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Opening of new Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg was top arts story of 2011

no question, the arts story of the year was the January opening of the new Dalí Museum (1/11/11 to be exact). The $36 million museum opened on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront to great fanfare, including ceremonies with Spanish royalty, and crowds remained steady through the year. For the first time, all of the museum's 96 paintings are on display.

Big, too, was "Degas: Form Movement and the Antique" at the Tampa Museum of Art, which in March brought a trove of his bronze sculptures to the region for the first time and gave us new appreciation for Edgar Degas' genius.

Contemporary art made a strong showing this year. The University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum is dedicated to it, and "Stagecraft", its summer exhibition, was exceptional, especially the video by Mary Reid Kelley. The Tampa Museum of Art also continued its commitment to first-class art of the 21st century most recently with "Janet Biggs: No Limits," the first midcareer restrospective for this leading video artist. (It closes Jan. 8.)

Just opened is the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg's "Ancient Egypt — Art and Magic." The show continues through April 29, but it opened just in time for our 2011 wrap-up. The exhibit brings a prestigious private collection of antiquities to the United States for the first time and dusts off the traditional chronology-based presentation with an interesting focus on religious beliefs and practices.

James Turrell's Skyspace also just beat the deadline, opening Thursday at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. This is the only Florida Skyspace installation by Turrell, a world-famous artist whose work manipulates and changes our perception of what we see through the use of light and space. It's part of the museum's permanent collection, so it will be on display indefinitely.

In general, museums struggled in the economy along with the rest of us. That they could present such a variety of shows is testament to the resourcefulness of their directors, curators and staff. And in many cases to healthy permanent collections.

Those collections provided some imaginative exhibitions this year. Of special note are the redesigned galleries at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art that still showcase the art of Abraham Rattner but also rotate works by other artists in its collection, probably presaging at some point a name change that better reflects the museum's broader mission.

A portfolio of iconic photographs by Ansel Adams was exhibited at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts this year. We have seen a lot of Adams before, but this group had a personal angle to it, since they were ones he chose in a collection for his daughter. It was a bit crowded with 53 photographs in the museum's tight space. The good news is the museum hopes to move in 2012 so it can accommodate larger temporary shows and exhibit more of its own collection.

There are many firsts in this list, a reflection of the growing importance of the arts in our region.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or lbennett@tampabay.com.

Opening of new Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg was top arts story of 2011 12/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 2:30pm]

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