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Women finding their place

It's high time for women artists in the bay area _ high time they were recognized, and "high" time because more are exhibiting top works right now than at any time in recent memory.

Two of the more outstanding are Maria Castagliola at the Tampa Museum of Art and Suzanne Camp Crosby at the Dunedin Fine Art Center.

Castagliola, of St. Petersburg, was the only bay area artist in the invitational exhibit "Cuba-USA: The First Generation," organized by the Fondo del Sol Visual Arts Center in Washington, D.C. The show appeared at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum last fall. Here she exhibits with another Cuban exile, Tampa painter Tomas Marais.

She conveys awesome power and control. Her riveting images, rooted in Santeria, a Latin American religion that combines Roman Catholicism and the African religion of Yoruba, are presented from a distinctly female viewpoint. Her works are charged with passion, pain and an aura of haunting mysticism.

The Universal Joke shows a jester popping out of a gift-wrapped box holding two hearts, one in flowers and one in thorns, and balancing from the lips a slender pole topped by a woman's outspread legs. Below, winged male creatures slink away, each carrying a target _ or are they rings?

Hard to decipher? If the joke is universal, why don't we get it _ unless the joke is on us? Castagliola aims for a direct approach. The spread legs and the hearts held like juggling objects suggest that the artist is deploring callous attitudes toward women.

In an entirely different vein, Tampa photographer Suzanne Camp Crosby has been exhibiting her whimsical, staged surrealism for years. It keeps getting more intriguing and more uniquely hers.

She sees ordinary objects _ toys, flowers, other artwork _ juxtaposed in strange and provocative ways. Where Castagliola evokes wonder, Crosby evokes sheer admiration for her refreshing ingenuity.

Still Life Double Take (on the Weekend cover today) combines painted and drawn elements into a game. The questions raised concern the work itself: What is painted and what is drawn? How were the elements assembled? Was it shot from above? The work is a quest for balance. Which way is up?

This work pays homage to Dutch and Flemish artists of the 17th century and to Cezanne of the 19th century. Homage is not enough. Crosby's distinction is that she shows us the familiar in an unfamiliar way.

Both artists have mastered their medium: Both show creativity; both do works that mean something. Best of all, they surprise us and then satisfy us.

Other strong artists now exhibiting are Karen Tucker Kuykendall, paintings, and Brooke Allison, pastels, Dunedin Fine Art Center through July 2; Jean Grastorf, watercolors, Belleview Mido through June 30; Neverne Covington, graphics, TECO Plaza through July 2; and Doreen Horn, drawings, and Betsy Orbe Lester, mixed media, Arts Center through July 3.

ART REVIEWS

"Myths and Realities: The Work of Maria Castagliola and Tomas Marais"

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday through July 11

Where: Tampa Museum of Art, 601 Doyle Carlton Drive, Tampa

Cost: Adults $3.50; seniors $3; students with ID $2.50; children 6-18 $2. Free 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays

Call: 223-8130.

"Common Ground: Suzanne Camp Crosby and Karen Tucker Kuykendall"

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, through July 2

Where: Dunedin Fine Art Center, 1143 Michigan Blvd., Dunedin

Cost: Free

Call: 738-1892

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