I Went South, to Naples

An Artistic Road Trip

. . .

I went south and visited The Baker Museum in Naples recently. This museum is part of the Artis–Naples cultural complex that is also home to the Naples Philharmonic.

Naples Collects installation view with Joan Miró sculpture Personnage and Plates from the illustrated book “Jazz” by Henri Matisse

In addition to the museum building, there are two performance halls, an educational center, and the Norris Garden courtyard for receptions and outdoor events.

It was one of these outdoor events where an old acquaintance, composer Kat Epple was performing with her musical collaborators that had me making the trip.

Word art by Jenny Holzer

At any one time, the museum hosts several exhibitions concurrently. I’ve driven past this place on my way to Miami so many times over the years and yet knew nothing of its existence. This will now be a regular stopping point.

A wall of Jean Dubuffet

Current Exhibitions include

Love Stories from the National Portrait Gallery, London

Naples Collects 2022-23

Magritte: Reflections of Another World

3° of Separation, Artistic Connections in the Permanent Collection

Florida Contemporary 2022-23

Pat Steir, in the second floor lobby

The Florida Contemporary 2022-23 is an annual curated exhibition featuring artists who reside in Florida. This year is the tenth iteration highlighting Edouard Duval-Carrié from Miami, Ya Levy La’ford from Tampa and Robert Rivers from Maitland.

Edouard Duval-Carrié with Chihuly’s Red Chandelier hanging from rotunda dome

Florida Contemporary is installed in the two rotunda galleries, anchoring the north and south sides of the Hayes Hall Lobby, across the Norris Garden courtyard from the museum.

Each rotunda is two stories with an opening in the center. Former Creative Pinellas Artist Laureate Akiko Kotani from Gulfport and USF College of the Arts faculty Noelle Mason were in last year’s curation.

This year’s three artists could not be more different.

Ya Levy La’ford

In the first floor of the south rotunda, Ya Levy La’ford’s heavy geometric lines create patterns that “are both an exploration of self and place, as well as the complexities of the human community.”

Ya Levy La’ford

These line patterns bring to mind geometries of the Arab world, labyrinths, and echoes of the light installations of Pakistani-American artist Anita Quayyum Agha, who has lived on the boundaries of Islam and Christianity, Pakistan and the United States.

Edouard Duval-Carrié

On the second floor is Edouard Duval-Carrié whose work, framed in historical colonial backdrop, has the feel of primitivism in the vein of Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom paintings, and the dense botanical jungles of Henri Rousseau in a style similar to Chinese silk embroidery. Quite unique.

As the didactic panel explains, Duval-Carrié’s work is “rooted in an artistic movement called Haitian Indigenism, merges the iconography of the sacred Haitian tradition of Vodou with references to the tropical vegetation of Haiti’s natural environment.”

Robert Rivers title wall with view of Louise Nevelson rising up on left

Robert Rivers’s installation is on the second floor of the north rotunda gallery, an epic ongoing series that “is his magnum opus, epitomizing his artistic approach and concerns he has engaged with over the past five decades.”

Robert Rivers – view from gallery entrance with Louise Nevelson’s Dawn’s Forest rising up from first floor

Titled The Promised Land, what is exhibited here is but a small excerpt from of over 350 panels he has created, that are not necessarily linear and that Rivers continues to add to. I think of Leo Tolstoy’s literary War and Peace, looking at these narrative expressions – mixed with history, mixed with philosophy, mixed with commentary.

Punctured through the rotunda galleries are two pieces from Baker’s collection – on the north is Louise Nevelson, whose monumental white painted totem Dawn’s Forest rises from the first floor to the second.

Louise Nevelson’s Dawn’s Forest on first floor of the North Rotunda gallery

This piece, part of a larger 12-section sculpture was at one point installed at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. And a dramatic Red Chandelier by Dale Chihuly hangs from the dome in the south rotunda.

Exhibitions have always created these types of visual conversations between unlikely participants.

Walk across the Norris Garden courtyard, past an outdoor Chihuly installation to the Baker’s three-story building, where one is met with another Chihuly in the atrium – long narrow almost spear-like, piercing all three floors of the museum.

Chihuly in the third floor corridor

There’s a fourth Chihuly, Persian Seaform Ceiling, creating a colorful undersea-like corridor connecting galleries on the third floor. Versions of this ‘ceiling’ can be seen in many museums including the Morean Art Center’s Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg.

Love Stories, Contemporary Views – with Neil Kinnock and Glenys Kinnock by Andrew Tift on left, and Sir George Christie and Mary, Lady Christie by David Hockney on right

Also on the third floor is an exhibition curated from the National Portrait Gallery in London, England. Love Stories comprises over 100 works telling the many facets and relationships of love and romance through changing values, social orders and mores.

Love Story in Love Conquers All, the lifelong partnership between Charles Haslewood Shannon, left, and Charles de Sousa Ricketts, right, both painted by Charles Haslewood Shannon
Love Story of Edwin Sandys and Cicely Sandys, artist unknown

There’s “Love and Creativity” as in love between writers, artists in shared studios with their muses. “Portraits and Marriage” – of wedding days, married and partners in life.

Love Story of Sarah Kirby and Joshua Kirby by their friend Thomas Gainsborough. The sumptuous dress of Sarah Kirby looks remarkably similar to that of another woman Gainsborough painted, also in the National Portrait Gallery – the art presenter Waldemar Januszczak gives an interesting interpretation of the dress in that painting on the Youtube art channel Perspective 

“Love Against the Odds” – of forbidden loves, love defying social norms, love across class, politics, race. “Love and the Lens” – on love lives of the famous in the age of photojournalism and paparazzi frenzy.

Love Stories through the camera lens, on left Mick Jagger, first with Bianca Jagger, then with Jerry Hall. Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry surrounded by their family on far wall.
Love Story installation view of literary loves, Lord Byron second from left – and bronze cast of clasped hands of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, whose portraits are hung on either side

On the second floor are two exhibitions, Naples Collects 2022-23 featuring artworks from 17 collectors in the Naples area – and an intimate gallery of five René Magritte paintings and ephemera on loan from the Van Parys family.

René Magritte (L-R) – L’ile au trésor (Treasure Island), Les grandes vacances (Summer Holidays), La tour d’ivoire (The Ivory Tower)

Naples Collects is like skipping stones across a mirror lake – taking viewers across wide range of taste and styles, methods and materials. Perfect for both art experts and laypeople.

Naples Collects – two box constructions by Joseph Cornell – Untitled Sand Tray on left, Eclipsing Binary Algol with Magnitude Changes on right
Naples Collects installation view, from left – The Art Dealer by Duane Hansen, La dance à la campagne (A Dance in the Country) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Untitled by André Brasilia, Le Send de la Profondeur (The Sense of Depth), Personage by Pablo Picasso

There is art from well known artists like Joan Miró and Henri Matisse, to the lesser known Lucas Samaras or Ran Hwang. There’re paintings, sculptures, wood carvings, assemblages, text-based, abstract, figurative, landscapes, works on paper, in glass, steel – in all a delightful jambalaya mix.

Naples Collects title wall with Venus with Tools and Shell by Jim Dine on left, Fredrico Alonzo Morelli by John Chamberlin on right, and Rancho Santa Fe Heart by Jim Dine on far wall
Naples Collects º with Preston Singletary’s Eagle Warrior on left and Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Small Seated Figure on Iron Frame III on right
Naples Collects installation view with two Sam Francis paintings – Untitled (Blue Balls series) on left and Coral Trails on far wall. Sculpture on near pedestal is Pastille by Matthew Szösz, with Silver Tray by Yayoi Kusama on far pedestal
Close up view of Yayoi Kusama’s Silver Tray

On the first floor is 3° of Separation – Artistic Connections in the Permanent Collection, works from the Baker’s own collection, organized into five themes – American Cubism, Geometric and Biomorphism, Social Realism, Symbolists and Synchromists, Postwar Abstraction.

Symbolists and Synchronists in Three Degrees of Separation, with with Design With Flame by Helen Torr on left, Deep Greens by Arthur G. Dove in center, L’age d’or: ses soleils (The Golden Age: Its Suns)

Similar to Naples Collects for the Naples art collecting community, Three Degrees gives visitors a cross-section view of the Baker’s own collection through history and the various periods of art development and social concerns.

Three Degrees of Separation grouping – Sawing Rails, Moscow by Diego Rivera on left, The Execution of General Alvarez by Firing Squad by José Clemente Orozco on right top, The Atrium by Gerardo Murillo on right bottom
Three Degrees of Separation installation view. Near wall – Plowing It Under by Thomas Hart Benton on right – Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard by Thomas Hart Benton on center top – Untitled by Jackson Pollock on center bottom – The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz on left top, Old Church on left bottom. Far wall – Untitled by Hans Hofmann on left, Mary Mary by Helen Frankenthaler on right

It shows the artists’ imaginations and manipulation of materials to reach their personal aesthetic statements.

American Cubism section of Three Degrees of Separation with Silent Procession by Perle Fine

Like the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, or the collection of antiquities in the Tampa Museum of Art, incongruous to the cities’ local history – how unlikely such works find their way to distant shores of human settlements.

So far from the homes of their creators – yet the universal human experiences they speak to, make them belong everywhere.



Deborah Butterfield, in the third floor lobby of the Baker Museum in Naples

Become a Creative Pinellas Supporter