FIELD GUIDE

THE EXHIBITIONISTS

This city’s not as sensitive as it was 20 years ago or even five, and artists have played a vital role in that change

Dennis Ho
Posted

From museums featuring the contemporary and the ancient to local artists pushing the limits of the area’s comfort zone, it’s fair to call Northeast Florida’s scene burgeoning. We’re growing up. This city’s not as sensitive as it was 20 years ago or even five, and artists have played a vital role in that change.

CoRK ARTS DISTRICT
Free, 2689 Rosselle St., Riverside, facebook.com/Corkartsdistrict

As the epicenter of Northeast Florida’s creative talent, the district has long been a badge of pride for the city: We (finally) have an arts district! (Eventually, we dropped the exclamation point.) This Riverside neighborhood includes the east, north and west galleries of CoRK (corner of Rosselle and King streets) as well as King Street Studios and MetaCusp Studios.

It’s both a venue and a loose collective with a diverse membership — painters, sculptors, glass artists, photographers, performance artists, writers and more. Some of the talent have moved on (Shaun Thurston to name one). Even so, there are more than 60 artists, and the roster goes deep: Jim Draper, Overstreet Ducasse, Doug Eng, Crystal Floyd, Liz Gibson, Al Letson, Morrison Pierce, Chip Southworth, Sharla Valeski, Jeff Whipple, Tony Wood.

From local bands gigging to oyster roasts to July 12’s Summer Splash (starving artists in a tiny pool, they’ve billed it), CoRK still has it going on three years in. It’s not an unknown anymore; it’s a known known, and the spirit of the scene.

CRISP-ELLERT ART MUSEUM
Free (closed for summer), 48 Sevilla St., St. Augustine, flagler.edu/crispellert

Under the leadership of museum director Julie Dickover, CEAM has proved an underappreciated jewel in St. Augustine’s arts community, routinely exhibiting contemporary artists known nationally, as well as regional talent. It also gives Flagler College’s talented artists the chance to see their work in that setting.

The 1,400-square-foot museum, donated to the college after artist JoAnn Crisp-Ellert’s death in 2007, remains an important cultural resource for students and St. Augustine residents alike.

CUMMER MUSEUM OF ART & GARDENS
$10 for adults ($6 for seniors, military and students), 829 Riverside Ave., Riverside, cummer.org

The Cummer’s permanent collection boasts pieces by Bernini, Pissarro and Rodin, among other legends. But it’s those serene gardens, renovated last year to truly maximize the museum’s location on Jacksonville’s riverfront, that are the museum’s most talked-about treasure. In addition to the Olmsted Garden renovation, opening the sculpture garden with St. Augustine’s own Enzo Torcoletti’s The Human Figure exhibit (on display through Oct. 19) proved a crowd-pleaser. But no cheering in the museum.

The permanent collection runs the gamut with ancient, medieval and Renaissance pieces in addition to American art from the 18th century to today. You’ll need several visits to truly see — and appreciate — it all.

FLORIDA MINING GALLERY
Free, 5300 Shad Road, Southside, floridamininggallery.com

To know Florida Mining Gallery, you must know owner Steve Williams. He’s an artist, curator, patron and social media beast. For many, he’s the face of arts in Jacksonville. FMG’s last two exhibits, Diogenes the Dog and Ryan Rummel and Awful & Others, demonstrated his gallery’s commitment to promote emerging and mid-career artists and Williams’ mission to fan the flames of the city’s vibrant arts community.

He and his gallery will continue to sustain artists, helping them find their audience, for years to come.

J. JOHNSON GALLERY
Free (closed for summer), 177 Fourth Ave. N., Jax Beach, jjohnsongallery.com

Its reputation as the most beautiful gallery in Northeast Florida is well-earned — with stunning Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture and a prime location in Jacksonville Beach — but J. Johnson Gallery is more than a pretty face. Over more than a decade, the gallery has exhibited paintings, photographs and sculpture with a focus on contemporary and modern art, especially by Latin American and Caribbean artists.

Owned by a Johnson & Johnson heir, the gallery is open, yet intimate. It serves the wine-and-cheese art collectors quite well, and the rest of us are also welcome to come in and dream.

MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART JACKSONVILLE
$8 for adults ($5 for seniors, military and students), 333 N. Laura St., Downtown, mocajacksonville.org

A strong voice in the contemporary art world that’s gaining a national reputation, especially for its Andy Warhol Foundation-supported Project Atrium, MOCA has the resources and brain trust to excel across the spectrum. The New York Times Magazine Photographs exhibit, on display through Aug. 24, demonstrates its ability to reach a populist audience, while the upcoming Get Real: New American Painting will bring some of the country’s best realist artists to Downtown.

That’s one of MOCA’s strongest selling points: These artists are living, still producing their best work, and many appear here so area art lovers can meet-and-greet them at member previews.

During the Get Real exhibit, University of North Florida assistant professor Jason John, who’s gaining a national following for his hyperrealist pieces, will work out of a studio space on the third floor so that museum visitors may observe his methods. All that, and Café Nola is one of the best places to eat Downtown. Doesn’t really seem fair.

SOUTHLIGHT GALLERY
Free, 201 N. Hogan St., Ste. 100, Downtown, southlightgallery.com

Southlight continues to thrive despite three moves in five years and the still-unsolved burglary in March of two Enzo Torcoletti sculptures. That’s a credit not only to the 24 member artists but to Downtown Vision’s Off The Grid program for galleries, says artist-in-residence Pam Zambetti. The new location on Hogan is less than half the size of the previous site in the Dyal-Upchurch Building on Bay Street, but it’s near Hemming Plaza and on street level, which has led to an increase in visitor traffic. 

Southlight’s exhibits often include two- and three-dimensional painting, mixed-media works, photography and sculpture by emerging artists and its members, more than two-thirds of whom have 30 years of creative experience.

Gallery membership includes Torcoletti, Paul Karabinis, Gary McElwee, Craig Monroe and Michael Dunlap, the gallery director. The second of three summer guest exhibits, Members’ Choice, continues through July, then on Aug. 6, Southlight presents The Augustines, with works by St. Augustine collaborative Butterfield Garage Art Gallery.

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