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Innovative art steps beyond the apparent

Knock your brains out. "Transparence/Transcendence," at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, is heavy mental.

This is cutting edge art of the '90s. And like the art of past decades, it's probably not what you'd want to hang in your home or office, at least not yet. This is art on a launch pad for exploration beyond its bounds.

For this mission, you'll need to bring a concept of art broad enough to include these ideas:

Beauty is not a requirement of art.

The quality of art does not depend on fixed standards.

The media available for art have changed as technology has produced new materials.

Art does not have to be hand-crafted; it can be appropriated.

The message of an art work need not be uplifting. It can express sarcasm, skepticism, anger and defiance, among other things.

In a free society, art can break all the rules.

The show comes to USF from Germany, curated by Uli Bohnen, an art historian and theoretician. His slate of artists is mostly German but also includes artists of other nationalities, including three Americans. They share in common the use of transparent materials: glass, lenses, Plexiglas, film, photographs, slides and film strips. That's the "transparence" in the show's title; "transcendence" goes beyond physical reality to an unseen dimension as each individual confronting a work works out private insights.

The artists belong to no school. They have developed their art independently. Yet certain common reference points are unmistakable: the Dada movement (art fighting established ideas of art) in the 1920s, Germany's contemporary leaders Anselm Kiefer and Sigmar Polke, and most noticeably, the late Joseph Beuys.

Beuys, a German artist who died in 1986, was a Luftwaffe fighter pilot in World War II. Shot down over northern Europe, he was rescued by Tartar tribesmen on sleds who treated his wounds with fat and wrapped him in heavy felt. Felt, fat and sleds came to hold special meaning for him, and he incorporated them in his art to convey an experience that transcended these mundane materials.

Important to Bohnen's concept of the show is the term "aura," which implies an intangible mysticism, but is also connected in a more familiar way with light. Most of the works incorporate some form of light: bulbs, tubes, gallery lighting and projectors. Light can make a work visible, but it can also be blinding. Used with a distorting lens or colored glass, it can alter our perception of reality.

The show starts outside the museum, where two small glass houses seem to come out of a glass museum wall. Despite a sign that says, "Please Do Not Touch the Art Work," broken chips of glass litter the far walls of the houses.

Inside the museum, up against the same glass wall, the work continues with five more houses and more broken glass. A sign directs the viewer to activate a projector. Instantly, a tiny naked man materializes inside one house, chiseling frantically at an unscathed wall.

So much for whimsy, here in the work of Dutch artist Wyn Geleynse. You'll get little more of it.

Much of what you do get will depend on what ideas work through your mind as you contemplate meaning. Don't worry whether your thoughts are the same as what the artist intended.

You may want to relate Natural Law, by Italian artist Ugo Dossi, to the 10 Commandments. Most of the time the two tablets are bare, but every couple of minutes, for a fraction of a second, mystic "writing" flashes across the tablets (as pictured). Is Dossi linking the subliminal to the eternal?

Osvaldo Romberg, an Argentinian who lives and works in New York and Israel, places scale models of churches inside a transparent suitcase. Romberg, like Tampa-New York artist William Pachner, is Jewish and uses suitcase symbolism often. Could he be relating to the diaspora?

Bill Barrette, an American who exhibited in the Tampa Museum of Art show "Constructing Images," appropriates old photographs, once meaningful to someone else, now anonymous to him. He sets them within structures and behind distorting lenses which make them difficult to see and enjoy. Why?

Viennese artist Brigitte Kowanz uses fluorescent, neon and halogen lighting. Her mixed media 4 x 4 is a cool "sheer" beauty. Is that all?

For more insights, fathom the desk copy of the catalog (Margaret Miller, director of USF CAM, added an essay to Bohnen's erudite treatise.) Or ask if you may peruse the catalogs on individual exhibitors, located in the conference room.

These works, with their outrageous ingenuity, will receive too little attention while they are here. When they go away, they will come back _ by other artists, in other forms.

"Transparence/Transcendence," exhibited in Aachen, Germany last summer, will also show at the Harn Museum, University of Florida, Gainesville.

AT A GLANCE

What: Transparence/

Transcendence, 24 works by 11 artists.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday through March 14.

Where: University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum (USF CAM), West Holly Drive, University of South Florida, Tampa.

Cost: Free.

Catalog: $25.

Information: 974-2848 (taped message); 974-2849 (museum).

Also on view: "Changes: Alumni Evolutions," Theatre I Lobby, W Holly Drive, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday through March 15.

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