Tampa’s ambitious work of art

The new Tampa Museum of Art opened to much fanfare last year

Tampa, in my experience, is one of those Florida cities that people from away can’t place. I was often asked when I lived in Boston, “Now where is it, on the West Coast or East Coast?”  (West!) I lived in the “Tampa-St. Pete” area for many years, and now watch the two cities’ growth from afar and occasional visits. St. Petersburg has developed a stronger personality, but Tampa is catching up. One example: it’s stunning new Tampa Museum of Art , open just over a year now.

View of the Hillsborough River from the museum's second floor

We toured the gleaming new space during a visit late last year and were mightily impressed. The building, designed by Stanley Saitowitz, sits along a bank of the Hillsborough River, next to the spiffy and even newer Glazer Children’s Museum and Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park, a tremendous addition to downtown green space and entirely new to me. From the lobby and hallways of the modern-industrial 66,000-square-foot museum one can see the water, and, on the other bank, the landmark minarets of the Moorish-styled University of Tampa.

The ultra contemporary space — all shiny on the outside — lends itself well to its modern works, including a Calder mobile in the lobby, a room with cool LED displays, a sculpture-filled terrace, and a Do Ho Suh bathroom installation made of fabric that I so wanted to touch.

But the two or so rooms of ancient stuff was just jarring. OK, yes, the museum has this important collection of Greek and Egyptian art, but it just doesn’t work here. It broke my flow and harshed my buzz. What’s a modern-looking museum to do with its old stuff? 

A rock garden decorates the lobby

If you aren’t into art (what’s with that?),  at least check out the lobby (free) and Sono Cafe, which has an upscale sandwich menu and gelato — best enjoyed on the patio overlooking the river.

Another free thrill is the museum-commissioned nighttime display by digital-light artist Leo Villareal, which turns a wall of the museum into “a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors,” according to one article. Alas, we visited during the day. Next time!

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