Pop exhibit gives new edge to Backus

Posted April 2, 2014


FORT PIERCE, Fla. — The A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery is a small art gallery on the edge of the Indian River Lagoon. The museum was originally founded in 1960 by A.E. Backus and other local artists, and is now used to remember and display the works of A.E. Backus, a native Fort Pierce artist famous for his oil paintings of Florida landscapes and flora.

Throughout the season, the gallery also hosts art exhibitions; including student art shows, traveling exhibits and Florida-themed artwork. However, I was able to visit a gallery opening quiet different from past ones.

A.E Backus Museum in Downtown Fort Pierce

A.E Backus Museum in Downtown Fort Pierce

This past Friday, the gallery opened its newest traveling exhibit, titled “Pop Rocks: Heroes, Icons and the Mundane.” The show, which is on display from March 12 to May 2, is described as exploring past and present influences of the Pop Art culture.

On display were some of the most famous names in pop art, including works by Andy Warhol and Roy Fox Lichtenstein. Other artists in the show included Ronnie Cutrone, John CRASH Matos, Ceravolo and Shalene Valenzuela.

I chose to visit the gallery on opening night and was met with quite the crowd, the famous names of the show pulling in people from across the state to visit. The gallery is small, with an outdoor concrete patio for dancing and drink service, where guests can sample wines while touring the gallery. Inside is an open layout with skylights set above each main section, the largest being found over the center of the room where art is displayed on hanging boards.

There is always one corner of the gallery dedicated to “Beanie” Backus, where a large collection of his paintings hang year round, including his final painting that will remain forever unfinished. I must say that this corner is my favorite section of the gallery.

Hammer from Implements of Self Construction Series by Shalene Valenzuela

Hammer from Implements of Self Construction Series by Shalene Valenzuela

This may be due to the fact that I am not always taken with modern art, especially pop art. The excessive use of primary colors and parody seems repetitive to me; however, I did find this show quite enjoyable.

My favorite artist at the show was Shalene Valenzuela, a ceramic sculptor from Montana who focuses much of her work on the social views of women in the 1950s and 1960s.

Taking inspiration from common household objects, she creates art that questions the nature of a society that expects all women to be housewives. Besides the social commentary of the pieces, I find her work quite comical; with a strange cartoonish feel to the women she paints. My favorite piece from her collection was titled Hammer from Implements of Self Construction Series, and was simply a ceramic sculpted hammer with the words “How to Stay Lovely” on it as well as the image of a woman applying lipstick.

Something about was is both feminine and masculine, and it just screamed “take me home,” but, of course, that was one of the downsides to this show. Due to the famous names included and the high quality of art, it was hard to find a price tag under $25,000 at the gallery.

Might Mouse by Ronnie Cultrone

Might Mouse by Ronnie Cultrone

Another favorite artist of mine who was displayed at the show was Ronnie Cultrone, who died last summer. His paintings remind to those of Roy Fox Lichtenstein’s iconic cartoon style paintings, as Ronnie’s work focused on large cartoon characters, such as Felix the Cat and the Pink Panther.

My favorite work from his collection was a piece titled Might Mouse, which simply depicted mighty mouse surrounded by neon-bright graffiti, and flying over a vague classic novel.

Something about this painting speaks to the youth in mean, and it is clear that Cultrone was parodying the concept of cartoons over traditional learning and reading.

Although his artwork is hard to digest at first, there is an enjoyable message in every piece, and his cartoon characters are everlasting. Overall, it was not my favorite show exhibited at this gallery, but it did represent a new era for the gallery’s shows.

  • A.E. Backus Gallery & Museum
  • 500 N. Indian River Dr., Fort Pierce, Fla. 34950
  • Exhibit Dates: March 12 – May 2
  • Hours:
    • Wednesday – Saturdays (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.)
    • Sundays (12 p.m. – 4 p.m.)
    • Closed Mondays and Tuesdays
    • Admission: $2