Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 – Best Museum Exhibit

The Prestigious ART@BAY Cyber-Trophy

The Prestigious ART@BAY Cyber-Trophy

December brings with it the obligation of every critic to put forth in list form an unfair reductionist look-back on the year that was.  Being a responsible art blogger, I won’t beg off.

Now, I realize the ‘top-10’ list is generally the accepted format for these types of articles.  Tampa Bay, however, is not New York City – a top ten list here is nearly large enough to be called a ‘bottom ten list written in reverse order’.  For this reason I opted for the ‘Best in Category of 2012’ format.  Take heart if you or your exhibit is not mentioned here: if it makes you feel better you can assume that you would have come in second or third on my top ten list.  First we’ll tackle the year’s best museum exhibit.  That said, on with the judgements!

Best Museum Exhibit

Contemporary Prints by American Women: A Selection from the Gift of Martha and Jim Sweeny – Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Perhaps this decision is easier to understand when I emphasize that it isn’t the artist(s) under scrutiny in this category, but rather the exhibit itself.  (Although, I should mention a lot of the work was simply amazing; prints from Louise Nevelson, Vija Celmins, and Pat Steir (excuse the academic jargon) blew my mind)

There is only one aspect of the Contemporary Prints exhibit that ended up on the wrong side of my pro/con list: it was small.  The MFA’s upstairs gallery that housed the exhibit is about the size of a typical commercial gallery.  This wasn’t entirely surprising, though – the exhibit is effectively a preview of a collection in progress.  A larger exhibit is expected to be hung when that collection is complete.

This exhibition set itself apart as this year’s best by effectively accomplishing two things.  The first is its excellent presentation of the medium. The exhibit offered the prints as a medium unto itself rather than simply a means of replication.  The medium carries a tendency to be culturally undervalued, seen merely as reproductions of originals.  Contemporary Prints underscored the nuances of individual prints, the craftsmanship involved, and even the fact that some original artwork was intended to exist only as prints.

The second is highlighting women artists in the post-war period.  Women are still terribly underrepresented in museums nationwide and Bay Area institutions seemed to sadly make peace with the situation.  Thus, an exhibit that exclusively highlights the talent of contemporary women is especially welcome.  Further, the exhibit was tastefully curated emphasizing each artist’s work rather than their gender – not qualifying the art by sex in a misguided attempt to be politically correct.

In short, the exhibit was based on a thoughtful concept rather than shallow novelty, highlighting an underrepresented and often undervalued medium and artists.

Honorable Mention:

John Cage 33 1/3 – Performed By Audience, Tampa Museum of Art

John Cage 33 1/13 – Performed by Audience was by far the most fun museum art exhibit this year.  Although I may have annoyed a few museum guest, I happily sat on the couch listening to the cacophony of the four turntable I set into motion.  The exhibit is a musical score of sorts ‘written’ by John Cage.  Cage stipulates that about twelve record players be arranged in a gallery along with two to three hundred records.  Visitors are then encouraged to participate by playing the records as they see fit.

Perhaps Tampa Bay’s best curator, Jade Dellenger, organized the TMoA exhibit (as well as a corresponding show at Tempus Projects that ran concurrently) as part of the centenary celebration of John Cage’s birth.

Advertisements

Off the Wagon – Your Weekend Art Binge 5/31 – 6/03

Your weekend begins tonight!  Don’t worry: I’ve already worked everything out with your boss to get your weekend started early.  They may act a bit surprised (and maybe a little upset) when you return Monday.  However, rest assured – it’s only a ruse to prevent your workmates from becoming jealous.  You’re welcome.  Tonight, we’re headed to the FMoPA!

Cube at Rivergate, 2012 © Chip Weiner

Florida Museum of Photographic Arts – The Secret Paris of the 1930s: Vintage Photographs by Brassaï    5/31 6pm-8pm

The FMoPA brings the work of legendary photographer Brassaï, to Tampa tonight.  The museum opens its doors at 10am with an opening reception tonight beginning at 6pm.

I’m sufficiently excited to describe myself as “totally stoked” to see this exhibit .  Perhaps mostly because the photography of Brassaï operates as a starting line for a sort of gritty ultra-modern aesthetic that nearly always catches me off guard.  Brassaï’s gloomy urban landscapes seem to anticipate Film Noir that would flourish ten to fifteen years later after he first rose to fame.  It’s difficult to see Vienna depicted in the film The Third Man without Brassaï depicting Paris in his particular style fifteen years prior.

More important (and perhaps more recognizable) is Brassaï’s subject matter.  Photography at the time was still relatively new as an art form.  Leaving behind still-lifes and studios for bordellos and opium dens is significant.  His photos, at times, can be downright gritty, even by today’s standards.  In a strange way this always made his 1930’s Paris much more real to me, his subjects that much more relatable, and his work always relevant.  Brassaï’s Paris isn’t the Paris of silent films but rather marginalized individuals that are so familiar it’s eery.  Though nearly eighty years old, I’m sure you’ll find Brassai’s photography relevant in a way that’s rare even for contemporary work.  Make sure to stop by the FMoPA while the exhibit is in town.

The Starving Artist’s Guide to Bay Area Museums

Change for the new Biggers' exhibit, sir?

For all the vulgar excess and catering to the 1%, art love can be relatively friendly for the cash strapped (though being cash strapped in itself isn’t all that friendly).  Gallery receptions and exhibit openings are generally classy yet free affairs – something that can’t exactly be said regarding film or music.  The museum visits may require prying the wallet open.  If well-timed, however, you can stroll several local museums with your wallet pleasantly tucked away.  With that said, here is a quick museum guide for the frugal art nerd.

Tampa Museum of Art – every Friday evening – This is the first program I learned about and perhaps my favorite.  Every Friday TMoA presents Art on the House – free admission between 4pm and 8pm.  I should give a mention to Hill Ward Henderson for making the program possible.

Museum of Fine Art St. Petersburgfirst Saturday and Sunday of each month…sort of – I should start by saying that this deal also applies to the MFA as well as the TMoA and the Florida Holocaust Museum (which has respectable art exhibits of its own from time to time).  You can get free admission to the museums on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month by presenting your Bank of America debit or credit card (or Merrill Lynch credit or debit card) and a photo ID.  If the Saturday or Sunday falls on the last day of the month, the deal will apply the following weekend.

Ringling Museum of Art – every Monday – $25!  That’s how much you don’t have to pay if you visit the Ringling on a monday.  This includes free admission to their permanent collection as well as the special exhibition galleries which currently houses Sanford Biggers’ new installation.  Call in sick to work, bring two dollars for the Skyway, and how about some falafel for lunch – sounds like a rad Monday.

Polk Museum of Art – every Saturday morning –  Not to be left out is the runt of the museum bunch.  You can save your five bucks if you stop by on Saturdays from 10am to noon.  Interestingly, local favorites Theo Wujcik and Krik Ke Wang will be exhibiting at the PMoA in a couple of months.

I’m obligated to mention that visiting the museums at these times is free of charge but not free of cost to the museum.  I’m sure any of these venues would appreciate a donation if you find yourself less poor than usual.  Regardless, whether you plan on making your way to a gallery or museum, it can be done on the cheap.  Being sans-cash shouldn’t be an obstacle to enjoying art in and around the Bay.