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.

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.

Tampa Weekend Art Guide

Tempus Projects – Between Earth and Sky

Tempus Projects – Between Earth and Sky

Opening reception Fri 10/19 7pm-10pm

Tempus Projects’ latest offering is the first exhibit from the Tampa Photography Collective.  The group meets monthly at the Tempus Projects space to share and discuss new work.  This show marks the first time they’ve exhibited as a group.

Good photography is difficult to come by and a medium not often seen at Tempus Projects.  This is partly why the exhibit would be especially worth a visit.  Also, though, the collective is made up of some very talented photographers – for example, check out Becky Flanders or Chris Otten.  This exhibit was specifically recommended in Creative Loafing’s Fall Arts Preview.  I suspect it won’t be difficult to see why.  I definitely suggest taking the opportunity to see all of these artists exhibiting together.

Tampa Museum of Art – Art After Dark

Fri 10/19 8pm-11pm $10

The TMoA’s quarterly art party, Art After Dark, is once again upon is.  This quarter’s installment features FIVE by FIVE, a benefit for the Arts Council of Hillsborough.  Over 600(?!) pieces of 5 x 5 inch art will be for sale at the cost of $25.  There is a bit of a catch, though: the artist’s name is only provided upon purchase.  Further, the “partial” list published on the event’s website contains over 340 artists (again, ?!).  Though it may be difficult sans names, look out for work from Neverne Covington, Vince Kral, Rebecca Sexton Larson, Kim Radatz, and Josette Urso.  This is one of those collecting opportunities that shouldn’t be missed: the art is wildly affordable and it benefits art grants.  It would be morally wrong to miss it.  Fair warning: I’m gunning for that Josette Urso.  If you’ve got your eye on her work I advise you get there early and be prepared to be challenged to the circle of death.

Tampa Weekend Art Guide 9/14 – 9/16

REDUCED5 at Tempus Projects

These introductory comments are surprisingly hard to write.  Some weeks I honestly have very little to say before moving on to the recommendations.  It must be a lot like writing the monologue every week at SNL.  But with a much smaller audience.  Actually, it’s probably nothing like that.  Anyhow, on to the art.

Tempus Projects – REDUCED5

Opening reception – Fri 9/14  7:30pm – 10pm

Tempus Projects officially begins it 2012-13 season this Friday night.  REDUCED5 is the fifth incarnation of a multimedia juried exhibit.  Artists generally limit their palette to black and white, and the price tag to $500 or less.  Kurt Piazza, the guest juror, also created REDUCED while with the Gulf Coast Museum of Art.

Lately, some of the most exciting art nationally  has been relatively sparse in color.  The recent trend of expression in understatement is especially welcome.  I trust Piazza’s taste and anticipate at least a few exceptional pieces that illustrate this tendency.  Also, the potential for especially good art at a price the 99% of us can afford makes REDUCED5 worth a visit tonight.

Becky Flanders, Vince Kral, and Ryann Slauson are just some of the artists that will be exhibiting.

Tampa Museum of Art – Art on the House

Fri 9/14  4pm – 8pm

This is the last week to catch two of TMoA‘s exhibits: A Hundred Years – A Hundred Chairs and Art of the Poison Pens.

I’m not particularly attracted to design exhibits.  I guess it’s a character deficiency I’ve made peace with.  A Hundred Chairs, though, was surprisingly interesting and relevant.  The exhibit effectively highlight the cultural subtext of design, the sociopolitical implications of chairs.  It sounds like art-speak, but how chairs are made, who makes them, and what they’re made from says a lot about the society sitting in them.  The exhibit, on loan from the Vitra Design Museum, expressed this well and kept me engrossed overall.

Art of the Poison Pens, however, I did not get a chance to see.  I cannot fairly mete out judgement on this exhibit.  I will say I was reluctant to make the trip downtown – the show seemed to be curated for maximal non-statement.  I suppose political art that makes a statement exclusively on irrelevant issues seems like a win-win exhibit for the RNC.  Suffice it to say, though, that if you visit the exhibit tonight between 4pm – 8pm you won’t have to spend your money on it.

Box on 5th – Box:3

Opening reception – Sat 9/15  7:30pm – 10pm

Anthony Record, Prayin’, Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in., 2012

Ybor’s newest and most exciting space will be hosting its third opening reception this Saturday.  If the pattern continues into this newest opening, you’re likely to find the entire Tampa Art scene squeezed into this great little space.  The three person exhibit will be featuring the work of George Anderton, Zesch Fallon, and Anthony Record.

While Fallon’s work tends toward the starkly minimal, Anderton and Record work playfully in the gap between representation and abstraction.  All three artists toy with our idea of images rather than actually provide any readily recognizable ones.  Though all three artists work under disparate styles, they each work within and around abstraction effectively.  This is saying something.  To my general annoyance, abstract art is perhaps the style most severely abused by bad art.  Saturday’s exhibit is primed to be an exercise in taking that style forward.

Two Friday Art Parties! 7/20/12

This summer, as most, has been relatively slow when it comes to art.  If you listen closely, though, you the hum of behind the curtain preparations for the upcoming art season.  I might be calling it early, but the action begins this  weekend with two Tampa art parties.

Box on 5th – Preview Party       Fri 7/20  8pm-10pm

My (quasi) expert suggestion: Grab some dinner at The Bricks then stop by the brand new Ybor City gallery, Box on 5th.  It’d be proper for me to mention that I’ll have a painting hanging at the night.  Does that influence my recommendation?  Yes!  Go see my painting!  However, I’m hardly the only artist that will be featured that evening.  The event will serve as a kind of sneak peek into the new galleries first season.  The gallery will be presenting deservedly hyped Tampa artists, such as Justin Nelson, George Anderton, and Anthony Record among others.  The Blue Bird Books Bus will also be making a stop at the new venue.  Start your night here, check out what’s to come, say hi, have a drink, then head to the next party!

Tampa Museum of Art – Art After Dark       Fri 7/20  8pm-11pm

The quarterly art party at the TMoA returns this Friday.  The party invites “culture crusaders” to celebrate the museums current design exhibit, A Hundred Years – A Hundred Chairs.  There is far too much going on at the museum that night to describe in full here, so I’ll give you the abbreviated version: music, film, dance, drink, lounge, art, food.  Several local artists, including Vincent Kral and Shanna Gillette, will be featured with chair themed work.  In addition to all of the downstairs fun, the upstairs galleries will remain open for a stroll.  I love and admire the Art After Dark series: it’s a real and concrete way to connect an internationally recognized exhibit with our community in a way that many museums fail to do.  If you don’t go for the crazy fun, at least attend on principle!

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art: Take a Seat, This is a Long Story

image courtesy of Tampa Museum of Art

Through endless episodes of Frasier (thanks Netflix) I find myself fixating on the props.  Specifically on a single prop, near the back of the living room, a single chair and matching footstool that exudes an uncanny quantity of comfort.  Similarly, the ubiquity of chairs can relegate them to becoming background props in real life as well: I can easily forget I’m sitting in one while I type this.

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Off the Wagon – Your Weekend Art Binge 5/04 – 5/06

May the 4th be with you!  Today is like Christmas for pun-loving Jedis.  If you find you aren’t wrapped up in Star Wars themed nerdery all weekend here is some art worth checking out.

Blue Lucy – Scratch the Surface     Sat 5/06  7pm-11pm

Blue Lucy opens a large group exhibition this Saturday.  Seriously, big.  The inevitability that you or a friend is involved is reason enough to stop by.

Blue Lucy distributed square wood panels to over 100 local artists on which to create new work.  Curatorial restrictions on medium often produce great results or bust, but rarely land in the middle.  If not critically acclaimed fine art, though, the show will definitely provide the best locally made hanging-art for the home at a price that shouldn’t be far out of reach.  I was definitely able to spy out quality abstract work that will appear in the exhibit from artist Daniel Williams.  Also, look out for some local favorites such as Frank Strunk III, Calan Ree, and Coralette Damme.

Tampa Museum of Art – Art on the House    Fri 5/04  4pm-8pm

I know, I know: I feature Art on the House often.  I swear I’m not on their payroll.  There are two specific exhibits worth a gander this weekend, though.

Romare Bearden is packing up and leaving town this Sunday.  If you haven’t had a chance to visit the exhibit yet, do it.  Now.  The Romare Bearden exhibit is the most impressive one in the museum right now (and the museum is filled with nothing but impressive exhibits at the moment).  Bearden’s work capture’s a timelessness in a way only great work can.  It’s nearly impossible to pin his work to any particular decade though it spans several.  His use of collage seems to depict everyday life with a familiarity usually reserved for photography or film while also commenting on how it’s depicted.

With the surging buzz of activity lately I’ve neglected to mention the loan of sculptures from the amazing Margulies collection.  Miami’s Margulies collection is a museum’s worth and worthy collection of modern and contemporary art.  The TMoA selected to exhibit sculptural works from the latter half of the 20th century with an emphasis on the natural form.  The exhibit includes some serious art icons but I particularly enjoyed seeing George Segal’s Three People on Four Benches and Isamu Noguchi’s Judith.

Art@Bay at Sarasota Visual Art – Art After Dark: On the Record

DJ Brian Oblivion – he was spinning Gang of Four when I took this photo

My students looked at me as if they always thought I might be a nerd and I had just confirmed their suspicions.  Had I done anything fun this weekend?  Yes.  I went to the museum.

To be fair to my street cred, my visit to the museum did include alcohol, a DJ, and night-time schmoozing (oh, I hate that word, but it’s too accurate to substitute).  The Tampa Museum of Art hosts a quarterly event called Art After Dark.  The event opened the museum’s doors well past its usual bed time for a vinyl record themed party.

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Look! Art After Dark: Turntable Remix

I wasn’t quite expecting “Night at the Museum” sans Ben Stiller, but it was nearly as fun.  Good art, Christian Marclay (!), beer, music, Sleeveface: Art After Dark lived up to the promise.  Look out for a proper article on the event coming up at Sarasota Visual Art.  For now, enjoy the photos.

Power of Three in Grayscale, Susan Janvrin

Art from Susan Janvrin and Craig Kaths

Me and Christian Marclay! I really nerded out and may have creeped him out a bit. Sorry, Tampa, if he never comes back.

Sleeveface!

My wife, Wanda Jackson

DJ Brian Oblivion - he was spinning Gang of Four when I took this photo

Warm Up the Skinny Jeans, Kids – Art to Check Out this Weekend! 4/20 – 4/22

Wow. That guy on the sleeve is way more plentiful of hair than me.

For this weekend’s outing we’ll be reveling in the hipster fetish of vinyl.  That is, vinyl records.  Hipsters are generally way too nerdy to actually be into a real vinyl fetish.  That would be fun to see, though.  Anyhow, onto the TMoA.

Tampa Museum of Art – Art After Dark    Fri 4/20  8pm-11pm    Guests- $10  Members- free

The quarterly museum party, Art After Dark, returns Friday night.  The latest edition’s vinyl record theme coincides with the museum’s John Cage installation 33 1/3 – Performed by Audience and the eve of Record Store Day.  Plenty of record related activity will be buzzing throughout the museum until 11pm.  In museum-time that’s crazy late.  If that’s not crazy late for you, though, the after party is at the Mermaid Tavern.  I said this regarding the last Art After Dark, but when was the last time you went to a party so cool that it warranted an after party?  Shame on you if you miss your chance.  Shame on you.

In addition to the John Cage installation there will be record themed artwork from various other artists tied to the Bay area.  In particular, the party will feature the art of Susan Janvrin.  To say her work is “record themed” is a bit of an understatement.  Janvrin’s art begins with vinyl records as her chosen medium and develops the work to a near hypnotic end.  Art After Dark will also be presenting art from another local artist, Matt Normand.  I’m afraid I’m unable to say exactly what to anticipate Normand will show.  A fun fact, though:  Matt Normand’s last solo show at Tempus Projects was the first exhibit I ever saw there (admittedly, that fact was probably only fun for me).  Once-local artist and USF grad, Craig Kaths will be contributing work for the show as well.  His impeccable prints of dissected stereos, turntables, and other electronics fits the party’s tight theme eerily well.  Also, if you meet him ask him about being an assistant for Takashi Murakami (?!).  I’d consider suffering great bodily harm if it meant landing a gig like that.

There’s plenty more LP loving activities planned for the evening.  You may have seen or even enjoyed shooting some of the Sleeveface photos that have been floating around on Facebook.  If not, there definitely fun for a look and a try (you can find some of them here).  You’ll also have the opportunity to start your Record Shop Day a few hours early by perusing the pop-up record shops.  Vinyl from the Bay’s favorite shops (Microgroove, Mojo, and Daddy Kool) will be there for the buying.  Word on the streets (and the Facebook event page) is that the legendary record shop, Amoeba Music, has some sort of surprise in store.

In the unlikely event that you hate vinyl records there will be a cash bar.  For everyone else the TMoA has planned quite a bit of art-ish amusement built around a tight theme.  The reason this museum party is only a quarterly event is clear from the amount of work that appears to have gone into its production.  Let’s face it, though – us art nerds can handle an event with an after-party only once every few months anyway.