On Thursday, Sept. 6, the Ringling Museum of Art hosted the latest event in its “Ringling Underground” series and showed college students in the area that the grounds can be a hip place to hang out and take in contemporary art of all kinds, from live bands and an emcee to a disorienting optical installation and a pair of girls wandering the lawn in the characters of master and puppy.
The event marked another successful step forward in a concerted effort undertaken by Ringling curators over the past couple of years to appeal to a younger audience and transform the museum into a more modern institution that brings contemporary art to Sarasota. It was free to students of the many nearby colleges.
Large crowds showed up for music by Tosspot, I.G.O.R. and Jane Jane Pollock, anime projections, the art exhibition “Deco Japan: Shaping Art & Culture 1920-1945” and the installations of “Joseph’s Coat” and “On the Lawn: Works by Emerging Artists” in Ringling’s beautiful courtyard.
The bands, curated in partnership with Shannon Fortner, played on an elaborate stone stage, separated from fans by a mote that gave the performances an epic atmosphere. If audience members weren’t satisfied with watching the bands play across a small body of water, they had the choice of climbing up the stairs onto an elevated walkway and leaning over a stone wall to watch the music from above and behind.
Sarasota’s own Tosspot, a group that features members of Fancy Rat, took to the stage first and blasted the evening off with their soulful and energetic indie rock stylings.
Next up was I.G.O.R., also from Sarasota, who brought some electronics into the mix, playing a set of tunes that mixed chillwave and chiptunes, with vocals, live drums, synthesizers, sequencers and extended instrumental passages.
The last band to take the stage, a quintet called Jane Jane Pollock, came down from Athens, Ga. to bring audience members their dark mix of atmospheric indie pop and post rock. Despite worry that intermittent rain would hamper their set — the band initially covered all of their instruments with tarps — they quickly gained momentum and closed out the night with a blast.
While all of the bands were playing, and in between sets, patrons were free to wander around the grounds and take in art at their own leisure.
The two exhibits highlighted that night, “Deco Japan” and “Joseph’s Coat,” were constantly filled with groups of people filtering in and out.
“Deco Japan” was a fascinating exhibition of relics representing Japanese lifestyle from the first half of the twentieth century, with items ranging from paintings to vases to kimonos. Many of the items on display were colorful and ornate, and all of them represented a level of artistic quality and workmanship of the highest echelon.
“Joseph’s Coat,” an installation piece by James Turrell, was an almost hallucinogenic experience that transformed the good ol’ sky that many take for granted into a unique sensory experience. Most people observing the piece were lying on their backs on the floor of a small courtyard with a 24’ square skylight, the edges of which were lit by LED lights programmed to slowly shift colors. This apparatus altered the atmosphere of the space in an a way that created a sense of euphoria that could be shared by viewers.
Back in the courtyard, “On the Lawn” — produced with the help of Jen Nugent — displayed pieces of all types simultaneously, as the live music and anime projected on the walls of the courtyard added to the overall perception of the art.
A performance piece, entitled “2 bitches,” by Alison Terndrup and Elizabeth Plakidas, added another level of atmosphere to the space. Audience members may have been caught off guard by the girl wearing a dog costume, crawling on all fours and doing tricks for her “mistress” as they wandered the courtyard, displaying acts of obedience and power.
Other pieces, though not quite as interactive, still utilized the open space in order to challenge perceptions of what a gallery space should consist of.
The piece “1988,” by Brittney Hollinger and Zach See, consisted of two portraits hanging from a disembodied intersection of walls, seemingly meant to represent the corner of a space in a traditional art gallery and looking intentionally out of place in the middle of the grass courtyard.
Another piece, “LUX,” by Kim Russo, utilized the large walls of the arcade surrounding the courtyard as a display, using a classroom-style overhead projector to magnify various materials, some at rest and some in motion, some two-dimensional and some three-dimensional, into one composite but constantly changing image on the wall.
In the end, “Ringling Underground” demonstrated to patrons that an art display can be greatly enhanced by the way it is presented both spatially and temporally.
The show offered spectators a considerable freedom to choose what they viewed and when they viewed it, with the opportunity to revisit the same piece in a different environment — due to changes in its ambiance — throughout the night.
The next “Ringling Underground” event will take place on Oct. 4, with live music from Vacationer, the Wallies and DJ David Curran.
See below for a gallery with more photos from the show.
All photos by Arielle Scherr and Tyler Whitson.