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NSU Art Museum's new show is a skeptic's dream

"Belief and Doubt" at @nsumuseum features iconoclastic works from the Pictures Generation.

Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz are growing antsy on the second floor of the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale. They're threatening to remove the artworks from the walls.

The paintings, photographs and sculptures in the museum's new exhibition, "Belief and Doubt," opening Friday, Aug. 26, once belonged to the collectors, after all.

"I'm gonna miss that," laments Good, pointing to two portraits of African-Americans by Carrie May Weems.

"Did we sign the [donation] contract yet?" Horvitz, her husband, quips during a visit to the gallery. He sighs. "Yeah. Yeah."

With the couples' donation of 100 works predominantly made by women, the NSU Art Museum is gaining a jolt of contemporary art. Good and Horvitz, who operate the Girls' Club Collection gallery two blocks away and serve on the museum's board of directors, earlier this year let executive director Bonnie Clearwater comb through their archives. About 70 donations are included in "Belief and Doubt."

"The time was right," says Horvitz, who has collected female-driven art with Good since 1986. "With Bonnie being here, she can curate a fantastic show. And we never had any big ambition to build our own private museum."

In selecting the works that compose "Belief and Doubt," Clearwater, the show's curator, says she was struck by how many artists in the collection — Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler — gained clout in late 1970s New York. The exhibit begins with the New York-spawned Pictures Generation, a group of artists, most of them women, who questioned the roles of consumerism, gender and political power in mass media. In the gallery's atrium, Sherman's film-noir-inspired photo "Untitled Film Still #19" shows Sherman costumed in a shawl and looking spooked, a critique of Hollywood's stereotypical female roles.

"That generation was making you aware of how much the mass media was shaping our perceptions of the world with propaganda," Clearwater says. "Now, the artist is controlling the message. All these artists are challenging beliefs and offering skepticism while being awestruck at the enormity of the world."

The Pictures Generation, Clearwater says, inspired much of the feminism and postmodern sense of wonder in the collection. Lorna Simpson tackles racial identity in "Counting," a trio of photos showing a brick smokehouse (a reference to punishments endured by slaves by slaveowners), a woman's collarbone and an overhead view of braided hair. Wangechi Mutu's whimsical "Howl" carries a carnival of splattered paint and snarling female figures, a reference to the artist's Kenyan heritage.

In a gallery section Clearwater labels "Suspension of Disbelief" is Gregory Crewdson's "Untitled (Second Skin)," one of the show's rare male works. In the photo, staged to resemble a still from a horror film, a woman stands barefoot in the moonlight, peeling off strips of flesh from her torso.

"The setting is heavily staged, making us believe that what we're seeing is real, but there is no realism," Clearwater says. "And I think that's how contemporary artists are defining their vocabulary and place in the media: by adding skepticism and fantasy."

"Belief and Doubt: Selections From the Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz Collection" will open Friday, Aug. 26, at the NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., in Fort Lauderdale. The exhibit will close Jan. 22, 2017. Admission costs $5-$12. Call 954-525-5500 or go to NSUArtMuseum.org.

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