons to astral jellyfish, while Floating Ship 1979 suggests an electric faraway nebula.
Soriano's Anguish of Forgetfulness, completed in 1996, is equally atmospheric in nature and perhaps offers a glimpse of the exiled painter's melancholic yearnings for the homeland he left behind in the early '60s.
In the painting, a tortured soul appears to be quavering and struggling to free itself from a painful reverie. Soriano's exhibit alone merits a visit to the museum. Try not to miss it. His work is both distinctly original and a revelation.
Also on view are a collection of black-and-white photos by Frank Paulin that 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.
One stark urban scene depicts a pockmarked Puerto Rican youth clad in leather with a cigarette dangling from his curled lip standing on a street corner while pompous civic types parade down the boulevard during Easter decked in their monkey suits and top hats.
You'll even find a picture of a movie house marquee touting the B-flick classic I Was A Teenage Frankenstein across from the mug of a Cuban revolutionary sporting a Stetson and sprouting more hair under his brim than you could pluck off a buffalo hide.
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.