When John and Mabel Ringling built their winter home and art gallery in Sarasota in the 1920’s, they did so using European architectural styles – Venetian for their home the Ca’ d’Zan designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum, and Italian Renaissance for the galleries designed by John H Phillips. Ringling even installed panelled interiors from the Astor mansion being demolished in New York at the time and historic architectural features such as columns and doorways to complement his art collection, the most impressive being the 1889 marble fireplace from the Huntingdon Mansion in New York.
Ringling became one of the wealthiest men in America from the success of the Ringling Bros Circus, expanding into oil, banking, ranching, railroads and real estate. He built up an impressive art collection, primarily of European art including works by Titan, Rubens, Reynolds, Hals and Tiepolo, along with 19th century bronze copies of sculptures such as Michelangelo’s David, all of which he left along with the gallery and house to the people of Florida on his death in 1936. Today the museum is partnered with Florida State University.
When, in 2007, the Museum expanded with the new Ulla R and Arthur and F Searing Wing, the exterior followed the renaissance style of the remainder of the museum, while the interior was quite contemporary, designed as a series of artificially-lit flexible spaces around James Turrell’s “Joseph’s Coat”, and today used for a changing programme of contemporary art exhibitions. Radically different is the Dr Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art, designed by Boston-architects Machado Silvetti and opened in 2016, with its 2,376 green tiles from Buffalo, a complete contrast to the buildings around it, with glimpses of daylight through windows and doors and said to reflect jade of Asian art and the gardens in which it sits as a pavilion. The latest building, the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion, and which will open in early 2018, is even more radical. As its name suggests, its walls are glass, bringing light in and views out, with a curving solar shading system on the outside, reflecting the changes in museum architecture where designers are making use of 21t century glass technology to create more transparent buildings rather than black or white boxes. In this they are following on from examples such as the Burrell Gallery, opened in Glasgow in 1967, where architect Barry Gasson placed historic works of art against the park landscape outside while creating internal galleries works more sensitive to light damage, and from some commercial art galleries such as the Lisson in London, which has ground floor windows to the street so that passers-by can look in and connect with the art, a growing trend so that people can relate to art, as something for them, not just to hang in a classical temple of culture.