It's a small exhibition but "50 Artworks for 50 Years" at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, gives us a look into how permanent collections are built. The museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary and set a goal of acquiring 50 new works in 2015. It has exceeded that goal, with donors providing either the art or funds for 60 and counting.
As a comprehensive museum, it includes all eras in human history and all media, and the new acquisitions reflect that. Only about one-third of them are installed in a small upstairs gallery, and the plan is to rotate them periodically so all will have a public viewing. This first group features paintings, prints, glass and sculptures mostly by contemporary artists, though there are a few earlier prints and drawings.
Along with the usual information about the artist, wall labels often explain what a work brings to the collection. Sally Rogers' Untitled glass vessel, for example, is from her acclaimed "Earth Strata" series in which she uses canes — rods of colored glass — to mimic layers of fossilized materials.
As always, the labels contain information about the donors. I always note them and give silent thanks. Among them are Stan and Iris Salzer, longtime museum supporters whose most recent gift is a suite of prints by Sandro Chia, created in 1989 at the prestigious atelier Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida. Chia became a prominent figure in the neo-expressionist movement, which was a revival of figurative or representational art and a response to the rise of conceptual art, beginning in the 1970s. Surprising Novel, Chapters 1-7 tells its human story using men and women, abstracted somewhat, in seven scenarios. Bright colors and strong lines characterize each. In one of the most whimsical scenarios, the people become flowers clustered in a vase, pondering a real flower floating nearby.
Rocky Bridges is a familiar name in our area as a resident and successful artist, but he has a national reputation and is represented in many collections. Now one of his mixed media works resides in the museum thanks to Eric Lang Peterson. He is most famous for his use of found materials — we would call them junk in most cases — and his sensitive repurposing of them. Angel of Mercy (1991) is an early work, when he was living in New York and became familiar with 20th century artists such as Cy Twombly and his texts and scribbles and Robert Rauschenberg and his combines. Both influences are apparent — Angel actually seems both homage and experiment — and through the years he has grown into his own uniqueness while continuing to reference those influences.
The museum has a strong group of 19th century art, including prints, and with Lothar Uhl's gift, it now has two more by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The most charming is an 1893 lithograph (printed posthumously about 30 years later) of a young nude woman. In it we see the artist's greatest skill, as a draughtsman who always got his lines right.
Contact Lennie Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.