Springtime in Tampa Bay means must-see art is in full bloom

Now is the moment to immerse yourself in the innovative and world-class visual arts offerings of Tampa Bay. From the traditional to the avant-garde, there is much to be seen in the latest trends and new twists on what you learned in art history. 

A recent study by the National Endowment of the Arts indicated that 31 million Americans had wanted to see an arts event last year, but didn’t. The study recommends bringing down admission costs, increasing community engagement and opportunities for socializing as key ideas for reaching these audiences.  

It looks like Tampa Bay is ahead of the trend.

Turn up the lights on Tampa

“The City’s role in developing a public art program is to offer free, public access to artistic excellence where residents can engage and experience something new,” says Tampa’s Mayor Buckhorn. “Lights On Tampa does that. It brings people together to experience familiar public spaces in new, dynamic ways.”

Recognized as one of the country’s most significant public art displays in the last 50 years by Americans for the Arts, Lights on Tampa is an experiential, interactive public art exhibition. 

The fun begins Friday, February 21, at 6 p.m. (sunset), when Curtis Hixon Park is transformed into the visions of seven artists chosen from across the nation. The galloping entrance of “HEARD” a choreographed troupe of 30 long-haired fanciful horses portrayed by local performance artists kicks off the event. 

From moveable building-block lighted shapes that serve as lawn furniture strewn across the park’s open space to shadowplay to the motion-sensitive Glowing River along the Tampa Riverwalk, the event “offers a ‘wow’ factor for everyone,” says Robin Nigh, manager of art programs for the City of Tampa. 

The event is “totally unique to Tampa, and very on the moment in terms of national [art] trends. It is something to be proud of, we are a model for other cities.”

It is worth mentioning that also in the category of “free, community-oriented and social” are the Gasparilla Festival of Arts, Feb. 28 -Mar 1, and St. Pete’s equivalent, Mainsail -- celebrating its 40th anniversary -- April 18-19th at Vinoy Park.  

Picasso, Monet, Da Vinci, and more!

If a tour of the top museums of Europe are not in your plans this spring, no problem: Tampa Bay has the next best thing.  

Known for their permanent collection of 19th to -mid 20th Century European works, The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg is celebrating its 50th anniversary with exhibits complementing its permanent collections. First up, a trove of French masters Monet to Matisse – but with a decidedly Tampa Bay touch, that is to say: beaches included wherever possible. The vast majority of the works have never been seen before in Florida or the Southeast. 

The coastal theme extends to the MFA’s concurrent photography exhibit Life’s a Beach, photographs by Martin Parr, showing intriguing beachscapes. The exhibits open on the precise date of the Museum’s inauguration a half-century ago – February 7th - and MFA has waived its entrance fee for the day and has a full schedule of celebration activities organized. MFA spokesperson David Connelly says this is keeping with “the Museum’s mission of bringing world class art accessible to the community.”

Spain and Italy are not left behind!

Due to record demand, the extraordinary Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso exhibit has just been extended through Feb. 22, 2015 at The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, put this on your agenda, as you’ll have to book a flight to Barcelona to ever catch it again.  

Ten years in the making, this original exhibit has drawn visitors from every corner and for the first time shows side-by-side the story of two of the 20th century’s most recognizable artists, their complex relationship of influence and rivalry.  Through more than 90 rarely loaned works from more than 20 international museums and private collections, the story is masterfully curated. 

In March, the Dali Museum will open Dali & da Vinci: Minds, Machines & Masterpieces, comparing the two artists, though from different time periods, both clearly Renaissance men obsessed and skilled not only in art but science and math as well.

In a colloquial spin on the Italian masters, the Village of the Arts in Bradenton is hosting The Divine Michelangelo & DaVinci Side by Side Exhibition on February 15th with original cast reproductions of sculptures, inventions and artwork from Florence in a festival-like atmosphere with local vendors and artisans.  

American and Americana

American tales are also chronicled in the artwork on display this spring at several museums around Tampa Bay.

In honor of Black History Month, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts is featuring We are the Music Makers! by photographer Tim Duffy. 

“It is a celebration of involvement of art, of diversity,” says FMOPA Executive Director Zora Carrier. The portraits document the life of southern musicians (many of whom are disabled African Americans) “living on the poverty line but committed to their music, their instruments, their singing.” Carrier says the show is community oriented and “very easy to understand and immediately fall in love with.” The show runs through the end of March.  
Just across the plaza from the FMOPA, in what is perhaps the epitome of Americana, Norman Rockwell’s iconic works will grace the walls of the Tampa Museum of Art, starting in March. 

Often thought of as capturing the humorously quotidian, Rockwell also used his art to detail American history. Tampa Museum of Art spokeswoman Nancy Kipnis says the exhibit is “not just beautiful art, but an historical timeframe that he recorded for us through his paintings.” Included in the exhibit is Rockwell’s painting, The Problem We All Live With, featuring Ruby Bridges, the famously photographed little black girl accompanied by U.S. marshals entering the court-ordered first day of integrated schools in New Orleans in 1960. Bridges is now 61 and will give a lecture at the Museum as part of the Rockwell activities. 

Debuting in May at the Leepa-Rattner Museum in Tarpon Springs is yet another fascinating American tale, one that has seldom been told: that of the unlikely friendship of the great American author Henry Miller and artist Abraham Rattner and their 3-month roadtrip across the mid-Atlantic and southern states in 1940.  The two had become friends as expats in Paris, but departed for home as the Third Reich was getting too close for comfort. Upon return to the United States, they decided to get reacquainted with their own country. 

Henry and Abe: Finding America “is a departure from what we normally see in an art exhibition,” says Curator R. Lynn Whitelaw. “It’s as much about literature as it is about art.” A summation of original research pieced together by combing Rattner’s personal papers, journals and “assorted things from his life,” the Museum has also engaged the Henry Miller community and has a collaborative series of events accompanying the show. 

Avant-garde and the environment

Transcending genres and convergence of art forms is one of the most interesting trends emerging in the fine arts today – such as the cross-disciplinary mash-up of fine arts with performing arts, the use of unusual media to explore social themes.

The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, renown for its own baroque and circus collections, is also at the forefront of presenting contemporary arts and has two upcoming exhibits in the vanguard. 

This month The Ringling introduces Re:Purposed, featuring 10 established contemporary artists (including Nick Cave, the artist/choreographer of HEARD for Lights on Tampa, mentioned above), who consistently utilize discarded materials, and yes, garbage as material for their works.  A nod to the environment and our relationship with objects, but also fun, this major, large-scale exhibit, will include such novelties as a massive collage housed in a 30-yard dumpster by Brooklyn-based artist Mac Premo and a series of huts created from rejected items found in Sarasota over the past several weeks by artist Jill Sigman. 

In a separate exhibit, Holoscenes by Lars Jan, March 25-28, The Ringling will present on its bayfront a startling and somewhat hair-raising public art installation on climate change. Inspired by the increasing vulnerability of humans in the face of rising waters, the work consists of a massive aquarium-cum-stage, where live performance artists will be shown carrying out every-day activities until they are suddenly deluged with the up to 12 tons of waters that flood the tank.

Mark your calendars, folks, there really is something on Florida’s Culture Coast for everyone.

Read more articles by Kendra Langlie.

Kendra Langlie is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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