In September, the city of St. Augustine, Florida celebrated the 450th anniversary of the city’s founding, highlighting St. Augustine’s historic record as the oldest continuously occupied European and African American settlement.1 St. Augustine’s rich history helped establish the city as a tourist attraction, which today is maintained by an array of local cultural industries, including ghost tours, forts and reenactments, alligator farms and beautiful state park beaches, homemade popsicles, distilleries, museums, Flagler College, and even a Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Against this backdrop though, the city also supports nearly 30 art galleries and two art museums with a broad array of work exhibited.
Newest to this group is the recently relocated Monya Rowe Gallery. The New York City gallery, after 12 years of exhibiting both emerging and established artists in Williamsburg, Chelsea, and the Lower East Side, migrated south, to its new location on the historic coast of Florida. The inaugural exhibition, aptly titled “Out of Place,” features a collection of artists — Larissa Bates, Natasha Bowdoin, Vera Illiatova, Giordanne Salley, and Dasha Shishkin —whose intimate and narrative-based works reveal sensitivity yet are made curious with a fervor for exploration (on view through December 20).
The stories of historic explorers landing along the coast of Florida tell tales of cultural expansion, colonization, the plundering of natural resources, particularly gold, and the conversion or enslavement of native populations.2 Modern transplants to the region seek the natural attractions, including beaches and the weather, as well as business and enterprise, and other local sites. Rowe was familiar with the city, having vacationed in St. Augustine for many years, and she spent a brief period of her upbringing in Florida. The move for her was motivated by a desire for professional relocation, new opportunities for exhibition, and a change of lifestyle.3 In the transition, she has maintained her entire roster of artists and has gained the interest of new collectors.
Rowe gave many of her artists their first New York exhibitions, and many of them will find a first time audience in St. Augustine. The gallery’s upcoming exhibitions will also diversify the contemporary art offerings in this area. Despite the range of contemporary art, project-based work, educational opportunities, and even social practice that has found its way to the public of St. Augustine through various public art projects, exhibitions, and regional art opportunities, observationally there is still a prosperous market for the familiar plein air beachscapes, symbolic organic abstractions, and characteristic imagery of low country sea life. Rowe’s artists, however, present new and alternative imagery on similar themes.
In this first exhibition, “Out of Place,” the beachscapes are replaced by Giordanne Salley’s nostalgic close-cropped paintings of momentary glimpses that engage our senses, where the prickle of an evergreen branch, the softness of an embrace, or the refreshing coolness of a stream are palpable. Natasha Bowdoin’s dense and saturated cut paper relief, Gardenhead 01, swirls with leafy shapes, twiglike extensions, and root vegetable formations. Bowdoin, whose work ranges in size from large installations to smaller wall-based pieces, is represented here by a small yet engaging work that transcends organic abstraction. The peculiar and illustrative petite paintings by Larissa Bates feature shoreline landscapes with motley scenery, strange creatures, rock formations like sentinels, and a cast of characters from miniature men to droves of doll-like figures.
Contrary to the show’s title, the works on view seem right at home in Rowe’s new space.
1. “The Nation’s Oldest City,” The Official Website for the City of St. Augustine, October 11, 2015.
2. “European Exploration and Colonization,” Florida Department of State, October 11, 2015.
3. Monya Rowe, interview with the author, September 25, 2015.
The exhibition is open to the public Monday–Wednesday by appointment and Thursday–Sunday from noon–6pm. Rowe will show the work of Ann Toebbe and Larissa Bates at Pulse Miami Beach. Dec. 1-5.
Lily Kuonen is an assistant professor of art and Foundations Coordinator at Jacksonville University in Florida. She is a native of Arkansas, where she was born in the kitchen of her parent’s house.