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Sam Gilliam: Selections On View at The Ringling

Sarasota Magazine:

Gilliam works from local collectors are in the spotlight for this exhibition.

Sam Gilliam, St. Albans, 1976, silkscreen on paper. Collection of Ellen Berman
Sam Gilliam, St. Albans, 1976, silkscreen on paper. Collection of Ellen Berman

Sam Gilliam has created work in a variety of media--collage, prints, his well-known draped paintings, plywood and plastic to name a few--but for many he’s primarily known for his association with the Washington Color School, a group of Washington D.C., area artists who developed their abstract art from color field painting in the 1950s and 1960s.

You can get a feel for the breadth and depth of Gilliam’s work in a new exhibition at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, one that includes pieces created as far back as 1974 and as recently as 2010. Interestingly, the exhibition, co-curated by museum executive director Steven High and collections curator Marian Carpenter, draws upon work from local Gilliam collectors only, some of whom formerly lived in the D.C. area and became acquainted with Gilliam there. With almost 20 pieces on view, the show is roughly divided half and half between unique originals and prints.

Due to Covid-19, the curators were unable to work in the usual way of visiting collectors’ homes to examine the pieces, instead working initially from photos of varying quality. High admits the process was challenging, but viewers won’t be able to tell the difference.

Gilliam, who’s 87, will be honored with a career retrospective in 2022 at the Smithsonian Institution Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in D.C. You have the chance to to see the Ringling show, which High says tries to “represent the duration of Gilliam’s career and key periods in his creative life,” through Aug. 15.