The first gallery visitors see at the Ringling Museum of Art is filled with monumental, literally wall-sized works by Peter Paul Rubens, followed by room after room of Baroque paintings.
But make your way through them to the Searing Wing, on the northwest corner of the museum, and you’ll stumble into contemporary art, including “EMIT: What the Bringback Brought,” Trenton Doyle Hancock’s Pepto-Bismol pink exhibition of cartoon-like characters; the open-air James Turrell Skyspace known as Joseph’s Coat; and finally a group show titled “Back and Forth: Thinking in Paint.”
The exhibit, which opened Friday, displays contemporary work by five artists who are or were on the faculty of Florida State University, under which stewardship of the museum was placed in 2000.
The group show, of 22 works, is a first for the museum.
“It highlights the incredible possibilities that exist with our partnership with FSU,” said Steven High, the museum’s executive director. “We are proud of our collection at The Ringling, and it is wonderful to see the contemporary art that it continues to inspire.”
“Each of these artists has a very strong voice, and all of these voices are different from each other,” said Matthew McLendon, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ringling.
Lilian Garcia-Roig, head professor of painting and drawing at FSU, has the newest paintings in the show, including a 15-panel painting that measures 14 by 20 feet and takes up as much wall space as one of those Rubens works in Gallery I.
“Banyan as Metaphor” was painted en plein air on the Ringling campus, and completed just a few weeks ago. The panels show a tangle of banyan trunks and roots that moves back and forth between the figurative and the abstract.
Garcia-Roig drew inspiration from Rubens’ “The Triumph of the Eucharist,” and more contemporary paintings in the collection by Josef Albers, James Turrell and David Hockney, and the monumental trees on the grounds.
“This exhibition pairs paintings created by FSU faculty with works in the Ringling collections,” she writes in the catalog that accompanies the exhibition. “This format reflects contemporary art’s continuing influence in juxtaposition to the historical works on which it was founded.”
“Back and Forth” doesn’t hang the contemporary works side by side with their permanent collection inspirations, but rather directs viewers through a gallery guide. Some of the source works are on display; some are in storage.
Ray Burggraf’s “Sky Shadows,” which greets visitors as they enter the space, is a collection of 12 abstract bird shapes, painted black, hanging from the ceiling as a large mobile. They turn in the air currents, casting a flock of shadows into the corner walls.
Burggraf, who taught painting and color theory at FSU for 37 years and now is professor emeritus, chose “Montgomery Queens California Circus: Beautiful Plumaged Birds” from the Tibbals Digital Collection as his launching point.
“My chosen inspirational bird image from the Ringling Museum archives doesn’t have many sky shapes, but instead reminds me of my original discovery of bird shapes,” he writes in the gallery guide.
In the same room the black abstract birds are more works by Burggraf, including “Three Dualities,” inspired by the Turrell Skyspace, “Jungle River,” and “Quick! Flower Before They Get Us,” inspired by posters from the Circus Museum.
Likewise, both Mark Messersmith and Judy Rushin used the circus as stepping-off points.
Rushin’s “Here Today” is a floor-displayed work of mixed media that occupies much of the floor space in one gallery, with a metal structure supporting stacked rectangles in somewhat faded primary colors.
“I close my eyes and imagine the circus pulling up its stakes. Everything is packed away in road worthy boxes and crates, organized by act, by performer, by function,” she writes. “All of that variation is reduced now to colored rectangles. Multiplicity becomes repetition, uniformity. Here today, gone tomorrow.”
Messersmith’s works, which combine painted canvas with three-dimensional objects, have nods to the Florida landscape with alligators and birds tucked into densely colored backgrounds. The frames have carved pediments and mixed-media objects in predella boxes at the bottom, offering a nod to circus wagons.
Also included in the exhibition are works by Carrie Ann Baade, who is, said McLendon, “somebody who studies the Old Masters, so of course she is drawn to the Old Masters” works in the Ringling Collection. “Good Government” and “Bad Government,” both oil on linen, are two in a series, “Allegory of Good and Bad Government” inspired by Lorenzetti’s14th-century mural cycle and Jan Davidsz. De Heem’s “Still Life with Parrots.”
All five of the artists will be in the galleries for informal discussion during the Art After 5 event on Sept. 24.
BACK AND FORTH: THINKING IN PAINT. Through Oct. 25 at the Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. www.ringling.org