If you haven’t been out to Delray’s most buzzworthy new arts destination, the Arts Warehouse, you’re probably not alone: It’s only been soft-open since mid-December, and it hosted its grand opening on Feb. 23. But the cavernous industrial building-cum-art gallery is already on its third group exhibition, and it’s well worth a trip to the far reaches of Pineapple Grove. You can experience it all in about 30 minutes of mid-day cultural nourishment.
I visited this week for the first time since it’s been up and running, and I discovered a place that is full-throatedly committed to original voices and edgy contemporary art. The work of five Florida artists—some of it site-specific, much of it whimsical—dotted the floors, snaked along the walls and suspended from the ceilings of the building’s two capacious galleries. Technically, there was room for plenty more, but the openness was refreshing, the feng shui just right. It reminded me a lot of one of my favorite museums, Hollywood’s Art and Culture Center, which is admired for its airy, meditative use of gallery space.
In the exhibition, titled “ACTIVE,” each artist features only two to three works, but all are memorable, and they span from the hyper-local to the cosmic. Inspired by the detritus of Hurricane Irma last year, Nick Mahshie’s “Cultivated Image” is a towery jumble of wood frames covered in stitched and collaged secondhand garments and other textiles, all of it depicting flora and fauna. These, in turn, are sprinkled with occasional plant parts. Theatrically rising to the ceiling, it’s like a fictionally vibrant variant on the roughage heaps that piled on everybody’s swales for weeks after the hurricane’s impact.
I also thought of Florida when assessing a version of Sarah Knouse’s “Pastoral Flamingos,” in which the cast-resin birds, painted a Pepto-Bismol pink, drip faux gilding paint onto a shag-carpeted pedestal. Whether or not it was the artist’s intent, I though about global warming, of which South Florida is in the literal hot seat; even the flamingos are melting in the sun.
Other artists gazed beyond the Sunshine State. Cherie Saleeby’s humorously titled “Balls to the Wall” is a planetary constellation of mixed-media spheres in three tiered sizes. Saleeby’s “Elysium,” titled after the highest form of heaven in ancient Greek philosophy, is a more ambitious spin on the same: It’s a whole galaxy of celestial bodies consuming an enormous wall, including the warehouse’s concrete pillars. It’s a dramatic assemblage that no photograph could do justice.
The exhibition also features a few works from textile artist Jen Clay, whose phallic inflatable “Huggg Meee” resembles a Disney character filtered through a perverse subconscious. Male and female organs of reproduction are present if you look for them, yet you still kind of want to hug it. “It’s All Really Real” is a greatest-hits installation of three Clay series, in which a soundless child’s mobile converses with such macabre sculptures as a triptych of hanging witches’ hands and a bodily form hung upside down by its feet. It’s twisted and evocative.
Finally, Russell Bellamy also riffs on childish things. His “Simple Pleasures” is a large-scale series of stainless-steel playground horses, their foundations exposed, midsections covered by leather saddles, and dangling on heavy-duty chains. The faux equines hover above a bed of straw, and Bellamy welcomes visitors to ride them and channel their inner children, jettisoning inhibitions even in a venue as unlikely as an art gallery.
That a Delray gallery can even handle an installation as ambitious and demanding as “Simple Pleasures,” let alone would welcome it, is a sign that Arts Warehouse is more than just an affordable studio space and educational hub for emerging artists. It’s also a hot spot for the pulse of contemporary art. My first visit will be far from my last.
The Arts Warehouse is at 313 N.E. Third St., Delray Beach. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. Call 561/330-9614 or visit delraycra.org/artswarehouse.