By Rodger Skidmore
Round and round we go
Like death and taxes, roundabouts seem to be in our future. Yes, we have a few now, but the city has plans for 16 more. While we may wish to scream and shout (or applaud and give thanks) we all will have to deal with them. Music is supposed to soothe the savage beast but it may have to be art – especially since the city has plans to put various sculptures in the centers of all of them.
If we were thinking public sponsored sculpture of the past that had been put into plazas and parks, it would be generals on horseback with swords raised to the sky. Not today. Looking at the John Henry giant red scale model of the game of Pick-up Sticks we know we are in a new day. But what goes well in a roundabout? And where do we get them? A national search is one (very expensive) way. Another is to look at local sculptors (and keep the money circulating in the local community), for known sources of great art.
Dennis Kowal is a local artist of national renown whose work can be seen in about ten locations around Sarasota. He is pictured here with a maquette of a proposed roundabout sculpture – one of his Aspiration (hope or ambition of achieving greatness) series. The visual appearance of 4 inch thick aerospace grade aluminum will change from moment to moment as the clouds drift across the sun. A 26 foot tall by 15 foot wide version would be inspiring and airy.
A product of the University of Illinois and the Art Institute of Chicago, Dennis studied, for a time, under Buckminster Fuller. Although one of his first works was a totem in carved wood it appears evident that his early engineering jobs and work in tool design have influenced his work – strong, clean, direct and hard – hard in surface and hard in content. Dennis has made his home in downtown Sarasota for over 25 years.
Art aside, one purpose of sculpture in the center of a roundabout is to give forward visual notice to approaching motorists that they need to start paying attention to their driving – much better than flashing yellow lights. Aspiration does this in a calm way – perhaps giving hope, or at least the ambition, of learning how to drive around Sarasota’s roundabouts.
How to know someone
Walk a mile in their shoes – break bread with them – or simply look at their art. And where and when would one do that? And why? The where and when easy, Ink, Silk and Gold is: Islamic Art from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is an exhibition currently at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, here in Sarasota, through May 1st. The why, and indeed, the what, are a bit more complex.
One could actually say that the term “Islamic Art” is a catchall phrase, in that the subject encompasses art from when the Muslim religion started, until now. Also, not just Persian art, but art from the eastern to the western edges of Africa (Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia), across the Red Sea to the Arabian peninsula, up into all of the Middle East and on to Turkey, Russia, China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – you know, all the countries over there that are in the news every day. So, do we go see Islamic Art because it is an esoteric way to broaden our view of the world? Well, sure, why not. But a more compelling reason is that it is beautiful. The English language script that we use is based upon a Romanization of the original blocky Greek letters. Arabic script, even more so than Chinese, flows and is inherently beautiful.
The image shown here is more than an early 14th century Egyptian lamp from a mosque, it is a work of art. The decoration around the upper rim of the lamp is not just some contemporary Jackson Pollock doodle, it appears to be a set of beautifully crafted letters from some ancient game of Scrabble. Indeed, if one were to look for one unifying trait within all Islamic art, it would be the incredible detail. So much time was spent creating this art, it would be a waste of our senses not to spend some time viewing it.
While the over 100 items in this exhibit are from “The Boston”, they comprise a show that you could never see there, as the pieces are drawn from a host of galleries and storage areas within the museum. There are paintings, ceramics, manuscripts, wall hangings, jewels, etchings, floor coverings, assemblages, and sculptures, they are now on tour, as a unit, to only three cities in the US, with Sarasota being the final stop – meaning see it here or miss it forever. Also available is a lovely 192 page book produced by the Boston museum. The art work in the book, and in the show, starts with the 8th Century and contains art made right up to today.
Dialogue, sets, music, costumes, acting, lights, they all make up theater. And who pulls it all together, the director. And if we are all lucky, it will be Brendan Ragan, the director, actor and co-founder (along with Summer Wallace and Harry Lipstein) of Sarasota’s Urbanite Theatre. This is the marvelous new theater (second season) located on Second Street in downtown Sarasota, opposite the northern entrance to Whole Foods (free parking on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the WF garage).
This is a case of the prodigal son returning home before he wasted himself. Brendan spent time in New York (City of Sin) and Baltimore (City of Scandal) after completing the graduate program at the FSU/Asolo Conservatory. While “on the road” he got acting and directing gigs and decided he liked both.
Long story short, he and Ms. Wallace got together and decided that Sarasota was the ideal place to start a new theater company. Really. The draw was a highly intelligent theater-going crowd that really cared about what they saw. The 65 seat black box that they created is the result. As they get more famous will they move on to other venues outside of Sarasota? One answer is that they took a 10 year lease on their current location. Wallace and Ragan would like the Urbanite to become an incubator for new playwrights to regionally showcase their wares. Why wait two years after a great play opens Off-Broadway when it can play here before it hits the Big Apple.
What’s next for the Urbanite? The Drowning Girls, a true story based on an early 1900’s string of murders – sort of an underwater version of Bluebeard’s Castle. How does it resonate with today’s world? Well, let’s just say that back in 2012 women were not as valued as they should be, were victims of domestic violence, did not receive equal pay, were not…. oh, did I write 2012, I meant 1912. Well, you get what I mean. Why go to the beach when you can be drowned at home? The Drowning Girls at the Urbanite Theatre, 1487 Second Street, Sarasota, Wednesdays – Sundays, April 22 – May 22, 2016.