Tampa Bay’s gallery scene is on the move 

Mindy Solomon’s gone, Chris Kelly’s back, and other shifts in the visual arts community.

Just in time for the fall season, several of Tampa Bay’s galleries — those small, often individually owned and operated spaces that collectively beat out the pulse of a visual arts community — are undergoing changes, and one new space has popped up to join the fray.

Last week, Mindy Solomon announced that she was closing her eponymous St. Petersburg gallery and moving the business to Miami. She wasn’t kidding around, either. By the time I spoke with her, at 8 a.m. the day after she released a public statement, Solomon was already in Miami prepping a new space. The beautiful downtown St. Pete storefront where she staged exhibitions for nearly four years had sold (to Philippe Berriot, owner of neighboring Cassis American Brasserie) without even being put on the market.

If the St. Pete space was a window-lined jewel box where selling art was difficult — “I love that space; I wish I could put it on my back and carry it with me,” Solomon says — the Miami gallery, a white box situated in Wynwood, the city’s trendy arts district, should offer better access to big-spending art collectors. Solomon, who had also been considering a move to Manhattan, said she went with Miami out of consideration for her family (who continue to live in Dunedin) and because of her experience dealing art in Miami during the annual Art Basel Miami Beach week.

“I’ve spent the last four years working very hard to develop my brand and my identity. People in Miami are familiar with what I do, and they have seen me over the years,” Solomon says.

Four years ago, Solomon was established in Pinellas County as an adventurous collector of contemporary art (her home has a well-deserved reputation as a mini museum of cutting-edge ceramic sculpture), a former art teacher, and major volunteer at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, when she decided to open a high-end private gallery in downtown St. Pete. Her passion at the time for figurative and narrative ceramic sculpture and photography drove the gallery’s program of exhibitions, which later evolved to include more abstract art and painting. Solomon worked hard — schlepping art to fairs in New York, Switzerland and Shanghai, and earning a place on the 2013 list of “Best 500 Galleries Worldwide” published by Modern Painters magazine. Her first exhibition at the relocated Mindy Solomon Gallery in Miami opens on Oct. 16.

Lori Johns, owner of C. Emerson Fine Arts, has also officially announced her intentions to seek success elsewhere. The Central Avenue gallery, which had been open since 2006, quietly stopped hosting exhibitions late last fall, while Johns busily pursued engagements at art fairs. (Like Solomon, she had a presence in June at SCOPE Basel during Art Basel week in Switzerland, which is widely regarded as the most important annual art fair in the world.) Via email last week, Johns explained that her Central Avenue storefront had become an office and staging ground for travel for C. Emerson, which will maintain an online gallery where collectors can purchase art — a trend in art dealing — as well as making appearances at art fairs, with three already scheduled for this fall in New York, Seattle and Miami.

“I had seven incredible years of exhibitions in [St. Pete] … then I realized I was having more fun in the global audience of the art fair,” Johns says.

Meanwhile, conflict between two galleries on the 600 Block and the property manager of the complex where they have thrived (thanks to some reduced rents) has precipitated a minor shakeup.

Collective is a tattoo studio and exhibition space that ran into trouble last year when artist Allen Hampton painted an indoor mural near a window facing Central Avenue that showed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wearing a KKK robe. The studio has moved; it’s now located nearby on (wait for it) Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.

Bluelucy, where a similar controversy surrounded an outdoor mural by Sebastian Coolidge that pictured a woman’s bare breasts, has no plans to move. Owner Chad Mize intends to address the topic of art that pushes the boundaries with an exhibition called “#artdealwithit” that opens at the space on Sat., Aug. 24.

Meanwhile, there are welcome signs in St. Pete that the gallery scene is continuing to grow. The number of businesses in the city’s Warehouse Arts District recently surpassed 60, which includes individual artist studios and art and design-related businesses, as well as galleries. The district association’s monthly trolley tour in August included a new member, the colorfully named Electric Zoo Studios, which exhibited 3D digital art. And St. Petersburg’s Downtown Arts Association, a gallery alliance, announced a name change to Art Association of St. Petersburg, which better reflects the geographical spread of members such as ARTicles and Nuance galleries, both located west of downtown on the northern border of the WAD.

In Tampa, the gallery that has anchored Seminole Heights’ growing art and commercial scene, Tempus Projects, is temporarily at large. Over the summer, the nonprofit, artist-run exhibition space took leave of its former digs inside an 850-square-foot garage tucked behind an industrial building on Florida Avenue. Tempus director Tracy Midulla Reller says that the space’s issues — a dubious air-conditioning system, flooding during summer rainstorms and limited access to restrooms — got to be too much just as the nonprofit’s 10-month-old board of directors was considering strategic growth.

“We’re hoping to house bigger projects and better projects, and we can’t do that there,” Midulla Reller says.

Tempus has “strong leads” on a new space, where Midulla Reller hopes the gallery will be installed by November. Such a space might not be in Seminole Heights, where gentrification has boosted rents, but the gallery will remain in Tampa with plans to grow to at least 1,200 square feet of exhibition space. In the meantime, Tempus is continuing to organize exhibitions. Creative Loafing’s events venue, CL Space, will be home to a Tempus show of Instagram photos, submitted by artists and the general public, opening on Sept. 6. An October show expected to feature drawings and videos would also take place in a temporary venue if Tempus hasn’t found a new home by then.

A few blocks south of Tempus’ former Florida Avenue digs, a new gallery called Workspace has opened inside the storefront of Built, a furniture studio headed by designer Andrew Watson. Artist Chris Kelly, who was a regular participant in Tampa art exhibitions before moving to Chicago in 2007, is curating the diminutive 300-square-foot space. Since returning to Tampa in 2010, Kelly has been looking to get back into the art game; he initially took over Watson’s lobby as a studio, then decided to turn it into an exhibition venue. An opening party two weeks ago attracted about 250 visitors, who checked out the inaugural show of artists including Kelly, Joshua Pearson, Anthony Zollo and Pale Horse, names familiar to local audiences, as well as Watson’s sleek tables and other designs.

Kelly plans to host a temporary (most likely one-night only) exhibition in the space each month — his day job prevents him from being open Monday through Friday — with an emphasis on affordable art and installation mixed with prints and paintings. At the opening, Workspace sold three of the 10 pieces on view — not a bad debut.

“I want to build up a bit more art culture in Tampa,” Kelly says. “When we have people who can live off their work, that will be pretty cool.”

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