| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
The Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College built a strong following in its first few months before coronavirus forced the doors to close in March. Executive Director Anne-Marie Russell is now looking forward to welcoming visitors back to some new displays beginning Oct. 1.
The museum in the old 1926 Collegiate Gothic style Sarasota High School building and an adjacent 1959 addition designed by Paul Rudolph, officially opened in December after 16 years of fundraising and renovation work to transform them into a venue for traveling art exhibits and installations, continuing education classes, a cafe and event space.
Russell has spent the last few months negotiating with international artists and their representatives, shipping companies and more to rebuild a schedule of exhibitions.
“We plan for years in advance to bring together an exhibition, bringing 50 objects together at one time and all that got thrown out,” she said. ”We had to renegotiate everything, working with our colleagues around the world, horse trading for this or that.”
In addition, “global shipping and logistics came to a screeching halt, and even once you’re able to get that moving, imagine the complexities of the backlog of items,” she said.
But arrangements have been made and the museum will open for members only Oct. 1-15 before it will once again open to the general public beginning Oct. 16.
Visitors will get their first look at the exhibition “Harmony Hammond: Material Witness, Five Decades of Art,” which was supposed to open in March. “We were able to extend it until mid-November,” said Russell, who added a virtual tour and story about the show on the museum’s website.
Also new will be a large mural created by Jose Alvarez in McGuire Hall, which will at least temporarily house extended seating (for social distancing) for the museum’s Bistro cafe operation.
In the Bistro area is another exhibition focusing on the design work of Austrian Michael Thonet and his Chair No. 14, better known as a bistro chair, which was first made in 1859. More than 50 million of the chairs have been sold since then.
Restaurant news: Bistro at the Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College set to open
“It is the ubiquitous chair, something everyone is so familiar, but because it’s so iconic, it disappears into the landscape,” Russell said. “You don’t see it because it’s so common.”
The exhibition shows the history of the chair, with photos of everyone from Picasso, Hemingway and Charlie Chaplin sitting on it.
“What I love about this exhibition is it’s the kind of thing nobody thinks about,” Russell said, noting that a worker remarked upon seeing it that, “‘I guess there’s a story behind everything.’ That nailed it for me. That’s the mission of the museum to explore the background of everything. The computer you’re using, the desk you’re sitting at, the chair you’re sitting on, were all designed by a human being. A design process resulted in this object being produced in the world and we’re surrounded by these things but we never take time to think about how this object came to be. How did it take this shape? That’s the education and the whole point of the museum.”
Russell said the opening of the Bistro, run by executive chef Kaytlin Dangaran, and the museum, coincide with expected cooler weather, to allow for more people to enjoy the entire campus and the outside areas, including the plaza that links the Rudolph building and the historic high school, along with the Meander park and pathway.
“It’s going to be cooler and things will be outside in the plaza. We’re not doing anything yet inside in the auditorium. I’m excited to activate the exterior spaces and have people enjoy the quasi park-like atmosphere.”
One museum-sponsored display can be found on a billboard along U.S. 301 near 17th Street. “RESIST COVID TAKE 6!” by artist Carrie Mae Weems is an attempt to raise public awareness about the virus’ impact on people of color. “Take 6” refers to the distance recommended for social distancing.
At the museum, visitors will be required to wear masks, and the organization is exploring timed ticketing once doors reopen to the general public on Oct. 16.
“We want everyone to be safe and feel very comfortable. I’m sorry that we won’t be able to accommodate as many visitors as we know would like to come.”
Attendance was strong after the early December opening, with some curious about the art work, but others wanting to explore the old high school building that had been closed for many years.
“One of my favorite comments from someone was, ‘People who don’t like art love the museum.’ It was like people just wanted to be here, the architecture, the grounds, the Worker Project (a series of photos by Barbara Banks of the workers who created the museum), walking the Meander,” Russell said. “It’s a beautiful community space and we’re thrilled to welcome people back.”
Sarasota Art Museum of Ringling College, 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, reopens to members Oct. 1-15 and to the general public on Oct. 16. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (except Tuesday when only the shop and Bistro are open) and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday Oct. 1-15. Admission is $15 and free to members, Ringling College students, faculty and staff; Cross College Alliance students; public and life safety officers; veterans and active military and children 17 and younger accompanied by an adult. 941-309-7662; sarasotaartmuseum.org.