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Arts / Culture

Tampa Museum Of Art Honors 100 Years With 100 Works

A wall of LED lights above the Tampa Museum of Art shine blue over downtown.
Sky (Tampa), 2010, Leo Villareal (American, b. 1967) COURTESY TAMPA MUSEUM OF ART

Since 2010, a wall of LED lights dancing between hues of blue, red, and purple has lit up downtown from above the main entrance to the Tampa Museum of Art.

Curator Joanna Robotham says most people don’t realize it’s a work of art, titled “Sky (Tampa)” by New York-based digital light artist Leo Villareal.

It’s one of the reasons she chose to feature the piece in the newest exhibition, “The Making of a Museum: 100 Years, 100 Works,” celebrating the museum’s centennial.

“I’ve included (a video of) that in the sky section, and paired it with the Alma Thomas painting ‘New Galaxy,’ an artist who was quite fascinated by space travel and stars and planets,” Robotham said. “I think it’s a very interesting juxtaposition for visitors.”

A woman, curator Joanna Robotham, stands to the right of a vibrant abstract painting with red, green, and tan hues.
Curator Joanna Robotham stands with 'Great Sunday Beach' from William Pachner's Florida Series, a prominent piece in their newest exhibition. ALYSIA CRUZ/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

Robotham and former chief curator, Seth D. Pevnick, chose 100 works from the museum’s permanent collection that represent its growth from its origins with gallery showings at the municipal courthouse to its current status as the city’s preeminent art collection.

“This is not the 100 best works, the 100 most important works,” Robotham said. “These are works that have both meaning to the museum’s history and meaning to the people in our community.”

A marble statue of the torso of Aphrodite or Venus stands among ancient pottery.
Torso of Aphrodite/Venus, Roman 1st Century A.D. Marble. Joseph Veach Noble Collection. ALYSIA CRUZ/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

The exhibition begins in the antiquities gallery, where visitors will find multiple pieces, including the first piece the museum ever purchased, an ancient Greek vase that showed how antiquities would become an important focus for the museum.

“We have showcased that work with the work that we most recently purchased for the antiquities collection, so you get this sense that the museum has been actively collecting from its very early days,” Robotham said.

The celebratory collection is separated into four themes: “Building a Collection,” “Inspired by,” “Soil, Sea, and Sky,” and “Figure Forward.” Each piece is strategically placed next to a complimentary one, inviting visitors to compare the works in a new way.

“For example, we see Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Tracks,’ dirt tracks that he cast from his studio in Captiva Island, paired with a new acquisition from last year, ‘The Rural Family’ by Fletcher Martin, that shows farmers toiling the land in Colorado,” Robotham said. “So they’re very different interpretations of landscape and how people have transformed it or been informed by it.”

Looking through the space of a metal sculpture, on the right is a white canvas with joining dirt tracks and on the left a framed painting of farmers toiling the land.
Robert Rauschenberg’s ‘Tracks,’ dirt tracks that he cast from his studio in Captiva Island, is paired with ‘The Rural Family’ by Fletcher Martin, that shows farmers toiling the land in Colorado, giving visitors a new way to compare the art from the permanent collection. ALYSIA CRUZ/WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

She said the exhibition reflects the museum’s current mission to be more inclusive.

“In the modern contemporary galleries, you’ll see works of art that are familiar, by artists in the community who have been here and are considered pillars of the creative community here,” Robotham said. “You also will see them intermixed with artists that have international acclaim.”

As part of that mission, the museum is staging three additional permanent collection exhibitions in 2020, including one on heroines and everyday women of antiquity and another of work by women photographers.

“It’s not just the 100th anniversary of the Tampa Museum of Art, it’s also the 100th anniversary of the suffragette movement,” said Michael Tomor, the museum’s executive director. “So we’re doing two centennial celebrations next year.”

The 100 Years, 100 Works emblem is to the left of an oil on canvas painting of people at a diner counter.
Robotham placed the '100 Years, 100 Works' emblem at the entrance to galleries focused on the new collection. Featured here is a piece Robotham calls a 'fan favorite,' 'Collins Diner' by Ralph Goings.

The museum will also be releasing a book in early January, which includes the history of the museum told through interviews and illustrations of 100 works from the permanent collection, including pieces not in the current exhibition.

Making of a Museum: 100 Years, 100 Works” is on display at the Tampa Museum of Art through March 15, 2020.