Three area museums team up to celebrate the work of local artists

Curators from three prominent area museums put out a call for work by local artists. The curators were all art experts who had spent at least part of their careers working in the art scene here. Still, they were taken aback by the quality and variety of the response they got.

“We were surprised by the breadth and depth of the submissions,” said Robin O’Dell, the curator of the photographic collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

Together with the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota and the Tampa Museum of Art, they have opened a joint exhibit titled “Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration.” The exhibit recently opened in all three museums, and runs through Oct. 15 at the Ringling, Oct. 1 at the MFA and Sept. 24 in Tampa.

“As far as I know, it’s a unique experience, for three museums to have the same exhibit at the same time,” said Chris Jones, the curator of photography and new media for the Ringling.

The three museums put out a call for submissions last fall. They asked for new work from artists in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee and Sarasota counties included in the show.

Even though most of the people involved had worked in their respective cities for many years and were intimately involved in the arts world, they all discovered Tampa Bay area artists they had never heard of before, sometimes working within a few miles of their own museums.

The work came in an astounding variety of mediums. One artist paints with smoke. He sets fire to credit cards and creates images by varying the density of the smoke on surface. Another has created a massive blanket, maybe 230 feet of white, woven out of threads she made out of thousands of white plastic bags. One painter creates scenes whose colors can be translated into musical notes, which are played on an accompanying electronic display. Another has crocheted on handkerchiefs pages from journals kept by Eric Davis and Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who murdered their classmates at Columbine High School. On some pages they talk about regular high school stuff, such as girls they have crushes on, and in others they discuss heartless plans to kill people.

More traditional media, including painting, sculpture, ceramics and video are, of course, also represented.

Once the artists were selected, officials from the three museums got together and decided which museum would show which artists. The essential idea, Jones said, was that each museum would try to focus on work from outside its area. So the Ringling is showing only artists from Tampa and St. Petersburg, and work by artists from Manatee and Sarasota counties are on display at the MFA and the Tampa Museum. The Ringling is showing only 11 artists, as opposed to about two dozen in each of the other museums, because the space it had available was limited.

The exhibition is giving artists a chance to show outside of their own hometowns and to meet and interact with artists from surrounding communities.

For museum visitors who are used to seeing works from national or international artists, “Skyway” offers a chance to revel in the often overlooked wonders of the art of the Tampa Bay area.

“There’s a prejudice that great art is only being made in the great metropolitan areas,” Jones said. “We want to show that we have art being made here that’s every bit as groundbreaking.”

Details: Through Oct. 15 at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Museum admission $25 adults, $23 seniors, $5 college students and children 6-17. 941-359-5700, ringling.org. Through Oct. 1 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 55 Beach Dr. NE, St. Petersburg, $17 adult, $15 children 7 and up. 727-896-2667, mfastpete.org. Through Sept. 24 at Tampa Museum of Art, 120 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. $10 adults, $5 seniors and students through July 12, $15/$7.50 after. 813-274-8130, tampamuseum.org.

Marty Clear: 941-708-7919, @martinclear