In 2011, Joseph's Coat, the Skyspace by James Turrell, was opened signaling the beginning of a new initiative at The Ringling, Art of Our Time, that engages with living artists both, visual and performing. The stage had been set two years earlier, with the first Ringling International Arts Festival which enlivened The Ringling estate with leading performers from around the world in an intense multi-day festival experience. While a focus on living artists at a museum renowned for its collection of European paintings by luminaries such as Rubens and Velasquez surprised many, The Ringling has a long tradition of engaging with contemporary art, starting with the first director of the museum, A. Everett “Chick” Austin. One of the most important innovators in American museum history, Chick Austin believed the museum should be a meeting place for all of the arts, across centuries. The visionary model of museum practice Austin developed in the 1940s and 1950s is only now being fully embraced by the museum community.
Following the example of Chick Austin, the mission statement of the Art of Our Time programming is: to play a vital role in an emerging community and international network of living artists whose work moves beyond traditional practices in the conceptualization, creation, and exhibition of visual and performative art. Particular attention has been given to emerging and mid-career artists, two groups historically under-supported. There has also been an emphasis, because of the history and nature of the institution, on diversifying the voices and perspectives within the permanent collection.
These galleries present an overview of some of the major projects with artists that have taken place in the first five years of the Art of Our Time program. In addition to the significant acquisitions of art for the permanent collection made by the museum, a number of important donations have also been included. These galleries, therefore, are a celebration of a renewed emphasis in programming at The Ringling and the profound support of our audiences and donors who have encouraged and enabled it.
Exhibition overview from museum website