Make us your home page

Review: Gems to discover among Museum of Fine Arts' recent acquisitions


You know those "secret" menu items at places like Starbucks and McDonald's, the ones only insiders are supposed to know about?

I feel a similarity between them and the Works on Paper Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. It's a smallish space on the second floor of the Hazel Hough Wing. The greeters at the front desk will tell you about it and a sign at the bottom of the stairs alerts you to its existence, too. Still, it has a tucked-away quality and charm to it, as if I have discovered something each time I enter it.

Truth is, I do discover something each time I enter it. Right now it's "Recent Acquisitions: Prints, Drawings and Photographs." Since the Hough Wing opened in 2008, the permanent collection has grown by more than 1,100 works. That number doesn't include almost 15,000 photographs in the Ludmila Dandrew and Chitranee Drapkin Collection that came to the museum in 2009 and 2010.

This selection is quite select with about 40 works, and only those on paper so no paintings, sculpture or video. It is, nevertheless, a good assortment. The earliest is a series of small engravings by 17th century printmaker Wenceslaus Hollar, based on an earlier set by Hans Holbein the Younger warning viewers of the wages of sin and the ever-presence of death. But the majority were created in the 20th and 21st centuries.

You see the stylistic variety in the images shown. Edward Steichen's 1907 photogravure captures a pair of wealthy Parisians. He plays with the bright white of their dresses and hats against the dark background. Shen Wei's Matt and Emily (2003) almost a century later presents a different couple and demonstrates how photography's possibilities have grown from Steichen's early efforts at subtle psychological observation into a complex and nuanced form of storytelling. Notice all the details in this visual story, especially Emily's pose mimicking that of a woman in the painting behind her.

Compare the portraits by Elaine de Kooning and Wilmot Emerton Heitland. Both can be called figurative but Heitland's elegant, straight-on, monochromatic representation is far different from de Kooning's, who makes the form part of emotionally charged bursts of color.

Much of the photography is documentary. One example is a late 19th century marriage certificate of a couple married in Duchess County, N.Y. A formal portrait includes a handwritten list of witnesses and copious information about the bride and groom. A group of small photographs taken in Japan during the Meiji period (1868-1912) is a cavalcade of men, women and children dressed in traditional or modern garb set in frames with lids to make them more portable. In a rare self-portrait, Margaret Bourke-White dresses up in a ladylike outfit rather than her standard khakis she wore during extensive travels photographing wars and foreign settings. Only her battered camera case alludes to her peripatetic life. A stunning example of new ways old photographic processes are being used is Sylvie Eyberg's D'eux (Est), a 2009 photogravure made in Tampa's Bleu Acier atelier. The severely cropped image is purposefully grainy, lending it a mysterious aura.

Prints and drawings are equally diverse. Among them is Jeffrey Kronsnoble's montage (and perhaps homage to James Rosenquist?) in which he layers body and industrial parts with tasteful eroticism. One of my favorite discoveries is Kevin MacDonald's pencil drawing. Mexican Cafe (1971) is cerebral in its rigid linear composition of booths in a restaurant. It's all perpendicular intersections that at first look don't reveal themselves as an interior. There is, too, the mirror with its out-of-place filigree in this minimalist space. It is an empty and alone place, too pristine to imagine having a bottle of ketchup or hot sauce. This is a sacred space, its monotones monastic. Yet there waits in its stillness the possibility of people sitting down and filling it with their messy lives and napkins.

This isn't a show with a coherent theme. It's showing off — look at what's here! — and that's just fine. Each work deserves its own independent acknowledgement. What most brings this collection together can be found on the wall labels. Almost all are gifts from individual donors. In accepting art, museums have standards requiring curatorial review and approval by a select committee. Sometimes donors simply provide funds for works museum professionals have already selected. This exhibition seems more personal, a gathering of art loved and admired by a disparate group of people with good eyes and taste. Their discoveries are now ours.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at or (727) 893-8293.


Recent Acquisitions:

Prints, Drawings and Photographs

The exhibition is at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, 255 Beach Drive NE, through March 2. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday with extended hours to 8 p.m. Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $17 adults, $15 seniors and $10 students 7 and older including college students with ID. Admission is $5 after 5 p.m. Thursday. or (727) 896-2667.

Review: Gems to discover among Museum of Fine Arts' recent acquisitions 01/13/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 3:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Glen Campbell's wife Kim discusses challenges, guilt caregivers of Alzheimer's patients, others face

    Life Times

    If there's one thing Kim Campbell would change about caregiving for Alzheimer's patients, it's the attitude so many of us have toward transferring a loved one from home to a long-term care facility. According to Campbell, it's often the most kind, loving decision you can make. It's not a sign of failure, but one of …

    Kim Campbell, wife of country music legend Glen Campbell, is acknowledged by those attending the free event where she shared the story of her personal journey with Alzheimer???‚??„?s disease and the struggles she faced caring for her husband on Friday (5/26/17) at the Suncoast Hospice's Empath Health Service Center in Clearwater. Empath Choices for Care, a member of Empath Health, and Arden Courts Memory Care hosted the free event where Kim shared her story to help others understand the early stages, how the disease changes lives, the challenges families face and the role of caregiver.
  2. What happened when I took my dad to a Pitbull concert

    Music & Concerts

    TAMPA — "So, you know how you like Pitbull?" I asked my dad. "We can see him."

    Selfie of Divya Kumar and Anand Kumar at Pitbull/Enrique Iglesias concert.
  3. Tampa City Council votes to accept travel invitation from Cuban ambassador


    The invitation came to Tampa City Council chairwoman Yvonne Yolie Capin in a June 9 letter from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.

    The Tampa City Council voted 6-0, with Frank Reddick out of the room, to respond to a travel invitation from Cuban ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodriguez.
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 25


    St. Pete Pride Festival: The daytime festival covers Central Avenue's Grand Central District with more than 350 vendors, multiple stages, live music, art and food. 9 a.m., Grand Central District, 2429 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Free. (727) 342-0084.

    Kristen Whalen poses for a photo before the start of the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg last year. It's that time of year again, so check with us for your planning purposes. [LUIS SANTANA  |   Times (2016)]
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for June 24


    St. Pete Pride Block Party and Night Parade: St. Pete Pride's popular parade moves to downtown St. Petersburg's scenic waterfront. The block party brings DJs, food and drinks starting at 2 p.m. The parade steps off at Fifth Ave NE and Bayshore at 7 p.m. with fireworks at 9:45 p.m. 2 p.m., North Straub Park, Fifth …

    Thousands line the streets of Central Ave. during the St. Pete Pride Parade in St. Petersburg.  [Saturday, June 25, 2016] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]