Skyway Collaboration Links Area Museums, Opens Saturday

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BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JUN 23, 2017

The Ringling Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg and the Tampa Museum of Art will all simultaneously open a three-part joint exhibition this Saturday, June 24, entitled Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration. A celebration of contemporary artists across the region, each museum will play host to its own particular piece of the exhibit, introducing artists to new audiences and encouraging those audiences to make the rounds to different museums to get the full experience. Conceived and developed by a team of curators from all three institutions, Skyway also represents a landmark collaboration as the first shared exhibition of its kind from these neighboring museums.

The result of two years of planning and “constant collaboration,” says Ringling Museum Curator of Photography and New Media Chris Jones, the call to artists for Skyway went out last year and 300 artists responded from Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Assembling a jury of curators from all three museums, and a guest juror in Diana Nawi of the Perez Art Museum Miami to disarm any possible bias, the 300 was winnowed to 57, of which 11 will have work on display in the Keith D. and Linda L, Monda Gallery at the Ringling Museum. And although Sarasota artists such as Cassia Kite, Nathan Skiles and Rob Tarbell are participating in Skyway, the work shown in the Monda Gallery all comes from artists working in the Tampa and St. Pete areas, giving local audiences a glimpse into contemporary work being shown there.

Largely due to space limitations in the Monda Gallery, the Ringling portion of Skyway does contain roughly half as many artists on display as those in St. Pete or Tampa, but the exhibition remains “a really rich cross-section” of the contemporary art of the region, says Jones. A mixed-media show featuring painting, photography and video presentation, sculpture and installation seem to dominate the regional output, from the great wooden constructions of Robert Airosa, inspired by the boulevards lined with palm trees swaddled in supports, to the sculpture of Ben Galaday, a ceramicist fashioning cryptic wall inscriptions from strangely biological forms, and an expansive installation from Kirk Wang that commands an entire corner of the gallery with large-scale painting, varied audio accompaniment and lanterns fashioned from the donated clothes of immigrants and adorned with the signs of the Chinese Zodiac.

“There’s often this prejudice or idea that great art is being made in the metropolitan cities,” says Jones. “We want to show that we have artists doing work that is every bit as important, cogent, topical and valuable here.” And exhibitions like Skyway serve not only to showcase art currently being made, but to connect artists and artistic institutions to spur on innovation and even more collaboration that can impact the direction of future art. “It’s really creating a stronger network among artists in the area,” says Jones.

Skyway: Contemporary Collaboration opens June 24 at The Ringling Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg and the Tampa Museum of Art. It will be on display at The Ringling through October 15, at The Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg through October 1 and at the Tampa Museum of Art through September 24.

Pictured: Installation by Kirk Wang in the Keith D. and Linda L. Monda Gallery. Photo by Phil Lederer.

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