October 24, 2021


Tampa Bay's Change of Art

Chris Sherman | 4/1/2010
Tampa's new Museum of Art Tampa’s new Museum of Art [Photo: Dan Gaye]

There is something very new on Tampa’s riverfront. It is not a football stadium and does not look like the sensuous domes and minarets on the iconic 1891 Plant Hall.

It is a new museum, decidedly modern in architecture, a rectangle of two crisp cubes sheathed in pierced aluminum, cantilevered above a riverside park. By night, it displays LED light shows. When the Tampa Museum of Art opened this winter, its first guest was Henri Matisse, in a rare and subtle show of fine sketches and prints in black and white (through April 18). Thousands of local art fans have overwhelmed the facility in exuberant city pride.

The new home for the city-owned TMA was built after years of anguish and wrangling over how to give the city’s downtown the artistic expression that is now seen as crucial to municipal status and as a draw for out-of town visitors. Other cities across Florida have been busy expanding and renewing art museums as tourist attractions that make them tempting destinations for sophisticated weekends and road trips.

New Dali museum
Rendering of the new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg

"For a long time, we were one of the largest, most sophisticated cities that didn’t have a great art presence in the downtown. Now we do,’’ says Margaret Miller, director of the Institute for Research in Art at the University of South Florida. "I just love the purity of the architecture," Miller says.

The new museum is just part of grander dreams of a creating a Bilbao by the Bay on the west coast, full of new art and architecture to house it. The dramatic museum, designed by San Francisco’s Stanley Saitowitz, sits next to the Glazer Children’s Museum, a playful toy box of a building, and a mile along a river walk from Tampa Bay History Center, a six-story glass cabinet of treasured artifacts of Rough Riders, cigar workers and Timucuans. A new photographic museum is also taking shape.?

Across Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg’s Museum of Fine Arts added a massive wing in 2008 and has hosted a string of blockbuster exhibits. More than 100,000 art lovers flocked to shows of Albrecht Durer and Andy Warhol in 2009. This year a retrospective of the rotund wit and whimsical cheer of Fernando Botero has already drawn big crowds — it ends April 4 — but exhibits of William Blake and Winslow Homer will stay on to be joined this month by Whistler and Hassam.

In addition, St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum, the area’s artistic crown jewel, is building a stunning new building to show and store the largest collection of the master of the surreal outside Spain. The Dali works, brought to the city by Cleveland art collectors Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, have been housed in a converted warehouse since 1982, which nonetheless draws 200,000 visitors a year, 85% from outside Pinellas, as many as 20% from outside the U.S.

The new Dali museum has an eye-catching design by Yann Weymouth as enigmatic as its namesake. The brute strength of the three-story concrete cube that protects the art from hurricanes is broken by an organic stream of geodesic glass that crawls over and through it. Spanish royalty will inaugurate it next January as a grand step toward securing Tampa Bay’s place as a destination on the art traveler’s map of the world (and perhaps doubling the pilgrims who come to see Dali).

Across Florida, art is also expanding to provide visitors more urban and sophisticated pleasures than beaches and theme parks. Miami and Sarasota may be the best known, but others offer fine art to refine a visit.

> Gainesville: The Harn Museum at the University of Florida is barely 20 years old, already one of the biggest university museums, strong in modern, African and Asian art and photography and still growing. It added a pavilion in 2005 and has a wing under construction that will be dedicated to the Harn’s major collection of Asian art. It’s a rich attraction that is open on Sunday — all year long.

> Jacksonville: The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens has acquired additional land and is restoring the neighboring Tudor Revival building that was the former clubhouse of the women’s club. On a more intimate scale, civic boosters and property owners are turning over a dozen vacant spaces rent-free for artists to use as studios and galleries paying only the utilities. There are even two artists in empty slots next to upscale retail and restaurants in the Jacksonville Landing, which has made the commercial complex a part of the gallery scene and the city’s monthly art walk. Mayor John Peyton has pushed the idea on the theory that art and artists will draw people, then retail, then residential.

Like masterful paintings, good museums and galleries draw us in and take us away from the ordinary — for a weekend at least.

Smoking Woman Workers uncrate a bronze statue titled "Smoking Woman" by Colombian artist Fernando Botero outside the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.

Tags: Dining & Travel, Tampa Bay, Education


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