Unlike 2014, the past year wasn't one of big, headline-grabbing art exhibitions. Instead, we saw a parade of thoughtful shows calling our attention to artists we knew slightly or not at all and those we were able to know better. There are many worthy ones to note, but here's what was at the top of my list for each museum.
> Leepa Rattner Museum of Art
We said good-bye to Lynn Whitelaw, the museum's founding director who retired in October. By choice he had stepped down to spend his remaining time at the museum as its chief curator, doing what he loved most: managing the permanent collection and organizing temporary exhibitions. His final shows demonstrated his gifts as a curator. "Henry and Abe: Finding America" had been in the planning for years and in it he brought to life an amazing friendship through the art of Abraham Rattner and writer Henry Miller. "Ralph Wickiser: A Retrospective" introduced us to a minor artist, "minor" perhaps because of the vagaries of art history. This exhibit puts a fine artist into the context of acclaim that can come and go, parallel, in a way, to Abraham Rattner's standing in the art pantheon. You still have time to see it; it continues through Feb. 7.
m Dalí Museum
Before I saw "M.C. Escher," a collection of prints and drawings at the Dalí, Escher was, in my mind, more a curiosity whose work is popular as dorm-room posters. Whoa! He is curiosity but of a high intellectual order. We may try to follow his mind through the brainy puzzles, impossible constructions and metamorphoses but he's always one step ahead of us. What a fascinating trip.
m Tampa Museum of Art
Christo is a famous artist whose monumental installations enrobing natural settings and grand architecture are world-renowned. "Christo and Jean-Claude" didn't have one of those big wraps but through drawings, studies, prints, small sculptures and excellent documentary videos, we were given a deep appreciation and understanding of his and his late wife's process, almost as good as seeing the finished works.
Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
"Five Decades of Photography" showcased the museum's photography collection, the largest in the Southeast. It was a sweeping overview of the medium's history with the greats mingling with lesser photographers, all corralled into harmony by a terrific installation.
Ringling Museum of Art
The museum is justly famous for its permanent collection of Baroque art but it has developed a robust program of contemporary shows as well. A standout was "Re:Purposed" in which 10 contemporary artists used our detritus and castaways to create exquisite new works. Appropriation at its best.
University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum
Some of the finest contemporary artists have been represented in exhibitions at this museum but a small summer show, "Museum at Work2," let us look behind the gallery spaces into the inner workings of a museum — how works are conserved, documented and catalogued.
> Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
A tie between two different photographers and their processes: In "Elger Esser: Combray" uses the photogravure method giving landscapes of the French countryside a lyrical beauty. "Ezra Stoller: Photographing Modernism" presented us with an urban landscape by this master of architectural photography who trained his eye on great mid century modern buildings.
Contact Lennie Bennett at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.