Interstate 4 seems unremarkable by most standards. The drive from Tampa starts out with the congestion of a medium sized American city, that could easily be mistaken for so many other cities by the casual observer. Shortly after leaving Tampa, the highway cuts through the ridge of Florida. The ridge is the lower spine of the much higher ranges to the north, Appalachians, Smokey’s and others.
The ride passes through some bedroom communities, and towns that were formerly sustained by citrus and phosphate mines. The geographical center, turned tourism capital is Orlando, yet another medium sized city that has become a symbol of the hypereal. The highway ends near Daytona, a smaller place known for spring breakers, NASCAR, bike week and Eileen Wuornos.
The whole drive is about two hours unless you hit traffic. Granted, much of Florida is filled with beautiful beaches, springs, large oaks, cypress trees and even some interesting architecture, but I-4 does not supply many of those views. The areas in and around I-4 have come to represent the normal American demographic. In the past couple of presidential elections, the I-4 corridor has also become a focal point. It is the mood of the times, and it isn’t necessarily appealing.
Last week, I was speaking to Margaret Miller, director of University of South Florida’s (USF) GraphicStudio and USF’s Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa. She mentioned that Christian Marclay has been working there on and off for the past three years, completing much of his work that has been on view at the Whitney Museum.
GraphicStudio is a place that is tough to classify, and that’s the way they want it. The name GraphicStudio might be misleading or limiting, as they are mainly a research studio, combining efforts with studio arts students, the architecture school, engineering and graphic design departments.
The list of artists passing through the Studio is like reading a list of great American contemporary artists. Over the years, I have heard about Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, John Chamberlain, Nancy Graves and many other known artists working there, without much fanfare from the outside world.
I took a tour of the GraphicStudio in 2005, and at the time the Cuban Collective Los Carpinteros had just completed their stay at the Studio. Their sculptures and drawings were everywhere, and within just a few months they had a show at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum. The symbiotic relationship between the GraphicStudio and USF’s Contemporary Art Museum seems necessary because of the interaction between the two places. The Studio is often where the work for an upcoming show is created. The GraphicStudio had high profile artists working there from the beginning in 1968. The museum opened around twenty years later, and had immediate respect by association from the art world. The museum gave the GraphicStudio a higher profile to the general public. The museum continues to have exceptional shows by world class artists like Jim Campbell and Los Carpinteros.
Recently, I watched the film Herb and Dorothy, about a couple in New York City that had amassed a huge collection of contemporary art since the term came into vogue. I was talking to a friend about the film, when he mentioned that James Sienna was one of the artists in the film that befriended and sold art to the couple. He also said that Sienna was working at Flying Horse Editions. The Flying Horse is about an hour and a half to the east by car from the GraphicStudio. Sienna had been a part of the outreach program for the Atlantic Center for the Arts (ACA) in New Smyrna Beach about hour away to the east of the Flying Horse . The Flying Horse has operated for nearly twenty years in Orlando, as part of the University of Central Florida (UCF). It’s a collection of old and new technology, and if you walk out the front door you can see I-4. I stopped by last week to speak to the director Theo Lotz. While there, I saw that Kristopher Benedict, a painter from Redhook in Brooklyn was working on some lithographs. Benedict had been introduced to the Flying Horse Editions by Sue Scott of Sue Scott Gallery in Manhattan, as she has a longtime association with the Orlando Museum of Art as an adjunct curator.
The ACA is it’s own diamond in the rough. Brainchild of the late sculptor Doris Leeper, the ACA was started in the late 70’s, and since the 80’s it has hosted an incredible list of artists from all disciplines, such as Rineke Dijkstra, Mark Dion, Dennis Oppenheim, composers Pauline Oliveros, Robert Ashley, writers Allen Ginsburg, Spalding Gray and so many more. Residencies last three weeks, and associate artists apply directly to the master artists. I was an associate with Richard Kostelanetz, and Kerry James Marshall in 2001. The residency may have lasted three weeks, but my I’ve maintained a relationship with many of the artists that were there with me.
The ACA’s outreach program has helped locals see performances of multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp, spoken word master Saul Williams, and the art of Mark Dion to name a few. However, these places have slightly more visibility than the witness protection program. It would be nice for the world to see the process, but their visibility seems decidedly subdued, mainly so that artists can come and work without distraction. The Atlantic Center’s architecture blends nature with relevant contemporary design. It’s the perfect retreat away from the pressures of the big city art meccas. The GraphicStudio and Flying Horse are less pleasing when you enter the buildings, but it feels like you have stepped into a different world once you get inside. Central Florida’s lack of contemporary art spaces, can be distressing for locals interested in that sort of thing, but it can be a nice departure for someone who is constantly surrounded by the stress of larger art meccas. The low profile nature and relative freedom that these spaces offer the visiting artists, allow the artist’s vision to be realized without the stress that is common with today’s market constraints.