Boca Museum Show Makes a Strong Impression

Last month, the Boca Raton Museum of Art opened its first exhibitions of 2011, including the first of two movie costume shows of the cultural season. It’s titled “Cut! Costume and the Cinema,” and, unlike the other Palm

Beach County costume show of this year – “Out of This World,” a sci-fi-themed exhibition opening at the Norton in June – many of the costumes on display in Boca may not be familiar.

Royal frocks and presidential gowns from miniseries and TV movies such as “The Last King” and “Land of the Blind” share the museum floor with instantly recognizable outfits from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The New World.” This makes for an exhibition that is democratic in its selection process, but it doesn’t always connect with the museumgoer. I’m a film critic, and I have never heard of, let alone seen, many of the titles whose elegant costumes grace the museum grounds, so seeing them up close triggers merely passive admiration for the craft, as if I were window-shopping at a posh Manhattan dressmaker.

Then again, “Cut! Costume and the Cinema” is not the kind of challenging exhibition I visit the Boca Raton Museum of Art for. The show has proven enormously popular, bustling with patrons on the Wednesday afternoon I attended, but it belongs more in the lobby of the American Museum of the Moving Image.

What is worth a trip to the museum is “California Impressionism: Paintings From the Irvine Museum,” a collection of more than 60 West Coast impressionist paintings from more than 45 artists completed at the beginning of the 20th century. Boasting more of an attention to photographic detail than the French

impressionists who inspired them, these painters render California’s picturesque landscapes with rugged realism and colors so vivid they jump off the canvases. Even the still-lives have a frayed, lively energy to them.

The paintings maintain such a uniformity in tone, color and technique that it’s almost hard to believe that nearly every one comes from a different artist’s hand. The contrast of light and darkness is a running theme through almost all of them, creating the wonderful sense of the sun as the artist’s unseen collaborator, darkening portions of the image as it sees fit.

Collectively, these works present California as ground zero for nature’s unpredictable whims, from verdant fields and bounteous valleys stretching across vast horizons to blooming wildflowers flowing toward mountains and schooners adrift in inclement seas. The most recurring image is that of a wave battering a rocky shore. If poetry could ever be captured in visuals, these are it.