Martha Stewart doesn't live here
Home Sweet Home
Through Sept. 25 at Casselberry Art House, 127 Quail Pond Circle, Casselberry
407-262-7700, ext. 1301

Home Sweet Home is the kind of exhibit that takes you by surprise and makes you think. And think, and think. 

Step into the Casselberry Art House (a modest midcentury house that was converted into a gallery and studio space, but that still feels residential) and you'll find yourself looking around a long, puzzled moment for the objects that make up the show with the saccharine name.

Suddenly, you see: The installation of seemingly random objects that fills the house — a dingy couch and coffee table in one corner, the rumpled afghan on a mattress in another — is Home Sweet Home, a strangely disturbing collaboration by Pat Greene, Kyle, Greg Leibowitz, MACY and Kimberly DH Walz.

The effect of the series of vignettes they created is cumulative. Kyle arranged two blurry photos on a pedestal, one in front of the other, and set a dish filled with pennies before them. The larger photo shows what looks like a movie still, vintage '50s, with a man grasping a woman's arms as she shakes her head. The discord plays a part in the coin dish too: A toylike piece of tiny artillery glued on the dish aims at a man's figure, the target in a domestic battle.

The mood is spare on the small sun porch, where battered folding chairs stand side by side near an ancient fishing pole that has no line. The same sort of paralyzing situation is sketched in the dining nook, whose simple table supports tired-looking placemats and dull gray dishes. Even more unsettling is that mattress, unmade on the floor beneath a blinking, stalled digital clock.

Across the "bedroom" is a bookshelf, each of its titles as charged with energy as the empty picture frame that rests on its surface: War and Peace, Survivors, Mothers, Slaughterhouse-Five, Langston Hughes' I Wonder as I Wander. On the neighboring wall hangs a slumping attempt at interior design: a loosely woven grid of brightly colored and textured shredded paper that echoes the variety in a mound of discards, the odds and ends of daily life.

Through it all, audible on tapes scattered throughout the installation, is a sort of narration or voice-over by Walz. Snippets of conversation, punctuated with ironic and even sarcastic whispers, round out the vanished lives in this shell of a home. No one is here, but their shadows remain in the evocative series of carefully arranged, artfully suggestive objects.

One piece — Kyle's wall sculpture assembled from dozens of '50s dollhouse furnishings and figures — might have simply spelled out the idea of making a home, of building relationships and families, of nesting.

But the almost overwhelming assortment at the Art House offers something related, although provocatively different: slices, edgy and often painful, of someone's life. After considering its fragments — the ceramic birds on a cold fireplace wall; the unopened baby shower game, "Baby's Coming Bingo" — the collaboration works its dark magic and lingers long after you leave this Home Sweet Home.

Laura Stewart

Home sitcom home
Modern Family
Debuts 9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 23
The Middle
Debuts 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30

The family sitcom never really left TV — The Simpsons, after all, turns 20 this year — but of late the good stuff has been scarce. This season, though, it's back in a big, funny way, especially on Wednesday nights.

First up is Modern Family, a no-laugh-track, faux documentary-style show (think The Office) that gives us three sides of the same family. There's the patriarch and his hot new Latin wife, the daughter with the husband and three kids, and the gay son and his lover. The really funny thing is, any of them would have made a terrific comedy on their own. Put them together and you have the best sitcom of the new season.

We first meet each of the families in their individual habitats. Parents Claire and Phil (Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell) are trying to raise their three kids while dealing with obvious modern problems like overscheduling. Phil wants to be the cool dad, so he introduces himself to his daughter's boyfriend by saying, "Phil Dunphy, yo," and giving him a fist bump. On the other hand, Mom's overprotective because she doesn't want her kids to make the same "mistakes" she did.

Older dad (Ed O'Neill) and much younger wife (Sofia Vergara) face the usual age-difference issues (people think he's her dad), as well as conflicts about how to handle her 11-year-old. And gay son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and his lover, Cameron (the hilarious Eric Stonestreet), have just adopted a baby from Vietnam. It doesn't help that Cameron has gained tons of weight and Mitchell's family barely suffers his existence. (It will be interesting to see whether ABC allows them to kiss; the bet here is no.)

As with any well-written family sitcom, Modern Family supplies equal amounts of love, madness and laughs. I counted five laugh-out-loud moments in the press copy of Episode One, and the stories flow so seamlessly that you instantly feel you know these characters.

The Middle, meanwhile, features one standard-issue family: harried mom (Patricia Heaton), disengaged dad (Neil Flynn) and three quirky kids living in the fictional small town of Orson, Ind. He works at a quarry (like the ultimate Everyman, Fred Flintstone), she's hanging on to a job at the last surviving car dealership in town, and the kids are sapping her strength.

This could be exceedingly cheesy, except Heaton credibly plays the put-upon mom in a way that's fun to watch. In the first episode alone, you'll see her frazzled at work, mystified by her children and costumed as a superhero. The Middle, which also is shot without an audience or laugh track, relies on comical situations to create comedy, and creators DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler push the right buttons.

These aren't the only family sitcoms debuting this year. ABC also has Hank (which is dreary), and Fox will introduce The Cleveland Show (fairly funny) and Brothers (dismal). So Modern Family and The Middle aren't alone — they're just at the top of the class. 

Marc D. Allan

Mind over body
Through Oct. 3 at Creative Spirit
Art Gallery
820A Lake Baldwin Lane

Launching its fall season with Interpretations of the human figure, Creative Spirit Art Gallery hosted a reception Friday (Sept. 11) for Chad Pollpeter, Clair Strutt and Jason Lee. The artists presented new work ranging from mystical to whimsical, and the curatorial process produced some standout viewing.

Strutt, who has several local shows to her credit, paints in a very flat style, portraying particularly unflattering angles and poses of the human figure, as in "Night Swim," "Pay Attention" and "Watching You." Humor filters through some of these; as she further develops her technique, the blend of playfulness and straight figurative depiction may result in a humanistic look at the ridiculous in our lives.

Moving toward the sublime, Lee's work portrays the mystical side of nature, as in "We Are Made From Stars," a window into a distant stellar nebula surrounded by a jagged orange frame — connoting humanity, but implying a violently ripped-off surface revealing remote star birth. Stellar nurseries such as the Trifid Nebula (which was first seen by humans courtesy of the Hubble space telescope in the late '90s) continue to deeply inspire artists, and, as in other paintings, Lee's inspiration suggests a connection between the universe and us. 

Pollpeter's contributions, however, steal the show. With a strong basis in surrealism, he integrates symbolism into portraits to produce ethereal, nearly godlike images, such as "Ornamental Figure," which suggests planets and nebulae within a woman's face. The subtle commentary on contemporary relationships in "Are We Really Looking" places a narrative of avoidance within a rippling force field.

Pollpeter's well-developed technique and exploration of symbolism reference Salvador Dalí, yet he resists the temptation to succumb to the Freudian dream symbols, or the shock value, of Dalí's attention-craving art.  Instead, he hits a high note, even with small canvases such as "Person of Interest"; the introspective quinacridone portrait, without special effects, appears serene and simple, atmospheric yet intimate.

We'll see more of Pollpeter in the near future: Oct. 1-29 at Seminole Community College Fine Arts Gallery and Feb. 26—March 28 at Lake Eustis Museum of Art.

Rex Thomas

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