Galleries are the marketplace of an arts community. They may sometimes look like minimuseums but their goal is to sell art. Many area art galleries don't organize new shows with much frequency; they have a stable of artists and art that they interchange. Some also have frame shops. Some are frame shops with a little token art thrown in. • But most serious art galleries routinely curate new shows and have a focus that reflects the owner's preferences along with a pragmatic eye for sales. We have a lot of generous patrons who support museums and a public that likes to visit them, but the sad fact is that few people here spend a lot of money buying art from local sources. To be fair, if you're into really high-end collecting, this isn't New York or even Miami. But we have a lot of really good art exhibited here in independent commercial galleries. Right now, there is an especially abundant roster of choices. Here are a few to consider.
Mindy Solomon Gallery
124 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 502-0852 or mindysolomon.com. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and Tuesday by appointment.
Solomon specializes in contemporary ceramics though she also exhibits other media. She has introduced work by a number of fine emerging or midcareer ceramic artists to area collectors. Currently on view is "The World According to Bart." Bart Johnson is part of a ceramics movement sometimes called confrontational ceramics. His figurative sculptures are purposefully unrefined, and the elaborate illustrations that cover them are like a mashup between Hieronymus Bosch and Dr. Seuss. The show continues through March 27.
Salt Creek Artworks
1600 Fourth St. S, St. Petersburg; (727) 896-6594 or saltcreekartworks.com. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
This old furniture store converted to gallery also has studios so you'll often find artists coming and going during a visit. The shows, most curated by painter Lance Rodgers, can range from paintings to mixed media. There's a fearlessness in many of them that often seem to be organized with an eye to aesthetic explorations rather than cash. Currently on view are new paintings by Arline Erdrich. Erdrich is often associated with abstract expressionism, which may be a good starting point in appreciating her work. It's dense, layered and full of personal references that touch on the general human condition.
C. Emerson Fine Arts
909 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 898-6068 or c-emersonfinearts.com. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday or by appointment.
Owner Lori Johns has a gift for pulling together group shows of disparate artists and linking them with a theme or concept that actually makes sense and doesn't seem arbitrary. Many of the artists she shows are younger, working in a neo-pop vein. "Deft," which continues through April 17, is a good example. Nine artists channel current cultural movements, often upending them with unusual presentation. Johns' shows deliver equal parts irony and heart.
4105 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 831-3753 or claytongalleries.net. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Cathy Clayton opened her gallery in South Tampa in 1987, making it among the oldest in the area. Most of her shows emphasize the classic tradition of painting so you'll usually find gorgeously painted works, representational and abstract, though she also exhibits drawings and small sculptures on occasion. And every year she organizes a terrific folk art show. Right now you can see new work by Jeffrey Kronsnoble, who often appropriates and collages images into complex and poetic narratives. It continues through April 3.
109 W Columbus Drive, Tampa; (813) 272-9746 or bleuacier.com. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday or by appointment.
Owner Erika Schneider is a master printer with an encyclopedic knowledge of the medium to match her craft. She converted a dilapidated building in Tampa into a cool live-work space with studios, gallery and living area for her, her husband, Dominique Labauvie, who is a sculptor, and their teenage daughter. The gallery space is small and has a loft feel. In it she showcases art that tends toward the visually graphic. Bleu Acier probably offers the most sophisticated mix you'll find in these parts, with Europeans sharing space with artists from closer in with paintings, mixed media, drawings and, of course, Labauvie's lyrical metal sculptures. (He's having a show at the Tampa Museum of Art in 2011). Occasionally we see some of the exquisite limited edition prints she creates with Labauvie and other artists. Through March 17 is "L'Arabesque," Schneider's homage to the Matisse exhibition at the Tampa Museum of Art. She chose works from 11 artists (near and far, per her MO) who in some way invoke the great French artist. It's subtle and, as usual, very sophisticated.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.