The big show at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is "Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World." It's a fascinating look inside the world of gifted artists who made careers copying or working in the style of famous artists and passing it off as genuine.
But the museum has a lot more to see in addition to the show and its magnificent permanent collection. A gem of a show also on view is "Precarious Possessions," large sculptures by glass artist Beth Lipman.
She is admired for her installations resembling Baroque and Renaissance still lifes lush with objects and food. They are rendered in clear glass using a variety of techniques, including cast, blown and lathe-worked.
Three works occupy the Astor galleries. Crib and Cradle are exactly what their names imply: a life-sized crib for a baby and an adult Shaker cradle used to rock the dying, both in glass. The crib is tilted, looking as if it's sinking into the floor. They're powerful symbols of life at its beginning and end, sleek forms becoming abstract in their simplicity.
Sideboard With Blue China is fabulous extravagance. The artist has created a huge Victorian sideboard inspired by one exhibited at the New York City Crystal Palace in 1853 and another in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It takes up a temporary gallery wall and measures 25 feet in length and 9 feet in height. As dumb as it sounds, my first word on seeing it was "Wow." (The communications director who was with me grinned; apparently, it's a common reaction.)
There's nothing blue about it. Lipman glues flat trees and flowers to the wall as a scenic backdrop that emulates period wallpaper. Wood painted white is fashioned into an elaborate sideboard inlaid with glass sculptures. An eagle presides from the topmost perch. The title comes from a quote by Victorian writer Oscar Wilde: "I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china."
Wealthy Victorians were tasteful hoarders and enthusiastic consumers, cramming their living spaces with furniture and decorative objects. Having the means to live well was a sign of moral superiority, a belief that puts Wilde's remark into context. He, after all, spent jail time for having a homosexual relationship. As the Victorians would have done, Lipman piles the ornate piece of "furniture" with clear vessels, some brimming with what appears to be food.
But ... maybe not. Intestines, anyone? Yes, this lovely still life is composed of human organs. Our bodies, too, are consumers.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.