Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration 20/21 brings together four area museums and 52 artists based in the Tampa Bay region to create a survey of some of the finest of area visual talent. If you have ever questioned the quality of area artists, even a casual stroll through the galleries of these exhibitions will confirm that there is exciting, timely and world-class artwork being made locally.
Originally presented in 2017 as a triennial, this iteration of the collaboration was supposed to have taken place in the summer of 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic. This writeup covers the installation at the Tampa Museum of Art (TMA), but the entire exhibition is spread between it and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, and the Contemporary Art Museum at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Do check before you go, as opening and closing dates vary between institutions.
For artists to be included they had to submit work through an open call, and then be juried by one or two curators from each of the museums, as well as a guest juror from outside the Bay area. Claire Tancons, an independent curator with an international resume, filled that role. Full disclosure, I was one of the curators/jurors for the 2017 Skyway, while I held the position of Curator of the Photographic Collection at the MFA.
Clearly, many talented and gifted artists in this area are not included for a variety of reasons. There were hundreds of submittals and only room for 52 artists. What is being shown, though, gives us a good overview of artistic practice in an area that now proudly boasts of its vibrant arts scene.
Some of the same artists as in 2017 are included, but also many new ones. All of the art is recent, created in the last few years after the last Skyway.
Joanna Robotham, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Tampa Museum of Art, contextualizes the TMA exhibition in an insightful and meaningful way. I wish I could include her entire wall text here. She succinctly outlines the difficulties and life-altering events that have taken place in the last year – racial injustices, violent crime and mass shootings, environmental degradation – and of course the COVID-19 pandemic. This sets us up to approach the art through this lens as 18 artists from throughout the Tampa Bay region address issues of injustice, the environment, the body and identity.
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The exhibition begins with a hallway installation of Mike Solomon’s (Sarasota and Southold NY) frosted Mylar banners. These four panels are titled Krisallnacht, 2018, referencing the violent Night of Broken Glass in 1938 in Nazi Germany. The ethereal fabric brings to mind shattered stained glass windows.
And while the title points to the past, it could just as well be referencing the last few years of hate crimes.
Other artists dealing with the topic of violence are John Sims (Sarasota) and Kirk Ke Wang (Shanghai, New York and Tampa). Sims’ mixed media installation Restorative Resurrection pushes back against the symbols of white supremacy. He has taken a Confederate flag and hung it from a noose, re-imagined a Confederate flag in the colors of a Pan-African one, and filled an urn with the remnants of a burned Confederate flag. It is both jarring and oddly serene to see an artist take ownership of such disturbing items and turn them into empowering metaphor.
Kirk Ke Wang was born in Shanghai, China and he offers an oil on canvas diptych titled Yellow Man, 2020-2021. The title alone tips us off that Wang is pushing back against a description historically used to insultingly describe people of Asian descent, but he does it in a very heartfelt and humorous way. The painting depicts men and women active in the Asian community seated around two tables. It lends a feeling of camaraderie and warmth. They chat among themselves and contemplate the outline of a yellow body in the center of the tables, their very togetherness negating the potential sting.
Personal experience is another commonly explored theme. Jason Lazarus (Tampa) installs 24 working white noise machines, objects easily purchased to block outside noise. People use these to help mask distracting sounds while they sleep, but therapists also use them to protect their patients’ privacy. For Lazarus they shed light on his experience with therapy and mental health, perhaps helping to shed the taboo.
Selina Román (Tampa) presents a new series of self portraits examining standards of beauty. While Janet Folsom (St. Petersburg) gives us six portraits of family and friends, offering us a glimpse into her world. Sarah O’Donoghue (St. Petersburg) explores memory and the temporal dimensions of life with paintings of older acquaintances, but also oddly compelling ink drawings of dead fish.
The environment is addressed by Jaime Aelavanthara and Amanda Sieradzki (both Tampa), who together create beautiful cyanoptypes on fabric, as well as a video. In Blueprint/Redbloom II, life-size silhouettes of bodies float gracefully among sea life, suggesting the fragility of nature.
In Oceanus: Hillsborough and Withlacoochee River, 2019-20, Anat Pollack (Tampa) uses PLA, a plastic used in 3-D printing, to create “drawings” of nearby rivers. This exploration of line and form is compellingly familiar, yet abstract. The media works really well to explore the intricacies of waterways.
Samson Huang (Tampa) offers Tribute to Tampa Bay, 2021, combining Eastern and Western influences to celebrate the beauty of the water that surrounds the Tampa Bay region.
Some of my favorite art works are objects handmade by artists to explore their own artistic practices. Wendy Babcox (Tampa) started creating snare drums in 2017, and eventually helped found a feminist collective called Noisy Womxn, which teaches percussion to females of all ages and skills. Skyway presents her drums as well as cyanotype photographs of the drums from her series Lunar Studies, 2017-2019. And yes, they do rather look like moons.
Stereoscopes were invented in 1832 and enable a viewer to translate two separate images into a single three-dimensional one. Kim Anderson (lives in Bradenton and works in Sarasota) has hand crafted large beautiful wooden stereo viewers. The museum has mounted them on pedestals so that the viewer can then gaze on Anderson’s paintings, which are made to create this effect. The paintings are large and colorful, making the 3-D exploration very satisfying.
Cassia Kite (Sarasota) presented stitched works that were translated into musical compositions in Skyway 2017, but now her Soundstitchings feature portraiture rather than architecture. A collaborative performance by Kite and an avant-garde composer may be scheduled. Kite also shows her color scale drawing and color map, so that the process of performance is better understood.
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notes that Elizabeth A. Baker used to create original musical for a dance choreographed by
Kellie Harmon and performed by Helen Hansen French at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
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Jenn Miller (Tampa) makes delicate hand-made brushes. Herion Park (Sarasota) hand crafts gorgeous black felt hat-like sculptures. Jill Taffet (Sarasota) uses a found window frame and fills it with Technicolor animations. She also animates an acrylic wood painting with augmented reality. All these artists take the idea of everyday items and create ones filled with wonder.
Finally, there is no missing Libbi Ponce’s (Tampa and Guayaquil, Ecuador) Byron, 2020 and Theresa’s Plane, 2020. Here she takes imagery found in Ecuadorian textiles and translates them into large colorful mixed-media sculptures. They serve as playful entries into mythology and culture.
It is a lot to take in. Eighteen artists in all. But the work is so varied and so creative that exploring the exhibition feels like an adventure.
Support local art. Buy art from local artists. Visit Skyway 20/21. All of them, if you can.
Explore the Skyway 20/21 exhibit at the Tampa Museum of Art through October 10.
At the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg through August 22.
At the USF Contemporary Art Museum through September 1.
And at Sarasota’s Ringling Museum of Art through September 26.