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In Hollywood, a defense against Art Basel

For her first ambitious act as the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood's new curator, Laura Marsh wants to defend South Florida against the world. That defense arrives with the center's new fall exhibit, "Transphysics: Istwa, Landscapes, Paisajes," a showcase of 50 years of landscapes and sculpture by four generations of underrated local artists, many created before the inaugural Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002.

As the annual art-fair blitz returns this month to Miami Beach and beyond, Marsh and her co-curator, artist William Cordova, say "Transphysics" argues the obvious: South Florida's art scene didn't start, and certainly won't end, with Art Basel.

"It's more like a community defense. These are artists saying, 'We're producing all year round, not just for one crazy week, and we've been doing so since the 1960s,' " Marsh says of "Transphysics," which will open on Friday, Nov. 4. "We're claiming our community again."

Marsh, a New Haven, Conn., transplant whose first day on the new job was Oct. 13, has spent the past three weeks acquainting herself with the show's 39 artists and 65 works. (Marsh and Cordova handpicked the works.) Occupying her time this week is the centerpiece of "Transphysics," Ralph Provisero's "Earth Ramp," a sculpture made with bags of soil harvested from the Everglades. The dirt sculpture, which resembles an oversize slice of chocolate cake, has spent the past week drying and hardening inside the main gallery, Marsh says.

Over time, likely before the show closes in January, the dirt ramp should shrink and break apart, adds Cordova, who commissioned Provisero's sculpture earlier this year.

"It's a literal representation of South Florida's landscape and how it's always changing," Cordova says on a tour of the gallery. "Many of the show's artworks have to do with landscapes, concrete, wood. You want an example? Just look at all the high-rises that have sprouted up across the street around [Hollywood's] Young Circle."

Describing the show as a "passion project," Cordova, who lives in North Miami Beach, dreamed up "Transphysics" in 2013 with his art mentors in mind. He counts Miami sculptor Robert Thiele, his old art professor at Miami-Dade College in the mid-1990s, as one of South Florida's 1960s art pioneers. On display are two of Thiele's sculptures, one of which is a freestanding wooden box that resembles a church steeple. Mounted on a wall nearby is an untitled sculpture from Purvis Young, the late Overtown painter who captured scenes of urban decay on recycled scrap found on the street.

"People will look at this Purvis Young and think it's a Basquiat, without knowing that Purvis actually started working in the 1960s," Cordova says. "I think the audience will be blown away by the fact that these contemporary works weren't done yesterday, but 50 years ago. It's akin to people discovering a Picasso for the first time, and then learning that Cubism actually came from the African Congo."

The largest collection of art in the gallery belongs to another Cordova mentor, Lou Anne Colodny, who founded the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami (then called the Center of Contemporary Art), in 1981. In one series of 25 drawings, the Miramar artist inserts bizarre creatures into real-life photographs shot on various, smoke-filled battlefields. The characters, who wear red dresses and white, long-nosed masks, represent stand-ins "for any kind of struggle throughout history," Cordova says.

"They can be surrogates for the Syrian conflict, the South Dakota pipeline, or maybe even the oppressed characters in 'Star Wars,' " Cordova says. "People can plug whatever struggle they want into these characters."

Also debuting on Friday, Nov. 4, are a pair of solo exhibits, "Rafael Domenech: Pleiades" and "Vanessa Diaz: To Receive an Intrusion by Observing What We Have." Domenech's trio of sculptures, built with Plexiglas and zip-ties, suspend from the ceiling and are inspired by star clusters in space. Diaz, meanwhile, fills another gallery with Astroturf and lawn furniture covered in white paint.

"Transphysics: Istwa, Landscapes, Paisajes," "Rafael Domenech: Pleiades" and "Vanessa Diaz: To Receive an Intrusion by Observing What We Have" will open with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, 1650 Harrison St., in Hollywood. The shows will close Jan. 8. Admission costs $4-$7. Call 954-921-3274 or go to ArtAndCultureCenter.org.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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