When you plan a visit to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, you may be looking forward to surrounding yourself with its famous collection of Baroque Renaissance work, including one of the world’s most significant collections of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.
But for the next few months, your Ringling visit can also include a stop into a room with 24.6 miles of satin ribbon hanging in strands from the ceiling to just above the floor. You’ll start amidst some dark-colored ribbon and move into bright and uplifting blues and reds. You’ll have to push aside the ribbons as you walk. They’re hung so densely that someone could be a few feet away from you and you might not even see him or her. It’s a forest of color, and when you make a choice to turn to the right or veer a bit to the left, it changes the entire experience for you.
It’s an installation called “Pathless Woods,” created specifically for a new gallery at the Ringling that’s set to open Friday. The Ringling invited New York-based artist Anne Patterson to come here to inaugurate the new Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery for Contemporary Art.
“It’s a really flexible white cube space,” said Matthew McLendon, the Ringling’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “We haven’t really had a flexible space like that before.”
The Monda Gallery is one of three galleries opening Friday, and all are devoted to modern and contemporary art, which, in broad terms, means art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Also opening Friday are two galleries in the museum’s Ulla R. and Arthur F. Searing Wing. They are adjacent to the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art, which opened in February.
“When we got moving on the center for Asian art, we realized we didn’t need the entire space,” said Steven High, the Ringling’s executive director. “That freed up about 2,500 square feet of space that could be used for modern and contemporary art.”
They decided to set aside space for two galleries that will mostly showcase the museum’s large and growing collection of modern and contemporary art. The Monda Gallery will be devoted more to installations and small traveling exhibitions.
The three new galleries, together with the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion that is set to open in a about a year, will mean that the Ringling will have about 10,000 square feet of gallery space devoted exclusively to modern and contemporary art.
That’s a lot.
“There are a lot of museums that don’t have 10,000 square feet total,” High said.
Casual observers might be surprised to find that modern and contemporary art is a focus of the Ringling Museum of Art. But High said that the museum’s original collection from 1946 had a significant emphasis on 20th century art, so that has been part of the museum right from the start.
And in the past five years, the Ringling has had in place a project called “Art in Our Time” that’s aimed specifically at increasing the museum’s already-impressive contemporary art collection.
McLendon came on board essentially to head that project, and he was the one who invited Patterson in to create “Pathless Woods” as the first installation in the Monda Gallery.
Although this is a brand-new work, it has a precedent in an installation Patterson created for Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. In that work, ribbons hung from the ceiling, high overhead, and washed the cathedral in changing light patterns as the light from the windows shifted.
“Pathless Woods,” the title of which comes from a Lord Byron poem, is different, Patterson said, in that it’s immersive and interactive, and involves four of the five senses. Visitors will touch the ribbons as they walk through the spectrum of colors, from the deep hues of the ribbons at the entry way to a bright red area at the the center. Music composed especially for the work by composer Michael Gandolfi plays, and a video is filtered through the forest of ribbons. The video will appear abstract, broken by the ribbons until it becomes just dots of light. Gandolfi’s music is synched to the rhythm of the video.
And on Thursdays, scent will even be introduced into the gallery. It’ll be a subtle, fresh forest type of scent, Patterson said.
Patterson has synaesthesia, a phenomenon in which people can, for example, see music or taste colors. “Pathless Woods” is meant partly as a simulation of synaesthesia. That’s one reason she chose to work with composer Gandolfi, with whom she has collaborated before.
And in the past five years, the Ringling has had in place a project called “Art in Our Time” that’s aimed specifically at increasing the museum’s already impressive contemporary art collection.
“Michael’s music is very inspirational to me,” she said. “It really triggers my synaesthesia for some reason.”
Her ribbon installation in San Francisco hung for two years, and drew enthusiastic reviews from art critics. “Pathless Woods,” which will remain in the Monda Gallery into next spring, is sort of a culmination of that San Francisco installation, and Patterson said she’s thrilled with the result.
“I’m so excited that people are going to be able to walk through the ribbon, touch the rhythm, while they’re hearing Michael’s music,” she said.
Details: Friday through May 31, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. $25 adults, $20 seniors 65 and older; children 6-17 $5. 941-358-3180, ringling.org.