Some of the greatest remnants of early Greek culture, presented by the Tampa Museum of Art, provided a standout show.
By LENNIE BENNETT
Published December 25, 2003
[Photo: Tampa Museum of Art]
Youth of Agrigento, c. 480 B.C., marble
Except for the superb exhibition of Greek antiquities at the Tampa Museum of Art in February, this has been less than a spectacular year for art in the Tampa Bay area.
But the current season will brighten considerably in about a month. The exhibition that will probably be the area's only certifiable blockbuster in scope and attendance, Dale Chihuly's installations of glass at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, opens Jan. 18.
Still, there were plenty of good shows in 2003, and here are the highlights, starting with the best and descending from there.
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"Magna Graecia" at the Tampa Museum of Art was one of the best exhibitions to come to the area in memory. Co-curated by Aaron J. Paul, a curator at the museum, the 80 items were borrowed from regional museums in Italy and spanned four centuries of Greek civilization beginning in the fourth century B.C. It included some of the finest examples of statuary outside of Athens.
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The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota has had consistently excellent exhibitions, and the two standouts were "Of Hands and Fire: Masterpieces from the Koger Collection" and "Sacred Treasures: Early Italian Paintings from Southern Collections." The ceramics are part of a significant collection given to the museum. They were displayed for the first time in March before being sent to other venues. It was a superb survey, ranging from humble earthenware dating to 2500 B.C. to 19th century porcelains. The Italian paintings represented the period between the 13th and early 16th centuries, before the full flowering of the Italian Renaissance. The collection had some real treasures that allowed viewers a concentrated look at tempera, a finicky emulsion of egg yolk and pigment rarely used today.
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"The Shape of Color: Joan Miro's Painted Sculpture" at St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum in February seemed more effervescent kick than deep idea. But as the first serious survey of the artist's sculptures to come to the United States, it had a backbone of serious scholarship. The only reason I'm not ranking it higher is that it was small: only a dozen sculptures supplemented with maquettes and drawings. But what was in the show was significant and rarely seen by the public because most of it is privately owned.
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The Museum of Fine Arts' best show was the quietly beautiful "Drawn Toward the Avant-Garde: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century French Drawings" in February. The collection (actually two private collections that were given to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Copenhagen) lacked work by many important artists. So it was less a comprehensive than an instructive look at the nature of drawings and the many ways artists use them to work out compositional problems and noodle around ideas.
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Among the more provocative shows was "The Liberated Image: Fabricated Photography Since 1975" at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs. It was an edited version of a larger shown seen several years ago at the Tampa Museum of Art, which owns the collection. It was a slice of a large medium, focusing on technical and thematic developments by famous names such as Cindy Sherman, John Baldessari and William Wegman.
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A survey of work at Largo's Gulf Coast Museum of Art created by artists who received Florida Visual Arts Fellowships during the program's 25 years was important both as a look backward and a look forward to the probability that the state will cut these funds. Twenty-five of the 300 artists who have benefited from this assistance were represented, and the high quality of their work shows that the program has paid off handsomely.
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Two other museum shows deserve honorable mentions. "Modern Art in Florida, 1948-1970" at the Tampa Museum of Art offered a varied record of the art created by local artists and by famous international artists exhibited at museums in the area. "Rosa Bonheur to Marcel Duchamp: Highlights from the Ringling's Collection of 19th and Early 20th Century Art" brought out of storage gems not on regular display at the museum.
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Though not museums, the Arts Center in St. Petersburg and the Dunedin Fine Art Center get high fives for mounting exhibitions that are not as intellectually rigorous as museum shows but present us with thought-provoking work by fine artists.