Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tampa Museum of Art

In April, 2011, I traveled to Tampa to meet up with a very dear college friend whom I hadn’t seen in many years. As it is with good friends, it seemed as if only a few days instead of a number of years had passed since we last saw each other. We both love ballet, so it was only natural that we should visit the Tampa Museum of Art to see the Degas Exhibit, which ran from March to June, 2011. As it turns out, the Tampa Museum of Art had a story all its own. Proposals for expansion or relocation of the museum were the subject of discussion for years. However, in 2006, the museum board and the city of Tampa agreed to use public and private funds to construct a $33 million, 66,000-square-foot new museum in redesigned Curtis Hixon Park as part of Mayor Iorio's Riverwalk project along the Hillsborough River. The building, by architect Stanley Saitowitz, is designed to look like "a metal box sitting on a glass pedestal" and makes use of aluminum, glass, and fiber optic color-changing lights in the exterior walls to "make the building itself a work of art". Groundbreaking for the project took place on April 18, 2008, and the grand opening of the new Tampa Museum of Art took place on February 6, 2010 .

I n the words of architect Stanley Saitowitz concerning the Tampa Museum of Art:
"This museum is both timeless and of our time, an electronic jewel box, floating on a glass pedestal, a billboard to the future, and a container to house works inspired with vision and able to show us other ways to see our world. The museum hovers in the park, a hyphen between ground and sky.”

The facade of the Tampa Museum of Art

The reflection of the park and downtown buildings in the front of the museum

A view from the museum toward the park

The lobby is made up entirely of glass walls.

A triangular-shaped dog park on museum grounds by the Hillsborough River
The dog park's grass is a high-tech hybrid that absorbs odors. It is especially resilient to wear and tear.

Across the river, you can see the Moorish architecture towers of the Henry B. Plant Museum, which was formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel. The hotel is steeped in history, and you can almost feel how grandiose it must have been in its heyday. Now, visitors can see the opulent furnishings, tropical gardens and world treasures at what was once a  turn-of-the-century hotel for elite society.

The towers of the Tampa Bay Hotel, which has become part of the University of Tampa campus

Floating Stairs
The galleries are reached from the lobby below via a dramatic stair reaching upward. Below the stair is a bed of river rock.

Rock Garden
The rock garden is in memory of Tootie Lykes Webb, offered by the Jack Bierly and John Brabson Families.
A Calder mobile, viewed on the way up the stairs to the galleries

A little closer view of the Calder mobile

 The Degas exhibit, Degas: Form, Movement and the Antique ran from March 12 - June 19, 2011. The exhibit brought together bronze sculptures as well as a selection of paintings and drawings to demonstrate the close relationship between his sculptures and two-dimensional work as Degas explored form and movement.

Degas (1834-1917) himself spoke of the connection between his dancers and “the movement and balance of rhythmic dance” found in the art of ancient Greece.  In 1903, at the age of 69, Degas had the following exchange with one of his most ardent supporters, Louisine Havemeyer. She asked the artist, “Why, Monsieur, do you always do ballet dancers” His reply was, “It is all that is left to us of the combined movements of the Greeks.” A selection of Greek and Roman works from the Tampa Museum of Art’s outstanding collection of antiquities complemented the display of works by Degas. This is the first ever exhibition of works by Degas in the Tampa Bay region. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the Degas exhibit, but I was allowed to take photos of the other exhibits.

Edgar Degas is associated with ballet dancers, horse races, and women bathing. Although he is associated with the Impressionist movement, he considered himself a “naturalist,” meaning he preferred to draw inspiration from contemporary life and the everyday life of his subjects.

Degas dancer as wire art in the museum gift shop

Wall mountings in the hall
 “Happy Ugly Scars,” 2009 by Edith Garcia. Drawing, ceramic sculpture and custom vinyl graphics

Wall mountings as seen from the opposite angle

Close-up view
In the words of the artist, “The Happy Ugly Scars installation is a new series of drawings and sculptures that translate life struggles and experiences that have left us with metaphorical scars, be it happy, sad, or traumatized, all of which shape our development as humans.”

Worlds apart: Myth and History, Gods and Mortals, Heroes and Hybrids

During the period covered in this exhibit, classical antiquity from 2500 BC to 500 AD, the area of the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding lands witnessed countless events. Some are verifiable historically, and others are legendary. The worlds of ancient history and mythology became intertwined, with ancient peoples tracing their roots back to mythical origins; for example, the Romans traced their history through Romulus and Remus, to the Trojan hero Aeneas. (Romulus and Remus are Rome’s twin founders, conceived either by the god Mars or Hercules and Rhea, as babies left to die so that they could not inherit the throne, but suckled by a she-wolf, and then raised as shepherds; they ultimately founded a city of their own, Rome. I love mythology. It‘s like fairy tales for adults.) The unions of mortals and immortals resulted in an involvement of the Olympian gods in human affairs. Myth was pervasive in daily life, so many cities of the ancient world could be connected with mythological events, and historical heroes with legendary tales.

Torso of Aphrodite (Roman Venus) Roman, 1st century A.D. Marble

Greek ceramic urn

Statue of Poseidon, Roman, 1st century AD. Marble
The diving dolphin and stylized waves along his right leg identify this sculpture as Poseidon (Roman Neptune), god of the sea. His trident is missing, though.

Sphageion (Funerary Vessel), Canosan (Italy) 3rd century BC Ceramic
The elaborate detail suggests it was not for utilitarian use, but rather for funerary use.

Grave altar of L. Caltilius Diadmenus, Roman 140-170 AD. Marble
A tomb altar marked the sight where the ashes of the deceased were deposited, and also provided loved ones with a place to gather during rituals of mourning and commemoration.

Sarcophagus Relief Fragment, Roman 2nd-3rd century AD. Marble
A broken piece from the front of a Roman Sarcophagus. The bearded man and draped woman may be divinities, and the fully veiled woman may be the deceased. This is speculation, as the identities are unknown.

Transport Amphora (Storage Vessel) Roman, ca.25-75 AD, Ceramic
The inscription on this amphora indicates it was for the transport of garum, a salty condiment made from fish paste and exported throughout the Roman world.

Head of Arsinoe II (a Ptolomaic Queen of Egypt, lived ca. 217-270 BC) Hellenistic ca. 100 BC, Indurated limestone

This is my friend, Suzanne, with classical good looks,  but definitely NOT a part of the antiquities collection.

We went to see the Degas exhibit, but were fortunate enough to also see a cutting-edge ceramics exhibit as well. And this coming right after we had seen Greek and Roman vases and other ceramic objects representing the highest achievement in the world of ancient ceramics. The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA, pronounced in-seek-a) brought its 45th annual conference to the Tampa Bay area. One of the fringe benefits of NCECA's arrival was that dozens of galleries and museums on both sides of Tampa Bay collaborated to showcase ceramics in the context of contemporary art. Thus, the NCECA Biennial (January 28-April 24, 2011) at the Tampa Museum of Art included work by more than 40 artists working with clay across a wide range of idioms.

“Basket” by Josh DeWeese
Basically, a vase topped with a handle that is more sculptural than functional.

Clay Leonard’s porcelain nesting bowls (off-center right) are objects traditionally functional but sleekly geometric. The bowls — one large server and four individual-sized dishes — represent the antithesis of fast food, cheap mass production culture. “Reclaiming the table” is Leonard’s tagline.

I’m sorry I don’t know who did this, but I call it “Whirlagig” because it spins when motion activated. It starts when your hand comes within a foot or so of the contraption and stops when you take your hand away. Those are mirrors on the inner circle reflecting the object on the outer circle.


“Resilience” by Blake Williams, 2010, Porcelain, wire, acrylic

“Meditation” by Steven P. Olszewski, 2010, Hand-built clay, raku-fired

“Meditation” close-up

“Chunk” by Monica H. Van Den Dool, 2010, Low-fire

“Melanie” by Kate Roberts, 2010, Slump body, wire, wood, metal stand, lace. Once-fire cone 6

Untitled by Christopher Adams
When asked about his sculptures, he says, “They are all members of an arbitrarily designed family of creatures, each with the same number of appendages attached in the same order on the same basic internal framework, each having evolved to fill a particular niche — in this case, ones that are purely aesthetic.” Of course, the first thing I did after I read this was try to count the appendages. I don’t think “17” can be the right number. Also, a lot of those creatures look perfectly recognizable to me. What do you say?

Another exhibition we were fortunate enough to see at the Tampa Museum of Art was:
"Realism: Selections from the Martin Z. Margulies CollectionNovember 20, 2010 - December 31, 2011. “Realism” provides a view of the realist tendencies in the visual arts of the last 30 years. There are wonderful examples of the Photo Realist movement in painting along with sculptural installations by leading contemporary artists who push artistic boundaries. Before this exhibit, I wasn’t familiar with the artists who did the sculptural installations, so I didn’t really appreciate what I was seeing. Since then, I have found out more about these artists’ work, and I’m still not sure I fully appreciate them, but I have to admit that they are very interesting creations.

"Eight Million Stories,” by David Ellis and Roberto Carlos Lange, 2009
A Rubbermaid trashcan filled with junk clinks and clanks to make music of sorts. Filled with cans and bottles that double as percussive instruments, the trashcan functions as an inanimate one-man band. According to an interview with the artists online, the piece embodies the elusive goal of merging art with everyday life.
“Newscenter II” by Will Ryman, 2005
Ryman's life-sized sculpture of a newsstand has components that look as if second graders had gotten together and crafted fake soda pop cans and issues of Cosmopolitan and Men's Health as an after school project. The realness of it as an assembled whole is striking.

“Coo” by Tony Oursler, 2003
Oursler's outrageous sculptures — projections of talking video faces onto bulbous forms — never really fool anybody, and yet they do. Coo has two blinking eyeballs, never in tandem, on her green-painted face; below them, a feminine mouth opens to reveal a pink tongue and lips, which pronounce an endless stream of phonetically similar words (pink-puddle-huddle-hide-bigger).

Leandro Erlich's Rain III (1999-2000)
Between two windows installed on either side of a movable wall, a slender space offers a glimpse into an outside world. At least, it's a world that looks like it must be outside — though it is inside the sculpture — because a steady rain drips there, and every few seconds a flash of lightning appears, followed by a clap of thunder. Technically speaking, the illusion created by Erlich's piece isn't spectacularly convincing — but it doesn't need to be. Rain III brings to life an image each of us has already seen and believed when we think, "It was a dark and stormy night." If you look closely, you can see someone peering through the window.

Wide view of the room
The items in this exhibit seemed lost in this huge room. You can see, from left to right, the stormy window installation, “Cows Crossing,” “Coo, “ and “Newscenter II.”

Photo Realist painting “Cows Crossing” by William Beckman
One of a series of cows crossing the road. The size is approximately 9 feet x 13 feet.

“Chevrolet Surge” by John Salt, 1980-81 Oil on Canvas

“Greenwich Theater by Davis Cone, 1979. Acrylic on Canvas.
Each of the two theater canvases captures the theater and its surroundings in mesmerizing detail, down to the text on parking signs and reflections of neon light in sidewalk puddles.

“Sam Eric and Raiders of the Lost Arc” by Davis Cone, 1982
Cone pays tribute to the Philadelphia movie theater better known as the Boyd. Davis Cone's paintings portray a more-real-than-real vision of a particular America.

“Collins Diner” by Ralph Goings, 1985-86. Oil on canvas
Goings' painting creates a photographic effect in the medium of oil paint. The interior of his diner stands still in time as an old-timer sizes up a younger man, who reaches into the back pocket of his blue jeans to pay the waitress at the register. This hint of generational friction unfolds against the diner's polished aluminum backdrop.

 Labauvie's  terrace sculpture against the backdrop of the Hillsborough River

Three outdoor works of sculptor Dominique Labauvie are exhibited on the Bretta B. Sullivan Sculpture Terrace, which is adjacent to the “Realism” gallery. These works are part of a show which was titled, “Musical Lines in My Hand.” The lines of the sculpture react to the surroundings, similar to musical notes of a composition, leading to a time/space relationship.

Suzie as seen through a Labauvie sculpture
Labauvie sculpture with the Hillsborough River in the background
Even the shadow of the sculpture adds interest to the artwork.

Three Labauvie sculptures on the terrace

The Tampa Museum of Art at Night

Suzie and Becky--Time to say Good-bye

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