Make us your home page

A tour of Leepa-Rattner's 15th birthday exhibit with the curator


Christine Renc-Carter stops in front of one unassuming canvas.

"Do you see this?" she asks. "I know it looks like a blank piece of paper."

It does, at first. Placed among the bold and boisterous works in the new exhibition "Paradise Found: LRMA Celebrates 15 Years," it's almost invisible. But then, with a little peering, a maze of multicolored lines appears out of the white expanse. It wavers, as delicate as a rainbow just beginning to form.

The work is Clearwater by Richard Anuskiewicz, an important member of the Op art movement. "This is the essence of living in this environment," said Renc-Carter, Leepa-Rattner's curator.

"If you walk outside and it's not raining, you will see this. Because of the blinding sunlight."

Suddenly the painting fits in perfectly with its neighbors, many of which deal with visions of the "paradise" outside the museum's walls. A little squint is all it takes.

With "Paradise Found," Tampa Bay is officially in self-examination mode. A royal flush of local art institutions currently have shows about the present, past and future of art in the area. For anyone who hopes to get a bead on the burgeoning scene, this seems to be the summer.

Leepa-Rattner joins the Morean Arts Center's now-closed "100 Years/100 Artists," as well as the mammoth "Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration" spanning Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota's biggest museums. All of the shows feel significant, but Leepa-Rattner's is the most idiosyncratic and personal of the bunch.

A major reason is Renc-Carter. She arrived at the museum one year ago, but her roots in the area run back to her childhood in Dunedin. Her selections feel like a personal excavation of images, relationships and landscapes known since birth.

The Arrival, a large painting by Steven Kenny, could have been created for the occasion. It also happens to be the ironic inspiration for the title "Paradise Found."

In it, a child stands on a pastel-perfect strip of Florida beach. But the boy is wrapped in a huge winter parka. He faces the viewer stiffly, like he has been plopped there by a relative and told to smile. He can't quite manage it.

The image is ambivalent but funny, and totally surreal — a shorthand for the show's tone. And if the poor kid in the parka seems unhappy in his new surroundings, he might be the only one. "Paradise Found" was Renc-Carter's first chance to dig through the museum's extensive archives and create a show from scratch, and there is kid-in-a-candy shop enthusiasm in the results.

"When you're having fun putting something together, hopefully it comes through," she says. It does, and never more so than when she caroms between artworks in the galleries, dispensing knowledge collected over a lifetime.

The true extent of that knowledge becomes clear when she moves to the next painting. In it, two fish coil around a pair of saw palmettos, neither fully on land nor underwater. The luminous painting is Trout Palms by Bill Renc, who happens to be Renc-Carter's father.

Including the piece was not filial piety on Renc-Carter's part. If anything, it shows the intense interconnectedness of the museum's collection and the region it tries to represent. This is true even with the presence of names like Alexander Calder, Dale Chihuly and Winslow Homer.

But for the museum as a whole, there are no bigger names on display than Abraham Rattner, Esther Gentle and Allen Leepa. Next to "Paradise Found" is an exhibition that celebrates co-founder Leepa's work by actually bringing a chunk of his studio into the museum.

"Habits and Habitats" has the man's easel, chair and even a door he painted, uprooted from his Tarpon Springs studio. The walls are covered in pages from his sketchbooks.

"We wanted this to be immersive," says Renc-Carter.

A video in the atrium shows Leepa doing a sort of abstract-expressionist Bob Ross routine from 1949 — instead of happy little trees, a crucifixion scene. Listen to Leepa's raspy voice while looking through his paint-spattered belongings. The effect is immersive indeed.

Leepa was a teacher; the space seems to beg for a place to sit and try to learn from him. Maybe a sketch pad and easel in the gallery is too much to ask — but at least "Habits and Habitats" provokes the question.

Both of the new shows at the Leepa-Rattner are part of the museum's 15th anniversary celebrations — because apparently museums get to celebrate birthdays for a whole calendar year. In October, "Fall Into Greatness" will invite artists to rummage through the museum's archives and help create a show themselves, and "Habits and Habitats" kicks off an entire series about artists' work spaces.

All this hoopla for a 15th birthday could seem almost arbitrary. But given everything that's happening inside the museum and around Tampa Bay, the celebration feels just right.

Contact James Chapin at

>>If you go

Paradise Found and

Habits and Habitats

See both exhibits through Sept. 24 at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art, 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. It is closed Mondays. Admission: $7, $6 seniors, no charge for children, students and active military with ID. Admission is by donation Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. (727) 712-5762.

A tour of Leepa-Rattner's 15th birthday exhibit with the curator 07/19/17 [Last modified: Monday, July 17, 2017 5:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pasco Events for Aug. 25-31


    25 Friday

    Feeding Pasco's Elderly hosts inaugural Leadership Breakfast: The Pasco County Elderly Nutrition Division/Feeding Pasco's Elderly will host this east Pasco event to mirror the Ambassador's Breakfast fundraising event that has been held the past two years on the county's west side. County …

  2. Local craft beer of the week: Cherry Pastelitos, Coppertail Brewing Co. in Tampa

    Bars & Spirits

    On Saturday, Tampa's Coppertail Brewing Co. will celebrate its third anniversary with a Florida weisse festival, showcasing densely fruited tart wheat beers from more than a dozen Tampa Bay area breweries including, of course, many of its own brews in this summer-friendly style.

    Center: Coppertail Brewing’s Cherry Pastelitos. Flanking it are Coppertail’s BOMP (blood orange, mango, passionfruit), left, and Pinky Swear (pink lemonade-flavored).
  3. 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' opens run at Show Palace Dinner Theatre


    The Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson takes a nostalgic swing through the 1950s and '60s with its production of Smokey Joe's Cafe, which opens Aug. 26. The local offering of the longest-running rock 'n' roll revue in Broadway history features the legendary pop tunes of hit makers Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber. …

    A local production of the 1950s and '60s musical revue "Smokey Joe's Cafe" opens Aug. 26 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre in Hudson.
  4. 10 things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 24


    Lalah Hathaway: A Grammy Award-winning jazz and soul singer. 8 p.m., Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin St., Tampa. $34.50-$69.50. (813) 274-8982.

    HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03:  Recording artist Lalah Hathaway performs onstage during the BET Presents Super Bowl Gospel Celebration at Lakewood Church on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images for BET)
  5. How to make a Strawberry Banana Smoothie


    Don't enjoy breakfast but need to get something in your stomach? Cranky around 3 p.m. and need a jolt of energy? Have trouble getting your daily recommended fruit servings? This smoothie is the cure for all of that and more. It's become my morning go-to. The secret ingredient here is kefir, a probiotic product that's …

    Strawberry Banana Smoothie. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.