Through these doors, visitors to the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville visit jousting tournaments in medieval Europe. They travel to the greatest palaces across Asia. The small towns and back roads of rural America. Fanciful wonderlands of flowers. Across the world through perspectives from the Global South rarely presented in the Deep South.
Through these doors, an astounding and spectacular diversity of art forms, makers and perspectives are shown.
I was struck by the multiplicity the Cummer Museum exhibition programming in the last couple of years as I walked through its latest presentation, “The Age of Armor: Treasures from the Higgins Armory Collection at the Worcester Art Museum,” when it opened Friday, October 21. The Higgins Armory Collection is the second largest assemblage of armor in the United States behind only the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Included in the exhibition are a variety of complete full suits of honor straight out of your Knights of the Roundtable imagination.
Only weeks ago, this space housed some of the greatest examples of Asian art ever collected. Prior to that, Folk Art from around America on loan from the Folk Art Museum in New York. Before that, Rebecca Louise Law. Before that Zanele Muholi.
From the ancient to the present day. From England to South Africa. From Edgefield, South Carolina to Vietnam. Ceramics, photography, metal work. Gold, jade, concrete.
Next door to the Cummer’s main exhibition space, a presentation of Florida paintings by Frederick Carl Frieseke is on view. Prior to Frieseke, Cheyenne ledger drawings, an exhibition that touched me deeply, that opened my eyes to a history I was unaware of.
Simultaneous to “Age of Armor,” “Deborah Roberts: I’m” brings one of the world’s most essential contemporary artists to Northeast Florida. A Black woman raised in the South sharing museum space with armor crafted for European nobility. Walking from “Age of Armor” to “I’m” through the temporary “Revolve” exhibition, from one vantage point I could see paintings by Amy Sherald, Titus Kaphar and Roberts at the same time. Three of the leading contemporary artists working today. Three Black artists. Twenty feet behind me hung the Cummers’ Peter Paul Rubens painting.
Art is subjective, that’s one of the things I love most about it. Art fosters an exchange of ideas and perspectives and interpretations. Words and ideas and opinions have always interested me much more than figures and equations and mathematic or scientific certainty.
The Cummer Museum’s exhibitions which I have enjoyed most, the ledger drawings, Roberts, Muholi, will not be the favorites of other visitors if asked to rank them. Wonderful. No encyclopedic museum like the Cummer’s exhibition program should appeal primarily to one audience be that audience Black, white, rich, poor, young, old, connoisseur or neophyte. The incredible breadth of the Cummer Museum exhibition program ensures that over the course of a year or so, everyone will be able to see something they enjoy through these doors.
It is because of the exceptional quality of these exhibitions, the top artists with material on the loan from the most prestigious institutions and collections across the country and the world, that despite its smaller size and location in Jacksonville, outside of the south Florida or Tampa Bay area arts hubs of the state, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens can rightly boast of the finest special exhibition program in the entire state.