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You should go ta’ Sarasota

The Ringling MuseumMetal, cloth and human hair were just some of the mediums used to construct the strange and provocative pieces from the Cuba Avant-Garde: Contemporary Cuban Art exhibit from the Farber Collection. The collection, presented by The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota from Oct. 6 – Dec. 30, marks the beginning of the museum’s shift toward offering more contemporary art to its visitors.

The exhibit featured 56 works by 40 Cuban-born artists who succeeded in challenging the established international artistic and political discourse with ironic and critical artwork. Every piece was created after Cuba’s resurgence in artistic production and political openness in the 1980s.

Fernando Rodriguez Falcon’s “Sueno Nupcial” features five carved and painted hexagon wood panels depicting the fictional wedding of Fidel Castro to the patron saint of Cuba, La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Each scene was created in an intentionally na’ve and rustic manner, ironically evoking an “authentic” folk history.

The artistic team Ponjuan-Rene Francisco created a striking triptych painting featuring two iconic worker images. Divided into three parts, the painting is reminiscent of a billboard. “Outside Cuba Inside,” its title, lies in the center. The left side shows the image of a Soviet woman working in the fields – borrowed from Malevich – and the right side depicts “Rosie the Riveter” – borrowed from Norman Rockwell – with an American flag in the background. The right side of this piece was done entirely with a spatula instead of a paintbrush, creating a basket weave effect. Both of these iconic women from outside countries have exerted influence on the people, land and labor of Cuba.

“El Segundo Viage de Marco Polo” is an aggressive abstract painting by Flavio Garciandia de Oraa that transforms the Communist symbols of hammers and sickles into glittering gold forms that travel upward like vines over a red background splattered with black, gold and white paint.

One of the most current works is “La Patera” by Armando Marino. Painted in 2002, the painting is done in watercolors and shows an American vintage Buick powered by a multitude of human feet. It’s absurd and humorous, but it’s also a poignant reminder of the chronic economic hardship Cuba has endured.

Fernandez also created a color photograph. Its title translates as “The body of silence, Untitled #2,” and depicts a scene from the artist’s performance, in which she makes corrections in an official history book. Frightened by the consequences of her actions, she attempts to erase her marks by licking the text, leading to her consumption of the pages. In Fernandez’s photograph she is surrounded by bold red lamb meat – symbolizing submission – as she devours the pages, an action that reflects the censorship of history and ideas.

Every piece of art in the Cuba Avant-Garde exhibit was distinctive, and the display as a whole allowed visitors to explore Cuban culture. -Christine Makar

The Bodies ExhibitLooking at a freestanding, unenclosed human body with its skin removed to reveal muscles and internal organs, it’s hard to imagine that these very same organs are at work within your own skin.

Bodies Exhibit patrons must remind themselves that the displays aren’t just surreal – they’re real. The brain you’re looking at belonged to a man. He thought with it and loved with it, and the perfectly preserved lump on the left side is the cancer that killed him.

The exhibits are preserved with several advanced techniques, but the most striking ones (the free-standing, full body displays) are prepared with a technique called polymer preservation. The water is removed from the body with a chemical called acetone, then the acetone is evaporated and replaced with silicon rubber. It can take up to a year to prepare an entire body, and the result is breathtaking.

One corner of the exhibit features a woman with her abdomen cut open to reveal the 4-month-old fetus inside. There’s no glass around the display. If it weren’t against the rules you could touch her. Aside from being incredibly informative, the exhibit hits you full-force with your own mortality and humanity. You walk away from it aware of your own bones – aware of the fact that you’re made of meat.

Other displays show the network of arteries in an arm, a kidney and a liver. The intricacy is incredible. There’s nothing else there but the arteries in a perfect outline of a forearm, hand and fingers.

In a room devoted to fetal development, you see tiny humans encased in glass and silicon at four weeks, six weeks and eight weeks old. Special dyes have been injected so you can see their bones. There’s a sign at the front of this room warning away the weak of stomach and faint of heart.

The exhibit is located at G. Wiz, a museum of science in Sarasota. Adult admission is $22, with a discount for college students. -Keith McGee

El Greco CaféIn the heart of Sarasota’s downtown area you’ll find some of the best Greek food in the city. El Greco Café is family-owned and is the oldest Greek restaurant in Sarasota. The owners take pride in their attentive service and classic Greek and Mediterranean dishes. If the Greek music and unique décor don’t keep you entertained, the glass windows provide good people-watching. El Greco Café is perfect for a big family dinner out or simply some authentic Greek desserts. -Jenni Kaye

Simon’sLocated in an understated part of town, Simon’s Coffee House aims to serve the eclectic consumer in Sarasota who could be anyone from an artsy vegan to a middle-aged food connoisseur. The people who frequent Simon’s are not the only thing that varies – the menu is constantly being updated and the specials board is perpetually filled with everything from organic soups and salads to Simon’s homemade pastries. -Jenni Kaye

Ophelia’sOphelia’s casual waterfront restaurant has been a local favorite for nearly 17 years with its evolving menu of mixed cuisine. Its distinctive flare comes from the unique blend of American cuisine with those native to countries all over the world. Only the freshest Florida produce and seafood are served within the restaurant’s glass walls or on the deck where diners often experience the occasional dolphin swimming by. Ophelia’s is accessible by land and boat. -Jenni Kaye