Mindy and Michael Solomon: The stranger the better

Mindy and Michael Solomon: The stranger the better

click to enlarge Tip Toland's "Milk for the Butter Thief." - jamesostrand.com
Tip Toland's "Milk for the Butter Thief."

If Mindy Solomon's name sounds familiar, it's likely because the Dunedin art collector launched a sophisticated and adventurous private gallery in downtown St. Petersburg almost a year ago — so adventurous that plastic bubble wrap lines the windows of the gallery for its latest exhibit, Undressing the Feminine, a beguiling deconstruction of gender in photography and ceramic art. As anyone who has visited her home can attest, Solomon's private collection, which reflects her role as a champion of contemporary ceramic sculpture, is just as eye-popping — and it's everywhere: lined up on shelves, perched on tabletops and atop custom-built pedestals, even secreted away in drawers.

The home, which Solomon and husband Michael share with three teenaged children (a fourth attends the University of Florida), evinces her twin passions for psychologically intense figurative sculpture and comparatively minimal vessels coated in luscious glazes. On a pedestal behind a couch in the family's living room, a stunningly realistic sculpture of an old woman by Seattle artist Tip Toland appears to nap, her ceramic skin gently sagging and mottled with freckles. Nearby, three vases by Brother Thomas Benzason, a Benedictine monk known for his work as a potter, show off distinctive glazes.

"Michael and I are always attracted to the strangest object in the room," Solomon says.

A longtime art teacher, Solomon's collecting reflects her philosophy that part of the value of art lies in its ability to engage the imagination. (Hence, the more unusual the work the better, in her eyes.) In the home's family room, a large-scale image by South African photographer Pieter Hugo shows a Nigerian street performer in costume with a domesticated hyena. In the foyer, a pair of fantastical birds constructed out of found metal objects by St. Petersburg artist Paul Eppling invites visions of an alternate world filled with unique creatures. Lucky for us, that devotion to art as a source of pleasure and wonder extends from Solomon's personal collection into her gallery.

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