Getting to Know You: Matthew McLendon

By Megan McDonald July 1, 2011

Dr. Matthew McLendon, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, at the Ringling Museum.

We should all be glad that Matthew McLendon’s come to town. The Ringling Museum’s 34-year-old associate curator of modern and contemporary art is responsible not only for overseeing all aspects of the museum’s permanent collection from 1850 onward, but also curating new exhibits—such as the blockbuster Beyond Bling, the celebration of hip-hop art and culture that’s received—and continues to receive—accolades from the community. (Oh, and did we mention that he’s only lived in Sarasota for a year and a half? We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.)

We sat down in the Ringling galleries with McLendon to get the scoop on why he loves his job so much, his favorite pieces in the museum and what he feels are the best parts of our city.

What brought you to the Ringling Museum? The job! I did my undergrad at Florida State University with degrees in art history and music, then I did my M.A. and Ph.D. at the Courtauld Institute of Art, which is part of the University of London. While I was in Europe I worked for Tate Britain, and after I finished my Ph.D. I came back to the States, taught a little bit, and then took a job as the curator of Rollins College’s museum. I was there for two and a half years, and then came here—it’s a great opportunity to work at the state art museum, and I’m a native Floridian, so it’s really an honor for me.

What’s the best part of your job? There are two best parts—I can’t separate them because even though they’re different, I love both. One, of course, is the interaction with the object, which is why I chose museum work over teaching—I really love being with the actual objects.

But then the other part is that I love my interaction with the public, because I do love to teach, and I get to do that here at the museum and through teaching graduate seminars at FSU.

McLendon with a piece from the Beyond Bling exhibit.

Proudest work-related moment? I’m super proud of Beyond Bling, the fact that it has been so positively embraced by the community and the fact that so many young people are coming to see it. At the opening night party—the hip-hop lounge—there were more than 600 people from age 21 all the way into their 70s. It was really fantastic. Anytime you can have breakdancing in the shadow of the David, I think you should go for it.

Favorite piece(s) in the museum? I would say Salomé by Robert Henri. It’s so beautifully painted and she’s so exotic and erotic. And then, also, the James Turrell Skyspace that will be opening in the next year—even though that’s not completed yet, it’s going to be pretty spectacular.

What’s the best thing about living in Sarasota? The absolute unbelievable natural beauty, which even as a native Floridian I had forgotten about. It is truly like living in paradise.

What do you like to do when you’re not at the museum? I love food, so I cook a lot for friends and go out to eat a lot. I love the bar at Epicure; [bartender] Alessandro is an outstanding mixologist who is as adept at mixing complicated and exotic creations as he is at serving classics like my favorite, a gin martini. The pizza is outstanding, too. I feel like I’m back living in Italy.

And I love hanging out downtown. Having lived in Europe for a number of years, I’m partial to sidewalk café life. Anywhere I can get that vibe, I’m happy. I’m also rediscovering my childhood love of the beach—yes, Siesta is stunning, but Lido is closer to me, practically as beautiful, and there are times when it’s like my own private beach.

Something people might not know about me is: I’ve studied yoga for about 20 years, and one of my goals is to get my certification and teach yoga one day.

Something this town needs is: I think Sarasota is a pretty complete package with its sun, sand, opera and soon-to-be Turrell Skyspace. But that said, I’m a dancin’ fool, so a few more dance clubs would be great. I just went to the Loft Ristobar for the Pop Rocks party and danced for four hours straight. I never knew ankles could hurt.

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