Discovering the RCA+D Galleries

I knew that Sarasota’s Ringling College of Art + Design had some art galleries dotted around the campus. Although I’ve lived 20 minutes away for almost five years — despite my best intentions — I had never visited them ’til last week, when I finally explored them with a group tour I organized for a local women’s club.

Our guide was Tim Jaeger, Director + Chief Curator of Galleries and Exhibitions, who is himself an RCA+D graduate (2002). His rich, sonorous voice exuded a deep connection to the RCAD creative community, and a fierce pride in the collaborative work of the artists, students and staff who together mount about 20 exhibitions each year in the seven on-campus galleries. The galleries present the work of visiting artists, Fine Arts alumni and faculty, special curated exhibitions, and first-time shows by Fine Arts students.

In Tim’s words, “Art knows no boundaries. It transcends language, culture, and backgrounds. It has the power to unite us in the most profound ways.”  That power visibly affected our group. At the start, we didn’t all know each other — but I noticed that any initial reserve completely dissolved over the course of the tour as the women became thoroughly engaged with the art and connected with each other.

We gathered in the Lois and David Stulberg Gallery, located in the Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center at the heart of the campus. This is Ringling College’s primary on-campus exhibition space. The gallery is dedicated to rotating displays of contemporary painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, and experimental work by students, faculty, emerging and established artists.

Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center at RCA+D houses the Lois and David Stulberg Gallery

As 30 women gathered, surrounded by three dozen of Syd Solomon’s vivid Abstract Impressionist works, we couldn’t help but have high expectations for what was to come.

Fluid Impressions: The Paintings of Syd Solomon (on through March 25, 2024) is on loan from the private collection of Dr. Richard and Pamela Mones. Syd Solomon described his work as “Abstract Impressionism” because, he said, it combines aspects of Impressionism, like the use of light, with the processes and bold forms of Abstract Expressionism. Solomon and his wife Annie moved to Sarasota in 1946 and became leaders in the local arts community. He is still considered a “favorite son” in the area.

The exhibition was organized by a 17-student curatorial team who participated in a semester-long class titled Role of the Curator. The students gained hands-on experience of how to successfully produce a blue-chip exhibition, and the result of their effort appeared thoroughly professional.

Next came Che Colore! (on through March 22 , 2024), the 15th annual curated exhibition of works from the world-class art glass collection of Richard and Barbara Basch in their eponymous gallery. The 1200 sq-ft exhibition space is lit especially for displaying glass, to showcase the inherent lucidity and brilliance of the works. From ethereal pastels to bold primaries, the collection is a symphony of colors that sparkle with the play of light. Each object in Che Colore is an exquisite example of the artist’s mastery over this delicate medium.

These exceptional examples of art glass include brilliant one-of-a-kind commissions by the great masters of the medium from around the world: Peter Bremers, Lucio Bubacco, Lino Tagliapietra, Dale Chihuly, Laura Donefer, and many more. The forty pieces on display represent about one-tenth of the Basch’s collection.

Next up, after a short parade across campus, was a typographic exhibition, Ligature XIV: Dimensions (through March 22, 2024), in the Willis A. Smith Construction Inc. Gallery. This 14th annual student-led, juried exhibition features work by students in all majors, allowing them to showcase their use of type in various categories such as Drop Caps, Hand Lettering, and Type in Motion.

The annual show aims to expand both the artists’ and the audience’s relationship with type, not only by visually taking it from flat to three-dimensional forms, but by shifting how type is understood, questioning its rules, and pushing it to new limits.

Lastly, after another short trek, we came to the repurposed Bay Haven Hotel which John Ringling purchased in 1931 to start his art school (see below). Today the intimate and historic Keating Center — looking much as it did then, but appropriately updated — houses the Thompson Alumni + Skylight Galleries on the first floor. This gallery features rotating exhibitions by Ringling College Alumni, and currently is showing Omar Chacon’s Chromatic Echoes (through March 22 , 2024). Chromatic Echoes is a unique curation of multiple periods and styles that offers perspective into Chacon’s life as an artist.

Omar Chacon (b. Bogota, Colombia, 1979) is known for his vibrant and dynamic paintings.  After receiving a BFA from Ringling College in 2002, he continued his studies at San Francisco Art Institute where he earned his MFA in 2004. He currently lives and works in Queens, NY. Chacon is represented by galleries in New York, San Francisco, and Denver, as well as in Linz, Austria. His work is held in public and private collections nationally and internationally.

Chacon’s dimensional abstract paintings combine geometric and organic elements to build intricate compositions that draw the viewer in to take a closer look. His studio practice takes advantage of the plastic quality of acrylic paint: he pours color on a surface and when it has dried he cuts the mass into mosaic-like tiles that he then transfers onto paper or canvas. The varied results of this time-consuming process are unique and quite beautiful. In some cases, one might wonder, is it candy, or is it a delectable piece of art?!

Over the past two decades, the student body at RCAD has tripled, and the reputation of the college has risen to the top of the roster of US art schools. The College is the only institution in Florida dedicated exclusively to teaching art and design. Many of their 13 degree-programs are cutting edge and ranked among the best in the nation, including Computer Animation, Motion Design, and Game Art.

The art school was founded in 1931 by Dr. Ludd M. Spivey of Southern College in Lakeland, FL. John Ringling had planned to establish his own art school in association with his new museum, but his plans were thwarted because he was beginning to feel a financial pinch. As a result, he reluctantly agreed that Spivey’s art school could be known as the School of Fine and Applied Art of the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum

The Ringling Museum had already been constructed on the grounds of their Sarasota estate to house the vast collection of 17th century sculpture and paintings they had acquired on their travels and at auctions. But John Ringling — as did so many in the late ‘30s — lost it all. He died just before his new museum and fabulous bayside residence were forfeited to bankruptcy. Had he been involved financially in the art school — beyond his his donation of the Bay Haven Hotel building — the school would likely not have survived the Crash.

In 1933 the art school separated from Southern College and became an independent nonprofit institution and changed its name to Ringling School of Art. (Despite the name, even now it is not associated with the John and Mable Ringling Art Museum). It was accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) in 1984.

The first class had seventy-five students and thirteen faculty members. Today the 48-acre campus includes more than 110 buildings, and enrolls 1,600 students from 60 countries. Its more than 140 faculty members are all professional artists, designers, and scholars who actively pursue their own work outside the classroom.

Aerial view of RCA+D campus

RCAD is a tremendous asset for the surrounding community. In addition to the seven on-campus galleries, the Sarasota Art Museum (SAM) — located 3.5 miles down the road — is a division of the college. Dr. Larry R. Thompson, President of Ringling College of Art and Design, points out that SAM is RCAD’s contemporary and teaching art museum, which serves as a catalyst for appreciation and understanding of the art of our time.”

Sarasota Art Museum of the Ringling College of Art & Design

How very fitting that what has become one of the nation’s top art and design schools should stand so prominently as the face of the visual arts in the city of Sarasota.

ArtGeek highly recommends a visit to the RCA+D galleries, as well as to the Sarasota Art Museum.

Hmmm … maybe it’s time to plan a little trip …

Ringling College of Art and Design Galleries (RCA+D)
2700 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 

Click here for a map of the galleries on the RC+D campus

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