5 questions to Dwight Currie (Curator of Performances, The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida)

For over 85 years The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota has been a important bastion of arts and culture for the entire state of Florida. During the 2013-14 winter season, residents and visiting snowbirds alike are enjoying an ambitious program of contemporary visual art and performances. We interviewed Dwight Currie, Associate Director for Museum Programs at The Ringling, to find out more about their current season.

R. Luke DuBois: Fashionably Late for the Relationship, 2007-08 (video still), courtesy of The Ringling Museum

R. Luke DuBois: Fashionably Late for the Relationship, 2007-08 (video still courtesy of The Ringling Museum)

What was the driving force behind your Winter 2013-14 programming, integrating visual and performing arts disciplines?

The Ringling Museum’s founding director, A. Everett Austin, Jr. – known throughout the world of art as “Chick” – revolutionized modern museum practice by leading the way in the presentation of performance art in American museums. “The function of a museum,” Chick declared, “is more than merely showing pictures. The museum is the place to integrate the arts and bring them alive.”

Inspired by Chick’s words, The Ringling launched the Art of Our Time initiative in 2011 with the mission to present exhibitions and performances that exemplify and explore the rich diversity of ideas and forms at play in the world today. For the 2013-14 season we have mounted NOWHERE: Finding Our Way in the 21st Century, a cross-disciplinary journey into the oft-perceived “nowhere” of contemporary culture through a series of dynamic encounters with the art of “here” and “now.” Within that context, New Stages 2014 is a five-part art-of- performance exhibition.

Composer and visual artist R. Luke DuBois has both an art exhibition in the museum space and is providing his music for performances; how does his integrating role plays out?

With the broad strokes of NOWHERE defined as “encounters with the art of ‘here’ and ‘now’,”  the over-arching themes of the both the visual art and performance exhibitions are “time” and “space” – a conversation, if you will, between the object-based work of a visual exhibition and the time-based work of performance. And while it would seem obvious that an object-based art exhibition would be about (occupy) space and that performance work would be about time, the genre-defying creations of the artists we selected, give us the opportunity to do just the opposite.  The performances in New Stages 2014 collectively speak to a sense of place, albeit impermanent. R. Luke DuBois uses the ethereal means of video and music to explore our relationship with the subjective idea of “time” through the creation of visual art, which is traditionally held to be object-based. His exploration of time is often presented in the form of portraiture, not traditional sittings of specific people, but rather non-traditional portraits of cultural trends and periods of time.

As a part of his work with music, video, installation, and printmaking, Luke also collaborates with performance artists such as choreographer Jamie Jewett and the dancers of Lostwax Multimedia Dance.  Together, they created Particular, a performance work of light, sound, music, and movement that is being presented as part of the New Stages 2014 exhibition.

There are two contemporary dance events on New Stages 2014; how does movement fit into the overall context of the initiative?

Given its many affinities with visual art (spatial relations, form, color, movement, etc), dance has historically been the performance form most prominently and frequently presented in the museum setting. It is the form with which we launched New Stages in 2011 with an exhibition of choreographic expressions that explored both the affinities between abstract expressionism and the evergreen emergence of the narrative.

For NOWHERE, performances of movement are interspersed with music/sonic presentations:  Meklit Hadero, ETHEL with guest Robert Mirabal, and John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit. In Particular, choreographer Jamie Jewett and the dancers of Lostwax take us to a place where our desire to play individual roles, whilst in a sea of anonymity, is rigorously investigated and generously embraced.  In much of the same spirit, Alex Ketley seeks, discovers, and locates such individual expressions, be they large or small, heroic or not, in an expansive landscape of spontaneous movement.  He then gives each of them a tenderly choreographed articulation in No Hero, performed by the artists of The Foundry of San Francisco.

Flutist Robert Mirabal (photo credit: Kate Russell)

Flutist Robert Mirabal (photo credit: Kate Russell)

The Ethel event with Robert Mirabal is a collaboration with New Music New College; how did this collaboration came about and is there an ongoing relationship?

In Music of the Sun, ETHEL and guest artist Robert Mirabal take us into the powerful sun mythology of Native America and compel us to reconsider our place in the larger environment. While planning this performance with the artists, it was brought to our attention that an “optional repertoire calls for a local chamber choir.” While there are a number of such ensembles in existence in our area, most are committed to the classical tradition. We felt strongly that if we were going to undertake the presentation of new music, we wanted to work with musicians who shared the artists’ passion for this kind of work.

With that in mind, we turned to our neighbor and colleague Stephen Miles, Director of New Music New College, who, for the past fifteen years, has fostered a conversation about contemporary music and performance that has included the New College community, the greater Sarasota-Bradenton community, and world-class musicians of every stripe. This is an on-going relationship between New College and The Ringling.  In fact, New Music New College was launched with performances in The Ringling’s famed Rubens Galleries.

The culmination of the season is John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit performed at the Spring Equinox; how did you approach the mounting of this monumental and environment-specific performance?

While at first glance it may seem a daunting (if not impossible) task to present a site-specific immersive composition that calls for “nine to ninety-nine percussionists,” but such is not the case with Inuksuit. This work has been so enthusiastically embraced and celebrated by percussionists from all over the nation, that it seems all one must do is make mention to any one of them that an opportunity exists for another performance, and they willingly and eagerly make it happen.

Of course, it’s not quite that easy. It only seems to be, due to the organizational efforts of the extraordinary producer Doug Perkins. Working in concert with instructors and percussion ensembles from Florida State, the Universities of both Southern and Central Florida, and Miami University, Doug has made it possible for The Ringling’s extraordinary staff of artist managers, technicians, project coordinators, event planners, etc. to bring this production to fruition.

John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams (photo credit:

Ongoing and Upcoming at The Ringling Museum:

R. Luke DuBois—NOW: the first museum survey exhibition of his visual art, runs from January 31 to May 4, 2014 in the Searing Wing of The Ringling Art Museum.

MUSIC OF THE SUN: ETHEL with Robert Mirabal and the New Music New College Choral Ensemble will be presented February 20-22, 2014 in the Historic Asolo Theater

NO HERO: The Foundry, choreographed by Alex Ketley, will be presented March 6-8, 2014, at the Historic Asolo Theater

INUKSUIT: IN THE CAPACITY OF THE HUMAN: music by John Luther Adams, produced by Doug Perkins, will be presented March 22 in The Museum of Art Courtyard