By Kingsley Guy
Bonnie Clearwater believes a blossoming of culture is about to take place in Fort Lauderdale, and she’s excited to be a part of it. Among her goals as the new director and chief curator of the Museum of Art | Fort Lauderdale: Gain international acclaim for the institution, a feat she accomplished in her former post as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.
“South Florida’s art world just got bigger,” she says. “We can have an entire Gold Coast of culture, with Fort Lauderdale as its hub.”
The key to success will be leveraging the museum’s existing assets. These include its under-appreciated CoBrA and William Glackens collections, and Clearwater plans on getting them the international recognition she believes they deserve.
The post-World War II, avant-garde CoBrA movement drew its name from the home cities of its founders: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The artists drew inspiration from the artwork of primitive cultures, and embraced experimentation and freedom of form and color in creating their work.
“In Europe, they know the importance of the CoBrA Movement, but it’s not well understood in this country,” Clearwater says.
Glackens, a founder of the Ashcan School, ranks as one of America’s premier painters. Known as America’s Renoir, his style ranged from Realism to Impressionism. In 1991, Glackens’ son, Ira, bequeathed a huge collection of his father’s paintings and sketches to the museum.
Working with other institutions, Clearwater is putting together definitive CoBrA and Glackens exhibitions that will open in Fort Lauderdale before moving on to other venues. This will create a buzz internationally, she believes, and let the art world know that things are starting to stir in Fort Lauderdale. This, in turn, will generate greater interest in the museum from local benefactors and patrons, tourists, and artists themselves.
“Get the museum that kind of stature and everything else will fall into place,” Clearwater says. She also notes the museum’s affiliation with Nova Southeastern University and its AutoNation Academy of Art + Design are huge assets that will help make the museum a serious contributor to artistic development and scholarship.
Clearwater recognizes she has a jewel in the museum structure. “It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in South Florida. One of my goals is to make more people aware of what we have here.”
Designed by the late, renowned architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, the building offers a striking façade and flowing galleries that make it unique in the region. Among its features are an auditorium and a spacious entrance that houses a bookstore/gift shop and a cafe.
Clearwater plans on making the museum an important gathering spot in the downtown though lectures and other events, as well as through a personal touch. She intends to have lunch regularly at the cafe, inviting people to join with her in stimulating conversation on art and other subjects.
A salon society developing at the end of Las Olas Boulevard? Why not? Gertrude Stein accomplished it in Paris.