The Ringling is a huge building complex that was originally built in 1927 for John Ringling, the owner of a circus empire who was also an avid art collector. But the art lover/entrepreneur, who actually made more money through real estate investment, saw his empire fail after the Great Depression. His art collection and legacy were eventually donated to the University of Florida.
A few words on why I usually love American museums
I grew up and lived most of my life in France. Unlike French museums, American museums are often the result of private collections acquired throughout the 20th century. There is a myriad of small, personal art collections that are usually much less academic and more eclectic than what I was used to before moving here. In the U.S., It’s likely that you will see a lot of original artworks —including European Art— that would intentionally not be on display, or simply not available, in France. For example, at the Ringling, we saw rare early works from Duchamp, way before the Urinal, and an amazing, monumental animal regatta scene from an unknown Renaissance Italian painter. Every piece was just incredibly unusual, from my perspective.
After visiting the museum, we wandered around the property gardens and John Ringling’s mansion, Ca’ d’Zan. It was quite comical for us because we were among the few people under 65 visiting the Ringling on this sunny Monday. We were able to experience the life of a wealthy Florida retiree. They are cute, all wearing similar kind of clothing, with bright & light colors, and prints. It was a social panorama of American prosperity and wealth (not much diverse).
The architecture of the place is an inexplicable mix of different styles, going from Antiquity to Art Deco. It was embodying the tacky architectural style I got used to traveling in Florida for a month.
If you want to visit the Ringling, you should know that it’s a very big complex. We only had a few hours, but I could easily have spent the day strolling around the park and museum. The regular fee is $25 —visit on Mondays to get free admission.