The (Museum) Trickle Down Effect

museumAs monolithic as the institution of the art museum can seem, its role in society and culture can, at times, be particularly ambiguous.  Sharpening the focus, an art museum’s relationship with the surrounding art community is often no clearer.  An excited  buzz recently flowed through much of St. Petersburg upon word of a new museum, the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, set to open there in 2016.  Local artists, gallerists, art bloggers (including myself) seemed especially pleased with the news.  I wondered, though, if this stemmed from anything other than the excitement that accompanies new exhibits in a new venue and a potential positive economic impact on the arts.  

Really, it brought a larger question to mind.  The local arts community and nearby art museums seem to share a special relationship.  That said, does one actually exist based on some sort of cultural interchange and should it?  Do better/more museums somehow make a better local art scene?

So it might now become clear that the “trickle” in this article’s title is not an economic one (and certainly not a biological one – nasty!)  Rather, it refers to a flow of cultural value from art museums to local art makers.  I’ve given this idea quite a bit of thought in preparation to host the next #TwitterCrit.  I’ve since realized I’m not one of those quick-tongued critics that can form an unassailable opinion in the flash of a moment.  Thinking about this ‘Museum trickle down effect’ has, in honesty, only left me with more questions.  Still, maybe these questions in themselves are noteworthy points.

Why Trickle Down?

I initially made the assumption that art museums should somehow influence and, to a point, shape the local art community.  Really, if a local art community informed a museum’s practice, I would likely call that “trickle up“.  But why up?

Museums are generally thought of as centers of influence.  Consider the generally accepted pinnacle of an artist’s career is the museum retrospective.  Think about the MoMA’s role in defining the idea of Modernism.  Note museum architecture old and new.  Scrutinize museums bolstering of “cultural capital.”  During the twentieth century art museums have inhabited a role somewhere in between “taste maker” and “history writer.”

Believe me: I don’t want to address why or how museums are vested with this power.  Rather, does this model of Museum-as-taste-maker-slash-history-writer still work for us in the twenty-first century?  I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

In a Wikipedia world, art museums do feel a bit like a stack of  leather-bound encyclopedias.  That isn’t to say the institutions should adopt the elsewhere ubiquitous practices of populism and crowdsourcing.  I can only imagine how terrible administration-by-‘like’-and-‘retweet’ would be.  Still, there seems to be a certain sense of pluralism that is missing.  I’m not saying that everyone’s opinion should be included – we’d end up with a museum aesthetically similar to Pier 1.  What I am saying is there should be mechanism to undermine the institutions’ tendency toward a meta-narrative of art and its history.

I’m sorry: I’m not really offering any specific alternatives, and in the end this might be as much an issue to be taken up with institutional curation as the art museum itself.  To be fair, I did say that considering the issue “only left me with more questions.”  If you have any ideas, however, I’d love to see it as a comment below.

Should there be a Trickle?

Perhaps the most basic question on the topic is “Should there even be a trickle down effect?”  It may be that a creative interchange between local visual arts and art museums locally is not beneficial.  I doubt this also, but I feel like I should play devil’s advocate with myself.
There are well-known stories of the Abstraction Expressionists and their near-desperate endeavour to exhibit within the MoMA’s already hallowed halls.  No doubt, to this end ambition served as some sort of impetus for their art making  – personally, a relatively unsavory thought.  Of course, few local artists entertain hopes of exhibiting in the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg or Tampa Museum of Art.  Yet, I suppose, it would require little for aspirations of museum inclusion to overtake nobler goals.  That said, I’d like to clarify that this is a dumb reason to suppress a creative interchange between local artists and art museums – this sort of ambition seems to be an unshakable aspect of the art world regardless.
The second reason against a creative interchange that comes to mind is the possibility that both the local arts community and art museums operate better independently – a sort of separation of powers.  Obviously, this would retread what was spoken about under the previous subheading –  what really privileges one to exert an influence on the other?
An arts community is unhampered by the expectations of a board, donors, the public, and general bureaucracy.  A museum has wide-reaching resources and concerns that spread far beyond the local community.  It may be that mixing the two weakens some of each’s greatest strengths.

Is ‘Trickle’ the Wrong Word? (It’s definitely an Annoying One Now)

The word ‘trickle’ implies movement, and maybe that’s an imprecise way to illustrate the potential relationship between an art museum and surrounding art communities.
It has been wonderful watching the visual arts community in Tampa Bay grow.  Perhaps an inevitable effect of this growth is that the larger nebulous community divides and again coalesces into smaller groups.  St. Petersburg’s art community becomes the 600 Block, Warehouse Arts District, Gulfport, and so on.  Tampa’s art community becomes Seminole Heights, Ybor, USF.
Can museums act as centers that enjoin the manifold scenes into a singular and stronger community?  With some effort and cooperation, museums can be the fulcrum that allows composite art communities to achieve common goals and meet common needs.  Beyond the potential of being a resource for its venue space and organizational support, museums can act as a visible representation of the larger arts community.  This sort of arrangement would also be beneficial to the museums.
It is certainly in any museums interest to foster an environment of cultural literacy and art appreciation.  Advocating surrounding arts communities can concurrently work as a grass-roots effort to nurture and expand a community that produces future patrons.
* * *
So what should the relationship between museums and local art communities be like?  I’m still not sure.  But I am pretty sure, though, what it might involve: A spirit of cooperation with a focus on shared needs and goals, a manner of operating that reflects a modern sense of pluralism, and a partnership that benefits the larger community we share.
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Art@Bay on Sarasota Visual Art: Seeing Things at Roger Chamieh’s Apophenia

Roger Chamieh, Broken

These are not grand existential statements. As people may have once been anxious over soul and salvation, today are likewise of car accidents, peanut allergies, smile lines and crow’s feet – a helpless body. Fittingly, the sculptures of Roger Chamieh’s current solo exhibit nearly appear to sag and be pinched, to wheeze and groan.

Read the rest of the article here at Sarasota Visual Art

Continue reading →

The Struggle for Seminole Heights

I trust we’re mostly all familiar with the life cycle of an arts neighborhood:

  1. There’s a good chance your art neighborhood is first one of two things: a poor/lower class community or an industrial area.  Real Estate would be cheap – the flame to the artist-moth.
  2. Artists move into the neighborhood, primarily for studio space.
  3. Studios invite studio visits.  In turn, studio visits become galleries.  Galleries attract more galleries.  This is the zenith of any arts neighborhood.
  4. All of the arts spending now attracts other businesses such as restaurants, retail, and (ugh!) condos.
  5. The resulting gentrification and high real estate costs drive artists out of the neighborhood and the life cycle repeats itself elsewhere.

Currently we have  a few neighborhoods at that second step in the life-cycle.  While most may consider step #4 critical in the artist’s struggle for a home base, step #2 is perilous in its own way.  At this point the neighborhood is still poor/lower class.  Lower income neighborhoods attract more than just artists.  They also attract businesses that exploit the poor.  Pitting culture-warriors against big businesses that take advantage of low-income families is currently what is being played out in Tampa’s Seminole Heights.

A Family Dollar store is planning to purchase and move into a property on Florida Ave – a little stretch of street that’s the home to local businesses such as Tempus Projects, The Refinery, Yesterdaze, Microgroove, Independent Bar and Cafe, Cleanse Apothecary.  Compared to local business, though, Family Dollar has enormous amounts of money at its disposal to purchase property.  Not only are big businesses such as Family Dollar able to vastly outspend more culturally valuable local businesses, but they are able to finance absurd real estate purchases, paying much more for property than it’s worth.

However, while local cultural institutions and businesses may not carry the financial clout of Family Dollar, they can and do avail themselves of a unique ability: they’re transformative to the neighborhoods they exist in.  Family Dollar stores consistently lower a neighborhood’s home values (not to mention cultural values).  On the other hand, local businesses and artists/galleries raise home values, culturally enrich their neighborhoods, and spend their profits in the neighborhoods that gave it to them.

You would expect that these strengths of artists/galleries and local businesses would align with the goals of local government.  However, we have yet to see the city of Tampa adopt Seminole Heights along the lines of St. Pete and the Warehouse Arts District.  In the meantime, there are a few things individuals (YOU) can do.

Make some phone calls:

Chris Salemi at Hunt Douglas Developers – (813) 289-5511

Dean Koutroumanis, the local rep for Family Dollar – (813) 624-4620

Connect with the cause on Facebook here or at the website here.

Lastly, patronize locally owned Seminole Heights businesses regularly.  Help transform it into the type of neighborhood that won’t give Family Dollar a profit.

Warm Up the Skinny Jean, Kids – Art to Check Out this Weekend! 3/02-3/04

The runt month of February has come and gone. I learned the hard way that things you do on Leap Day do count.  Anyhow, with the advent of March our art microcosm becomes much more interesting.  To kick the month off we have two closing receptions on one side of the bay and an opening on the other.

USF Centre Gallery – The Attic by Shanna Martin and Ben Berrett closing reception    Fri 3/02  7pm-9pm

Tempus Projects – Neil Bender: Purple Nurple closing reception    Fri 3/02  8pm-10pm

USF Centre Gallery - THE ATTIC

THE ATTIC is an installation/performance piece by artists Shanna Martin and Ben Berrett.  ‘Attic’ is one of those tired metaphors for the subconscious that more often than not dooms artwork to cliché-hood (think the cover of Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic).  If you’ve seen the performance in person or on YouTube, though, the stock symbol becomes disturbingly real.  The performance produces an honest sense of chaos as two monsters trudge around the space – a real life Id left to its own devices.  Cliché or not, THE ATTIC is likely to be the most interesting art you’ll see this weekend.

Tempus Projects is closing Neil Bender’s solo exhibit with a reception this Friday as well.  I wrote a review of the show that you can find here.  If you didn’t get a chance to make it to the opening, a trip Seminole Heights is worth it.  Bender’s paintings are surprisingly relevant – they engage in a way familiar to other mediums.  Check out the review if you want to know more about the exhibit.

Studio@620 – Florida Focus Exhibition: A Celebration of Contemporary Florida Art    Sat 3/03  7pm

The Florida Focus Exhibition is a group exhibit of 32(!) artists from around the state.  The force and focus behind the show is its curator, Ken Rollins.  Rollins’ name may sound familiar: he was the executive director for a few Florida art museums including the interim executive director of the TMoA  during its make over.  The exhibit celebrates his 70th birthday with the work of many artists he’s worked with throughout his career.

The roster is a long list of well-known and respected Florida artists.  That isn’t to say that it’ll be particularly exciting, though.  If you’re the type of art nerd that’s stoked about Mindy Solomon’s Explicit Content show, you may find yourself choking down a yawn at this one.  My recommendation is to take a friend and sharpen your critic skills.  You’ll find some art that you admire and art that you less than admire – articulate the particulars of what you think.  Regardless, the education on Florida artists makes the exhibit worth seeing.  The full list of artists is too long to name here but check out the full roster of artists here.

Also this weekend:

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts – Curtis Hixon Park     Sat 3/03  9am-6pm, Sun 3/04 9am-5pm

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this event.  However, I should send you off with the warning that the Festival comes with a reputation for being extremely tame.  I’ve heard the general style described as “hotel art” – so inoffensive that it’s offensive.  Now go enjoy the sunshine!

Your Dirty Mind – Neil Bender: Purple Nurple

(left) Looks Like, oil and acrylic on canvas, 49" x 85 ", 2009-10 (right) A Habitable Ether, oil on canvas, 40" x 50", 2011-12

Nipples, thighs, orifices of sorts – visually, Neil Bender‘s current exhibit of paintings at Tempus Projects is not unlike scrambled pay-per-view.  Like most good jokes, though, behind the suggestive content and playful exhibit title, Purple Nurple is much more sober.

It can’t be denied: Bender’s work is overtly sexual.  While content-wise the sweaty tangle of body parts in most of the paintings of Purple Nurple may resemble an orgy, the paintings resemble a collage compositionally.  In fact, one of Bender’s pieces featured in the show is actually a proper  cut-and-paste collage.  In this way Bender isn’t creating his sexual imagery as much as he’s mediating sexual imagery we’re already familiar with.  Perhaps that’s why his work can be so squirm-worthy at times.

There is another reason I found the work in Purple Nurple so affectingCreative Loafing‘s Megan Voeller mentioned in a past review of Bender’s work that “Rather than re-inscribing the objectification of participants (most often women) found in mainstream porn, … [Bender] is playful and exploratory in a way that reflects the current, lively discourse on gender and sexuality”. Power relations in porn are generally pretty obvious. They’re much more murky with Bender’s faceless bodies, leaving it ambiguous as to who exactly is being objectified. In a weird way it feels like the collar-pulling viewer fills that role.

The paintings of Purple Nurple are also playful with the assumptions we make in “reading” the paintings (and by extension the images we consume in general).  The centerpiece of the show, a large 88 x 120 in. painting, also makes use of this hyper-sexual imagery.  A quilt-like pattern recalls a bed mattress or fish net stockings.  Fleshy masses twist with outfit accessories, nipples with belt buckles.  It’s easy to guess what may be going on in this scene, but difficult to reconcile it with the painting’s title, My Daughter’s Overturned Bedroom.  Bender plays the opposite game in paintings with titles such as Pony You Up and Raw.  Where we presume perversity is upon closer inspection banality.  Don’t blame Neil, you were the one thinking it.

Neil Bender’s work provokes with an immediacy that painting doesn’t often allow.  In a medium that has an increasingly difficult struggle to find relevancy, the work in Purple Nurple is indecently appropriate.

My Daughter's Overturned Bedroom, oil on canvas, 88" x 120", 2011-12

Word is there will be a closing reception on March 2nd – keep an eye on Tempus Projects’ Facebook page.

Warm Up the Skinny Jeans, Kids – Art to Check Out This Weekend! 2/04

Hitch up your smarty pants or pull up your party pants this Saturday (not that either is really mutually exclusive): our two offerings this Saturday will probably appeal more to your Apollonian or bacchanalian sides.  However,  hitting both shows in the same night may appeal to your more rad side.

Blue Lucy – Far Out: A Black Light Art Exhibit     2/04/12  7pm-11pm

Blue Lucy‘s much loved Black Light Art Exhibit returns this Saturday at 7pm.  Though perhaps not as heady as most of the exhibits I usually recommend, I promise: you will have fun.  Far Out will be featuring work from several artists including local star Frank Strunk III and 600 Block neighbors, Pale Horse Design.  Not only will the black light blow your mind (and reveal nasty stains),  you’ll get a chance to meet some great local artists.  Check out Taco Bus before hand (you’ll find me there) and Sake Bomb after – you’ve got yourself a grade A downtown St. Pete night.  We’ve been in Tampa a lot lately, so it’ll be nice to pay a visit to  Blue Lucy and the rest of the 600 Block.

Tempus Projects – Wall Music and Things Not Seen Before Closing Reception     2/04/12  7pm

I know lately I’ve given the lion’s share of my attention to Tempus Projects’ John Cage tribute exhibit.  So this is the last time I’ll mention Things Not Seen Before.  It’s just that  I’ve been a fan of the composer/artist since I was a wee high school art nerd.

The USF School of Music will be interpreting and performing music based on the sights and sounds of the Things Not Seen Before exhibit.  The small space is sure to work well for this performance also.  It’s been encouraging to see so much collaboration involved in this ongoing exhibit, so it’s appropriate USF gets in on the act before John Cage leaves town.  This Saturday is also your last chance to get in on the act so if you’re not heading to the 600 Block hope you can make it to Seminole Heights.

Art to Check Out Saturday

Tempus Projects – Things Not Seen Before: A Tribute to John Cage        Sat. 1/14 – 7pm-10pm

I have a special place in my art-heart for Tempus Projects, and their exhibition set to open Saturday typifies why.

Things Not Seen Before: A Tribute to John Cage is hosted by Tempus Projects in cooperation with a companion exhibition John Cage 33 1/3 – Performed by Audience, to open later this month at the Tampa Museum of Art.  Both exhibits are being presented by independent curator Jade Dellinger as part of the John Cage centennial celebration.

Showcasing both exhibits in such seemingly disparate venues is an extremely smart curatorial call on the part of Dellinger.  This comes as no surprise – Dellinger has been behind a number of great exhibits featured in the Bay area.  No doubt, John Cage would’ve approved of an intimate artist-run space (trust me, we were tight) like Tempus Projects.

The name of the exhibit is based on a line Cage wrote in a letter to Dellinger as a student in the 1980’s: “I’m not interested in the names of movements but rather in seeing and making things not seen before.”  The exhibit will feature several original pieces by Cage including work that’s never been exhibited.  Among Cage’s artwork will be trial proofs from his Mushroom Book and a monotype from his “String” series.

An overwhelming list of overwhelmingly imaginative people will also be featured such as David Byrne, Christian Marclay, Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Stephen Vitiello, and a gaggle of original(!) Fluxus artists among many others.  Check out the full list at Tempus Projects’ site.  Additionally, well-known Bay area artists Joe Griffith and Theo Wujcik (my favorite local painter) will be producing site specific artwork for the space.

The amount of creativity Tempus Projects and Jade Dellinger are able to organize and fit into the Tampa gallery is impressive.  Considering a little garage in Seminole heights could muster the gumption (or moxie) to present an exhibit worthy of a museum warms the DIY-soul.  More importantly, though, it illustrates the importance and potential alternative spaces can have in the Bay area arts community.

I won’t be able to make it on Saturday (please don’t remind me unless you want to see a sissy-man cry).  If you’re going and would like to be featured on the blog write about your visit to the show, take pictures, draw renditions, record the ambient sounds, etc. and send it to me at dannyolda@hotmail.com