Finding the Art in Everything

08 August, 2008

MFA St. Petersburg Highlights

Today my friend Anna and I finally made it to the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, FL. It is said to be the best art gallery we have here in Florida, which isn't saying much for a theme park state. Still, the gallery boasts more than a decent cast of characters. This is my first time visiting it since their renovation and since my brief teaching foray into "art history," and both of these things made me enjoy it so much more than my last time here.

Gallery Highlights:

  • It's not ever crowded. No one is in your picture viewing space.

  • It is small, it can be thoroughly seen in a little under 2 hours.

  • Excellent, thorough curating. What makes this gallery affordable and accessible is that there are no real masterpieces in it, which is how we probably have it in Florida. Even though it is full of second and third-tier works, the explanations on the wall accompanying the work note its all its meaningful aspects AND situate the artist within the movement of its contemporaries. THEN it explains the movement and its characteristics, THEN it identifies aspects of the work that match both characteristics of the artist and movement. This approach taught novices and experts alike, while truly revealing the nature and significance of the work. I couldn't find who wrote them, but well done! to them.

  • The Ansel Adams and the American West exhibit. I have seen hundreds of reproductions of his prints but never so many made by the artist himself. The exhibit showcased 2 schools of photography. The first, founded by Adams in his club F/64, produces its its image with straight photography with little or no manipulation of contrast during printing. The other school is the pictorialist one, where images are refined and abstracted during printing and the artists' visions are revealed in the darkroom. My dad belongs to the straight photography school, who uses his engineer's penchant for math and science to shoot the exact image he wants. For me, the math and science of shooting pictures is a means to an artistic end, where my main care is in the composition of line and shape, color and form. I think I'm more Stieglitz than Adams.

  • Leon Berkowitz's Big Blue. This piece made me remember why I give any time to color field paintings. Seeing the paintings reproduced they look more like colorful geometry. Seeing them in person reveals their movement. The light and colors vibrate and play off each other. It is not that the work doesn't have any subject, it is just that it's seeking to almost objectify the abstractions of movement, energy, color, and light.

  • The lesser known pieces of the Ashcan artists. The Ashcan school was famous for its gritty urban life scenes at the turn of the 20th century. This trio here features surprising contemplation and serenity. the SPMFA has several of these kinds of lesser-known pieces that complete the viewers collective understanding of the artist. By showing these atypical pieces, the artists become more than their reputations, schools, and stigmas.

  • The American Impressionists. This is an impressionist painting of a place in Massachusetts. I love to see American examples of American things because it keeps the art I love from feeling so foreign. Impressionism does not have to be inherently tied to french nationalism.

  • The Shepherd Girl by Bouguereau. His people seem to be living, and although is this a miniture of the first version, (still painted by the original artist) it is just as moving. Bouguereau was a French Academic painter and one of the most admired critics of the 19th century. It is nice to see someone still painting in the lines during this time, and beautifully at that, rather than drowning in either absinthe or the silly lilly pond.

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