Art Review: Show of botanical art evolves and thrives

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The 12th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration brings 111 artworks by 64 artists from 14 countries to Carnegie Mellon University's Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

The prestigious triennial event was initiated by the Institute in 1964 to encourage and support contemporary botanical artists and has become increasingly competitive. Works exhibited this year range from those having a more traditional compositional format to idiosyncratic interpretations. A meeting with the British Society of Wood Engravers resulted in the submission of atypical works, many with a scenic bent.

Among highlights are John Gist's colored-pencil gather of dried "Tithonia rotundifolia" casting exquisite shadows; Trevor Haddrell's print of "Five Courgette Flowers" that spin and twirl like dancers; Catharine Nicholson's fastidiously depicted pen-and-ink "Lords and Ladies" of May and July; and Elisabeth de Boor's graphite patch of wood-edge with "Fragaria virginiana, Wild Strawberry."

That said, watercolor remains king at these shows, the artists accomplishing the seemingly impossible with the medium. The edge of Celia Hegedus' "Columbine Flame [Tulipa]" appears so moist and color-saturated that it threatens to stain any fingers that touch it. Elaine Searle's "Echeveria laui" is a sensual bouquet of subtle tone gradations. Silvana Rava's "Allium carinatum" exists as the finest of lines, depicting delicate blossoms, slender stems and trailing roots; while Norio Mizukami's "Punica granatum" and Ruriko Kato's "Banksia" are thick with masses of finely differentiated detail that hint at the patience required of these artists.

I'm particularly fond of Norma Gregory's beautifully observed and articulated "Bergenia," which has not a house plant aspect but rather that of an old friend the artist has known over a period of years.

Whether a dried and curled tree leaf, a branch with bird, a deliquescing fungus, shiny seed, gnarled root vegetable or ordinary cob of corn, these artists seek challenge and then create objects that are aesthetically pleasurable while remaining scientifically accurate.

A majority of the works (21) are from Great Britain, no surprise to anyone acquainted with its sterling history of floral depiction, but the United States provides 14 works and other countries, most notably Japan with 12, are represented.

A fine catalog reproduces the art in full color and includes biographies and photographs of the artists ($25, soft cover). The 12 exhibition catalogs, representing 1,016 artists, form the most comprehensive record of contemporary botanical illustrators and artists produced.

The International continues through Dec. 20 on the fifth floor of the Hunt Library, CMU. Admission is free. Hours are 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday (closed Dec. 14); 412-268-2434 or huntbot.andrew.cmu.edu.

Amelia Earhart film



"Close to Closure," a documentary film by local producer Andrea Niapas that sheds new light on the mysterious disappearance of famed aviator Amelia Earhart, will be screened at noon Dec. 12 at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg. Included in the film is the museum's toy model of Earhart's TriMotor pontoon airplane "Friendship," signed by the pilot and exhibited in the current "Holiday Toy & Train" show. "Close" premiered this year at the Annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison, Kan. Niapas, who will introduce the film, has also produced a documentary on McKeesport aviatrix Helen Richey (free; 724-837-1500 or www.wmuseumaa.org).

Marla: Genius or fraud?



Besides presenting the story of Marla Olmstead -- the 4-year-old who became an overnight celebrity for her abstract paintings and shortly after had her authenticity cast into doubt by "60 Minutes II" -- the documentary "My Kid Could Paint That" includes read-between-the-lines observations of the art market, and the picture isn't always pretty. Documentarian Amir Bar-Lev wants to believe in Marla; we all want to believe. And that's part of what feeds this intriguing filmic exercise.

"My Kid" plays at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Regent Square Theater through tomorrow. (PG movie editor Barbara Vancheri's review) For information: 412-682-4111 or www.pghfilmmakers.org.

Grinch parties



• Two museums offer something different to those looking for a date night amid all the holiday family wholesomeness.

"The Big Naughty-or-Nice Holiday Bash" at The Andy Warhol Museum, North Shore, 7-10 p.m. Dec. 12, introduces the exhibition "Ron Mueck" and promises a "drunken Santa, Dirty Carolers, retro-kitch holiday sounds" by DJ Zombo, art projects and a silent gift auction ($40, or $69 per couple; RSVP at 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org).

• Comedian and female impersonator Tinsel Garland will perform for the North Side Mattress Factory's "Snow Ball" at 7 p.m. Dec. 20. Tinsel is a hoot with heart, his many awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award for his two-decade involvement with the FACT (Fighting AIDS Continuously Together) SUMMER GAMES. Admission is $10, students/members $5. Those who purchase dinner in the MF Cafe between 5 and 7 p.m. get into the show half-price. Information: 231-3169 or www.mattress.org.


Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas may be reached at mthomas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1925.


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