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At the Norton Museum, a natural vibe (hold the Jay Z)

When the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach re-opens today after a two-week time out to get ready for the new season, the most immediate change will be found in the lobby, now home to a 770-square-foot mural by Brooklyn-based artist Mickalene Thomas.

The photographic mosaic of sky, sun, sea, palms and grasses is a vivid re-creation of a Florida landscape and a pop-art homage to artists that Thomas (pictured with mural) lists as influences, including the Hudson River School and Monet.

Less visible, but no less invigorating is the pop-culture buzz the Norton acquires with the presence of a work by Thomas, whose celebrity quotient increased considerably last month when she appeared dancing with rap icon Jay Z in his art-world canoodle “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.”

Which is exactly what the Norton was going for, that Jay Z vibe…

“Uh, no. Who is he?” Norton CEO Hope Alswang inquires. “I’m serious. I don’t know who that is.”

Thomas, who just had a major show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, was part of the “Now What?” exhibition that opened at the Norton in December, 2010. Alswang says “Now What?” was a “best-of” compilation of artists who had displayed works weeks earlier at Art Basel Miami Beach and its 14 satellite fairs. Thomas’ piece, "You're Gonna Give Me the Love I Need," was a 12-foot painting of a reclining African-American woman, studded with rhinestones.

 “I was so impressed by her energy and creativity,” Alswang says.

The decision to create a mural depicting a Florida landscape came from Thomas, Alswang says. The artist recently did a residency in Monet’s home and garden in Giverny, France, she says.

Thomas’ “deconstructed landscape in collage,” which uses images the artist took for the piece, depicts the things Alswang herself finds so compelling about nature in Florida. “[The mural] is very intense, in a good way,” Alswang says. “It captures the quality of light in the water and in the sky. The way the green is so intense. I’m still spellbound by it.”

In looking at the new season at the Norton, Alswang’s highlights are a collage of exhibits that may follow a theme, should you care to look for one.

On Dec. 3, “Hoard” is a show by British sculptor Phyllida Barlow, who worked for a lifetime in anonymity while raising five kids only to be discovered as she nears age 70. Working with found objects to create pieces as tall as 16 feet, Barlow “takes what is essentially trash and transforms them into enormous, heroic forms,” Alswang says.

“David Webb: Society’s Jeweler,” opening Jan. 16, is a “fun” look at the mastery of the high-society jeweler whose Worth Avenue clientele included Jacqueline Kennedy, Doris Duke, and Diana Vreeland.

“To Jane, Love Andy: Warhol’s First Superstar,” opening Feb. 2, is "an incredible look at the '60s" via Warhol works, film clips and 1960s fashion from Palm Beach native and Warhol intimate Jane Holzer.

 “Wait, Jay Z is married to Beyonce, right? I think I knew that,” Alswang says.

The Norton Museum of Art is at 1451 S. Olive Ave., in West Palm Beach. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $12, $5 students, free for members and ages 12 and younger. Call 561-832-5196 or go to

Get daily updates on South Florida entertainment and things to do at, on Twitter at @BenCrandell and Instagram /BenCrandell.


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