Review: Word to the wise: Dunedin Fine Art Center holds summer intrigue

Stephen Littlefield’s acrylic on canvas from “Our Gang.” 
Stephen Littlefield’s acrylic on canvas from “Our Gang.” 
Published Aug. 1, 2014


The Dunedin Fine Art Center is having a fine summer. The lobby has a brighter, airier feel after a renovation opened it up, new classrooms accommodate ever-growing demand, the cafe has been enlarged, and a gallery has been added to the existing four (though one still seems like a multitasking hall). And new space for the David L. Mason Children's Hands-On Museum was also added. A new gift shop opens on Monday.

The final part of this five-year project, building out a second-floor area for six more classrooms and adding an elevator, is expected to begin in 2015 and be completed in January 2016. The 1976 building, which began with 18,000 square feet, will then have almost 40,000.

The good news continues with its summer exhibitions, consisting of four shows that will appeal to every taste. Three of them have a literary connection.

"Our Gang" gives the center's faculty its due, with several dozen works in painting, drawing, ceramics and jewelry. We see their diversity in Brooke Allison's lovely Totem, a pastel drawing of a pile of clothes; Pam Pawl's hand-woven, hand-dyed linen depicting a forest; Karen Woods' Out of Africa polymer necklace; and Ira Burhan's stoneware jar.

"In a Dark Time, the Eye Begins to See" is one of the most interesting exhibition titles I have encountered. The line is taken from a Theodore Roethke poem, and artists chosen for the juried show were asked to use a line of poetry from a favorite poem as inspiration or companion to their work. Here's an example of the range: Joan Duff-Bohrer invokes one of my favorite poems, Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens, for Comforts of the Sun, a two-panel painting of an interior that combines the ambivalence of a day that for many represents both pleasure and responsibility. Andrea Jarvis associating the poet Walt Whitman with her sculptures is … interesting. Whitman lived simply; Jarvis' art shouts bling. In fact, a re-creation of Noah's Ark, every bit, animals included, covered in beads, costume jewelry, all manner of sparkle, is titled The Ark of Bling with a passage from Whitman's Song of Myself.

A nice bonus to this show is that, because some artists chose an entire poem instead of just a line (and too long for a wall label), the art center has printed a free booklet with the poems in them so you get a good read along with a good look.

The two standout shows, though, are "Word Up!" and "The Poetics of Space." Words used in art as art became popular during the Pop Art movement beginning in the late 1950s. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein used them on paintings of soup cans and parodies of comic strips. Ed Ruscha differed in that his first "word paintings" didn't rely on an image, only words often comically juxtaposed. Barbara Krueger and Jenny Holzer are examples of artists who continued in that vein beginning in the 1970s. Using words and text continues to be popular in contemporary art.

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"Word Up!" is a nice sampling of the ways words can become the art. The written word, like a painting, is a material thing, requiring some sort of medium, such as ink. Ben Skinner hews close to the Pop and post-Pop models in his use of ironic phrases like These Are the Same Pants I Wore Yesterday, rendered in rainbow heliographic foil on back-painted Plexiglas, and the huge Don't Waste Your Time, made from laser-cut paper that looks like coiled wire. University of South Florida's Graphicstudio contributed seven word-based prints created in collaborations with artists Leslie Dill, Ellen Lupton and J. Abbott Miller, painter Pat Steir and poet John Yau.

In Sky's Four Sides, Steir provides gradations of blue, punctuated with a brush of white to complement Yau's poem. Miller and Lupton created computer-generated starbursts that they transferred to film for their two photogravures. One reads "On," written in lights on a black background. "Off" is in darkness with its surround punctuated by the lights. It's a clever verbal-visual partnership elevated by the elegant and subtle tonal variations of the gravure.

A delightful discovery was Corita Kent (1918-86), whose work I did not know. Her story is as fine as her serigraphs, also known as screen prints. She was a nun who taught art and was the department head at Immaculate Heart College in California. It and she became well known for the quality of the program and her own work. She took slogans and advertising text and rearranged and paired them with bright colors and bold graphics. She advocated, in a straightforward way, love and peace, which were popular messages in the 1960s and 1970s.

"The Poetics of Space" has more cerebral underpinnings. Curator Catherine Bergmann took her inspiration from one of her favorite books, Gaston Bachelard's The Poetics of Space, published in 1958. Three of the four artists in this show know the work; we can't know if the late Leslie Lerner did. So those three have statements about Bachelard's influence. Lerner is such a favorite of mine, I don't care where, why or how I get to see his gorgeous, glowing paintings, so mysterious even in their realism.

Man With the Wooden Arm Hunting Doves from his My Life in France series is a typically inscrutable narrative in which we see men wandering around rock outcroppings amid a vast desert seen as if from a great distance above. Another favorite, Mernet Larsen, confounds our sense of proportion with her reverse-perspective paintings in which people and things near us are small and those farther away are huge. Almost everything is angled; people become, literally, blockheads and surfaces tilt at gravity-defying angles.

Charlotte Schulz uses charcoal to draw haunting interiors that resemble strange, shattering bastions against approaching outside calamities. Her affinity for Bachelard's aesthetic has such clarity: "An image demands to be lived directly, not as a replacement for a thing or a 'surface description,' but the object itself which carries all associations and connotations of lived experience."

Contact Lennie Bennett at or (727) 893-8293.