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2010 was an exceptional year of growth, enhancements and new beginnings in the art world

Pardon me if I become effusive. But 2010 has been a huge year for the visual arts in Tampa Bay. • We have always been able to claim an unusually large concentration of diverse art museums in west-central Florida, but this was the year we could also claim bragging rights to an unusually large concentration of exceptional art museums with the completion of the fourth major museum expansion in as many years. • Growth spurts for four art museums began in 2007, when the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota completed a sweeping $76 million expansion. In 2008, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, opened a $21 million wing that doubled the museum's size. A new $26 million Tampa Museum of Art opened in February. And the new $36 million Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg is finished and opens in 16 days. That's next year (Jan. 11), but the dramatic building rising on the downtown waterfront has had a huge impact on perceptions of the city throughout this year, so I'm including it in my list of important events. • The new Chihuly Collection in downtown St. Petersburg isn't a museum, but it made a museum-quality splash when it opened in July as the first facility with a permanent collection of works by Dale Chihuly, the famous Washington state glass artist. • Another big name in the arts, Georgia O'Keeffe, was also an honored addition to the community when an anonymous donor gave one of her early Santa Fe paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts in May. • And we welcomed yet another distinguished "name," Kent Lydecker, who became director at the Museum of Fine Arts in October. • It's a new era for the arts in our region.

Tampa Museum of Art

Yes, the process was fraught, overly political and dragged out interminably, but Tampa finally got the excellent art facility it deserves, designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz. It's on the Hillsborough River in Tampa adjacent to the new Glazer Children's Museum and a reinvented Curtis Hixon Park. The triumvirate of visual, recreational and family opportunities has given thousands of people a reason to flock to downtown Tampa for pleasure instead of business.

The art museum has had a broad public appeal in its exhibition schedule, too. During its first year, executive director Todd Smith brought in shows that equaled the museum's new stature, from contemporary video art to impressionism and, very spectacularly, an inaugural exhibition of works by the great modern master Henri Matisse.

The Salvador Dalí Museum

Much will be written in the coming weeks about this marvelous new building. In general, all that needs to be said is this: It's a big deal.

The museum, in its modest old building, attracted almost 200,000 visitors annually, most nonlocals and many from Europe and Asia.

The new building, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, will be an architectural attraction in its own right, and its greater size, which provides the space to showcase much more of the collection by the Spanish surrealist, should exponentially increase its drawing power.

The Chihuly Collection

The Morean Arts Center is an exceptional regional educational facility, but who would have expected it to land such a coup? Attribute it to the Morean's educational mission, a high priority for Seattle-based Dale Chihuly, and the friendships forged over many years of planning.

True, the ambitious original plan for a large, free-standing building had to be scrapped for financial reasons. But Chihuly and the arts center stayed the course, adjusted the vision and opened a jewel box of a space designed by architect Albert Alfonso that provides a fitting backdrop for the swoon-worthy glass installations. The Beach Drive location in the bustling heart of a revived downtown St. Petersburg is perfect. No one's calling it a museum, but whatever it is, it's beautiful.

Georgia O'Keeffe's 'Grey Hills Painted Red'

The gift came from out of the blue. No one at the Museum of Fine Arts had ever met the woman who called in early 2010. She wasn't a member and there was no record of her making a gift to the museum. But she said she had enjoyed visiting over the years and her favorite painting was Georgia O'Keeffe's Poppy. She had a painting by O'Keeffe, too, and did the museum want it? Did it ever!

The work, Grey Hills Painted Red, was created in 1930 during an especially fruitful period in the long career of O'Keeffe, one of the most influential American artists of the early 20th century. It's an especially felicitous addition to the permanent collection as it joins two other paintings by O'Keeffe from the same time period.

With a conservative value of $2 million, the museum could never have afforded to buy it.

Kent Lydecker, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg

Lydecker began his job as director in October but his tenure already seems to depart from the traditional method of operation favored by many other directors.

His main mission is to increase membership and attendance. Don't all museums want those things? But he doesn't believe that a focus on special exhibitions — the bright shiny objects of the art world — is the only or even best way to accomplish those goals. (Don't worry, the museum will still bring in interesting traveling shows. Just don't expect any blockbusters in the near future.)

Getting more people to enjoy and appreciate what's there all the time — the permanent collection — is a better way to build loyalty in the long run, he believes. It's a welcome approach, and seeing how he interprets it in practical ways will be interesting to watch.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.

2010 was an exceptional year of growth, enhancements and new beginnings in the art world 12/23/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 25, 2010 5:07pm]
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