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Glass and aluminum wall art sculpture exhibition is at St. Petersburg's Morean Arts Center

BY LENNIE BENNETT

Times Art Critic

ST. PETERSBURG

The other night, as I stood on a stepladder rummaging around the top shelf of a cupboard looking for white chocolate chips, a bottle of vanilla flew out, glanced off my head and onto the floor, sending glass and vanilla everywhere. The house smelled lovely but I'm still feeling little sharp objects underfoot.

Aren't all small domestic crises like that — a little sharp, a little sweet? It's the world of such moments that sculptor Ricky Bernstein captures in an exhibition at the Morean Arts Center, utterly beguiling slices of life resonating with the minutiae that accumulates as our personal stories.

Like the best stories, they're particular and universal. And, unlike a satirist, Bernstein uses humor to illuminate rather than skewer.

The visual appeal of Bernstein's glass and aluminum works is so heady that you can easily breeze past any deeper points he makes. The two best ways I can think of to describe them is that they're like three-dimensional genre paintings and they're as close to kinetic art as nonkinetic art can be.

He introduces us to a cast of characters from the 1950s, those post-war Eisenhower years that we look back on nostalgically as an era of optimism and endless opportunity. They're pop art-ish in a style similar to Red Grooms' paper collages, with gently humorous narratives involving girlfriends Gladys (a brunette), Lois (a redhead), Beverly (the blond) and occasionally one of their husbands, who kvetch their way through their days while doing housework. They smoke, drink lots of coffee and combat endless piles of dishes, fully made-up, sometimes in foam hair curlers and nets (remember those?).

They're a cheerful group. But there is in each a glimmer of wistfulness for a different life and a chance to escape briefly from the one they inhabit with such good grace. In Voila, Gladys, confronting a full sink, has dumped all the dishes into the garbage instead of washing them while Lois gives her an approving pat on the shoulder. Bernstein accompanies all the art with a short back-story. Here we learn that Gladys has always dreamed of being able to do this. You can see why: Surrounding her are piles of laundry and dust mop and broom waiting their turn.

Gladys again finds herself in the kitchen in Kitchen Dreams, this time alone, with more piles of dishes, her hair in curlers, glancing at the wall clock and clearly behind schedule.

Lois and Beverly offer us pointedly poignant vignettes. In A Girl Can Dream, Lois dangles a bikini she yearns to wear but will never fit into; Beverly, in a daydream, becomes Fifi, a glamorous dancer who wafts across the stage in a brief costume (still holding her feather duster).

Smart inclusions to go with the art are wall panels showing us Bernstein's process in making the elaborate constructions and a paper mock-up of one of the works in progress.

In some ways the sculptures are time capsules; rabbit ears on TVs are long gone along with those curlers. And we're schooled now to believe that dreams are pointless unless we aggressively try to make them real. I don't mourn the passing of foam curlers. But the small, private dreams, replaced by electronic devices filling our heads with public chatter, I miss.

You might think of these things when you see the show. Or you might just get a kick out of its joyful embrace of life. Either way, you'll get your money's worth.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

>> If You Go

Ricky Bernstein: Kitchen Dreams

The exhibition is at the Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, through Aug. 14. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors and $5 students with ID. Free Monday. moreanartscenter.org or (717) 822-7872.

— Images from the Morean Arts Center

Glass and aluminum wall art sculpture exhibition is at St. Petersburg's Morean Arts Center 06/16/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 8:22pm]

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