Friday, April 12, 2024

Norton Opens Bonanza of Exhibitions

If there’s one time all year to visit the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, that time is right now. In addition to two terrific shows that will be closing soon – Nick Cave’s staggering “soundsuit” display “Meet Me at the Center of the Earth” and John Storrs’ sculpture and painting show “Machine-Age Modernist” – the museum opened an additional four exhibitions in December. These include an exhibition of historical Chinese art, a self-reflexive photography show titled “Stare” and a contemporary art survey called “Now What?”

With so many great and diverse options at the museumgoer’s fingertips at least through the end of the year, there may be simply too much to take in right now at the Norton – more than a full day’s worth of shows, to be sure. You’ll have to make difficult choices on which exhibits to see and which to miss, so if you do make it up to the museum soon, I implore you to see the traveling exhibition “Made in Hollywood,” which opened earlier this month.

This collection of 93 professionally shot photographs from the classic Hollywood studio system is drawn from

the private collection of John Kobal, an Austrian-born film historian who died in 1991. His stories of acquisition are fascinating. An actor turned radio interviewer and Hollywood gadfly, Kobal befriended a handful of movie stars – especially early cinema legends like Tallulah Bankhead and Gloria Swanson, in their mid-’60s limelight – and he was pugnacious in making connections with the studios to acquire his material. When many of the old studios would dissolve or move, they would discard their entire inventory of luminous black-and-white negatives, and Kobal would literally retrieve them from Dumpsters.

At a time that long predated our current oversaturation of entertainment media, Hollywood publicity photos made for big business. Though they went unsung for some 30 years – until MoMa presented an exhibition of their work in 1980 – the photographers who shot them were as responsible as the directors and actors themselves in branding a star’s persona and cultivating his or her image. Today, photographers like Ernest Bachrach, Laszlo Willinger, Leo Fuchs, George Hurrell and Tad Allan are considered masters of the form. Check out this Norton show and see why.

“Made in Hollywood: Photographs From the John Kobal Foundation” is on display through March 6. For information, call the museum at 561/832-5196. The Norton is at 1451 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach.

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