The west-central coast of Florida is fortunate to have numerous art museums with unique and compelling missions. So it is no surprise that through them, we have a diversity of art to enjoy both in their permanent collections and special exhibitions, which usually rotate every few months. We have had many fine ones.
Different museum curators and directors don't confer among themselves to coordinate schedules; they develop or borrow shows that contribute to their individual missions so finding a unifying principle is an arbitrary exercise. Still, there were interesting common threads in 2012.
Photography made a strong showing, for example. At the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in Tampa, every show features photography so we always have something in that medium to explore. But the Tampa Museum of Art chose for its big fall-winter show a comprehensive retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson; University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum has photographs by Andy Warhol along with work by contemporary photographers influenced by his aesthetic; and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art also currently features a large group exhibition of iconic photographs mostly from the 20th century. (In February, the museum brings in a large show of glamorous photographs by Herb Ritts, too.) In its new wing, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg usually devotes a small gallery to photography.
Which leads to another common thread in the past year's exhibitions. Many are the result of gifts: the Warhol Polaroids were given to CAM by the Warhol Foundation; the Ringling show represents part of a gift from collectors.
And MFA has benefited from an enormous gift that increased its photography collection almost tenfold, to 14,000, which vaulted it into the big leagues of museum photography collections.
And though they aren't photographs, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art has amassed significant additions to its permanent collection, all gifts. The collection of the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, mostly works by contemporary artists working in Florida, came to Leepa-Rattner when Gulf Coast closed, and over the last few years, Leepa-Rattner has received several print collections. Its most recent one is now on view. Those gifts will probably alter its original mission, which was as a showcase for the work of 20th century artist Abraham Rattner and his contemporaries.
I can't let this year end without mentioning the deaths of two prominent art world figures, the critic Robert Hughes and painter Thomas Kinkade. Putting their names in the same sentence seems odd. Kinkade was a populist artist, a description many who thought him crassly commercial would consider generous. He was known to a wider audience than Hughes, a brilliant, often acerbic commentator and writer who would never have deigned to consider Kinkade worthy of any consideration. And his mark was deeper and no doubt more enduring.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.