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Museum of art lights up downtown Tampa

By Fabiola Santiago, McClatchy Newspapers

3:08 PM EST, February 10, 2010

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TAMPA -- The $32.8 million Tampa Museum of Art, which opened to the public Feb. 6, rises on the historic banks of the Hillsborough River across from a Moorish, late-19th century, minaret-topped University of Tampa building that once served as headquarters for officers waiting to be deployed to the Spanish American war in Cuba. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders passed through here.

History envelops Tampa like a Spanish "mantilla," but the 66,000-square-foot art museum — surrounded by a sculpture garden and an eight-acre park shared with the adjacent Glazer Children's Museum scheduled to open in October — boasts a modern industrial look.

Designed by San Francisco-based, South African-born architect Stanley Saitowitz, the building wears by day a silver "skin" of aluminum that creates a moire-like pattern and looks surreal in photographs.

"From a distance, the building looks like it floats on water," says Sara Richter, a member of the museum's board of directors.

The museum has commissioned digital-light artist Leo Villareal to light the south facade at night, turning the space into a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors.

"It is two layers of perforated aluminum held six inches apart to provide space for the LED lighting, which animates the surface at night and creates moire patterns by day," Saitowitz says.

Inside, an Alexander Calder mobile hovers above the floating steel staircase to the second-floor galleries exhibiting the inaugural show "A Celebration of Henri Matisse," featuring 170 prints, paintings and sculptures by the French artist. In the light-washed first-floor lobby and atrium are a rock garden, a cafe with outdoor seating, a lecture room and a store.

Also showing in the galleries is an exhibition with a Miami connection: "The Hidden City: Selections from the Martin Z. Margulies Collection," with a slate of international artists with multimedia installations that focus on the theme of urbanism. Works by Doug Aitken, Peter Bialobrzeski, Donna Dennis, Pedro Cabrita Reis and Do-Ho Suh will be featured.

"We've entered into a partnership with Tampa to curate four exhibitions over four years," says Katherine Hinds, curator of the collection. "This fits very nicely with our ability to show the collection … and the educational properties we could bring."

A selection from the Tampa museum's collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, "From Life to Death in the Ancient World," the photography exhibit "Life Captured:" "Garry Winogrand's Women are Beautiful" and "Taking Shape: Works from the Bank of America Collection" with works from Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly and Sam Gilliam, among others, round out the opening shows.

Villareal's work will remain on view every day beginning at dusk as part of the museum's permanent collection.

Champions of the city hope the riverfront project will inject new life into a quiet downtown sparsely populated by the business interests of banks and government.

"We hope it will be a place to encourage dialogue and creativity, serve as a catalyst to community interaction and, most importantly, become a center for the rebirth of downtown Tampa," says Todd Smith, the museum's executive director.

The Tampa museum is part of a flurry of construction in arts venues along Florida's west coast.

Across the bay in St. Petersburg, The Salvador Dali Museum's new $35 million home is expected to be completed by December. In 2008, the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts doubled its gallery space by adding the 39,000-square-foot, $21 million Hazel Hough Wing, which enabled the museum to stage larger shows and exhibit monumental sculptures and paintings.

In Sarasota, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is undergoing a $7.5 million expansion, adding a 24,000-square-foot wing. As with the St. Petersburg and Dali museums, the architect is Yann Weymouth, who designed the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University.

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IF YOU GO:

What: Tampa Museum of Art

Where: 120 Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Cost: $10 adults; $7.50 seniors, groups, military plus one guest; $5 students; free for children under 6

Info: 813-274-8130; tampamuseum.org