Exciting Exhibits at the Sarasota Art Museum

By Tony Wong Palms

Katrina Coombs and
a Compelling Collection from Crystal Bridges

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Sarasota Art Museum
Details here

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The Sarasota Art Museum is a particularly fine place to find oneself on a seasonal rainy Florida day. This historic building, the former Sarasota High School, currently has on exhibition I M(O)ther: Threads of the Maternal Figure by the fabric artist Katrina Coombs, and a traveling exhibition State of the Art 2020: Constructs.

Installation view of Katrina Coombs’s work Oshun’s Glory
– photo by Daniel Perales

State of the Art 2020: Constructs is on view through September 11. Occupying the whole of the museum’s second floor, it’s an offshoot from a much larger exhibition mounted at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas from February 22 to November 2, 2020.

In 2019, Crystal Bridges’s team of curators crisscrossed the United States meeting hundreds artists to glimpse the visual art scene of that moment, resulting an exhibition of over 100 artworks from 61 selected artists exploring contemporary life, place and identity within four themes. . .

World Building – creating real and fictional spaces; Sense of Place – exploring ideas of home, family and immigration; Mapping – connections to and relationships with landscapes and power; and Temporality – the concept of time and how we perceive it.

Installation view of Rick Silva, Western Fronts, at Sarasota Art Museum
– photo by Daniel Perales

When the exhibition closed, the artworks were reorganized into three distinct categories for travel.

  1. State of the Art: Record – exploring the concept of record keeping, of preserving information and how that might inform us today, went to the LSU Museum of Art in Baton Rouge, Louisiana;
  2. State of the Art: Local – speaking to how people orient themselves based on their relationships to the geography and people around them, went to Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida;
  3. State of the Art: Construct – delves into individual elements, the parts that come together forming the whole, and is now at Sarasota Art Museum in Sarasota, Florida.

Artworks in State of the Art: Construct involve a range of materials and techniques expressed in paintings, installations, mix media assemblages, videos, fabric, photography, pigmented prints, neon, found objects and ceramic.

Suchitra Mattai, Exodus, 2019, Vintage saris from India, Sharjah and artist’s Indo-Guyanese family and rope net, 180 x 480 in., Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2020.29

A signature piece that immediately captures attention is Suchitra Mattai’s monumental tapestry titled Exodus, woven using vintage Indian saris sourced from her family, friends and other women in diaspora. It measures 15 feet tall and extends 40 feet in width.

The museum put a bench in front of the piece because one can look at this work for a long time. Patterns upon patterns upon folds, textures and colors that have draped across many generations and boundaries.

Installation view of Anthony Sonnenberg’s ceramic artworks on view as part of State of the Art 2020: Constructs – photo by Daniel Perales

Another striking piece is group of 11 ceramic pieces by Anthony Sonnenberg. These richly detailed otherworldly shapes and glazing “… serving as a personal ‘memento mori,’ or symbol for the inevitability of death. For the artist, the work serves to remind him of the shortness of life, and helps him forget his fear of death” – from the exhibition label.

 Visitors experience Rick Silva’s Western Fronts
– photo by Daniel Perales

A mesmerizing video, Western Fronts by Rick Silva looks into the fragility of the Western landscape, home to many indigenous people and their sacred sites, and the eroding protection from the U.S. Government giving way to more oil, gas and mining industries.
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You can watch Rick Silva’s
video artworks at westernfronts.com

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These are but three examples from a very comprehensive show examining the history, the land, the many people and diverse cultures of the U.S. – and ultimately our collective existential identity.

The work of Katrina Coombs – photo by Tony Wong Palms

Next floor up in the museum is Katrina Coombs, a textile and fabric artist, whose works are colorful, descriptive, fun and welcoming. The very first piece, Golden Flow, a conceptual womb in deep red with golden threads suspended from the ceiling, opens up for visitors to walk into its embrace.

Katrina Coombs, Golden Flow, 2018, handwoven mixed fibers.

In I M(O)ther: Threads of the Maternal Figure, on view through October 2, the pieces incorporating cowrie shells, amethyst, mirrors and beads were created by finger weaving, a method using only hands and fingers, adding a depth to the works of women’s unseen labor, tracing spiritual connections to the artist’s ancestry, the physicality of female humans, the fertility, the maternal figure, and presence of womanhood as she understands and experiences.

Wow, Coombs has taken on the great challenge of presenting the existence and identity of half of the human race from the perspective of the African Diaspora, in one of its spectrums, the Afro-Caribbean Islands – in particular, Jamaica – where she was born and is now based. The depth of traditions and heritage she can draw from can fill a whole museum plus.

Installation view of Katrina Coombs, Golden Flow, 2018, at Sarasota Art Museum
– photo by Daniel Perales

But for now, her solo show takes up two of the museum’s third floor galleries. (The rest of the third floor is closed in preparation for an upcoming show.)

Sarasota Art Museum – photo by Daniel Perales

Aside from the formidable facade, hints of being in a school remain in the interior of this Sarasota Art Museum. It is a fitting transformation of an old high school into a place of aesthetics, a continuing education into our existence as human beings, adding to our accumulating understandings and enjoyments.
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