Chere Force put out an invitation for artists to join her on a field trip to see the Degas Sculptures at the Tampa Museum of Art. I knew I would want to sketch, and I considered bringing my digital tablet. I left it at home since I didn't want to catch a guards' attention. Chere and her husband Rory picked me up in their minivan and we headed west to get to the museum right as it opened. The Tampa Museum is part of a gorgeous riverside complex. There were several school buses of school children unloading as we arrived. Thankfully there is a children's museum that the screaming hoard disappeared into. Curtis Hixon Park right next to the museum is a fabulous open public park with colorful terraced gardens. Across the river shiny metallic minarets adorned a building constructed in the 1800s as a hotel and it is now part of the University of Tampa.
The Museum is a modern block of a building that is covered in a grid of circular holes punched in sheet metal. At night the building lights up like a phosphorescent sea creature thanks to thousands of light diodes. The largely empty ground floor houses the gift shop and cafe while all the art is up on the second floor. Chere explained that design allowed for any storm surge from a hurricane to only damage the empty ground floor.
I branched off and explored the Degas sculptures on my own. On the walls there were some charcoal and pastel drawings that resembled poses from some of the sculptures. Degas worked on these small wax and clay pieces to help him visualize the fluid gestures he incorporated into his paintings and drawings. They were intended as studies, not finished works of art. When Degas died, his family arranged for 22 sets of bronzes to be made from all these studies while keeping the originals intact. All of the works in the exhibit were bronzes. Cards on the walls described how Degas was influenced by the classic sculptures he studied for three years in Rome and Florence.
Once I saw all the sculptures I started to experience the gestural work by sketching. Something about the way he explored form started to make sense to me. As my lines danced in around and through his sculptures, I started seeing the viewers looking at the art in the same light. The Little Dancer stood vigil in the middle of the room. Having the opportunity to study his art in person was inspiring. As I was finishing up my sketch a museum guard approached me. He asked what medium I was using. My stomach tightened and I said, "watercolor." Thinking to myself, "It is harmless, really, it washes right out with water!" He said, "You can only use a pencil to sketch in here." I didn't argue. I just put my little kit away. I imagined the young Degas sketching sculptures in Italy and being told to stop.
In the next room was modern art. In the center of the gallery was an installation that had two windows set up in a false wall. Between and inside the windows rain was pouring down with the occasional lightning flash, and the recorded rumbling of thunder. I had to wonder if it just might leak, potentially damaging the other art in the room. It was pretty far from the Degas bronzes. They were safe from any further artistic scrutiny.