The Best Exhibitions to Discover in Florida this Summer

by Paul Joseph  |  Published May 24, 2023

Away from its sun-kissed beaches, Florida is home to a huge number of respected museums and cultural venues – many of which will be hosting some great exhibitions this summer.

(Photo: Orange County Regional History Center)

Strongly influenced by Latin and Caribbean immigration down the years, Florida’s cultural scene is characterised by a rich diversity that feeds into the many museums dotted across the state and the exhibitions they routinely put on throughout they year. If you’re coming to the Sunshine State this summer and would like to check out any exhibitions during your stay, we’ve picked some of the best to look out for below.

Figurehead: Music & Mayhem in Orlando’s Underground 

Between 1985 and 2001, Orlando concert promoter Jim Faherty and his company Figurehead invigorated the musical landscape in Central Florida. This exhibition tells the story of how Figurehead helped grow the local scene with a focus on underground rock music and the club circuit. Utilising the company’s extensive archive, which is now part of the Orange County Regional History Center’s permanent collection, it showcases an impressive assortment of concert posters that capture the energy and drive of the era, shining a light onto the bands, the clubs, the community and the chaos that made this time in the Orlando area so memorable.

Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando / Through summer 2023

Florida Prize in Contemporary Art

Amy Schissel, Installation view of TransObjectional at Patrick Mikhail Gallery, Montreal, © Amy Schissel (Photo: Courtesy of Maxime Brouillet)

Each year, the Orlando Museum of Art’s curatorial team surveys artists working throughout Florida before inviting 10 to participate in the Florida Prize in Contemporary Art. Created almost a decade ago with the aim of bringing recognition to artists across the state, entrants range from emerging to mid-career artists, all of whom are engaged in exploring significant ideas of art and culture in original and visually exciting ways. The exhibition showcases all of the works produced for the event, which sees the winning artist receive a $20,000 award made possible by the support of local philanthropists Gail and Michael Winn.

Orlando Museum of Art / 3 June – 27 August 2023

Medieval Torture Museum Permanent Collection

(Photo: Medieval Torture Museum)

Fearless visitors can enter the minds of fanatics, madmen, and murderers, and discover the world’s most detailed collection of confinement and torture devices, at this museum that’s not the faint-hearted. Based on historical documents and engravings, among the museum’s permanent exhibit are more than 100 items depicting a variety of torturous scenes from the perspective of both the tormentor and the tormented, each telling the story of the darkest parts of human history. For a lighter experience, the museum also features a Micro Art Collection, which can be viewed separately from the torture collection. www.

Medieval Torture Museum, St. Augustine / Permanent

Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit

In 1973, after being removed for several decades, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse lens was returned to the town. On arrival, volunteers had to learn how to reassemble and preserve the artifact, and in doing so revived the lost arts of Fresnel lens design, restoration, and preservation. In 1993, the Cape Canaveral first order rotating lens was sent to Ponce Inlet for repair and display. A new display space had to be created, and the answer was an exhibit hall specially designed to carry the weight of huge lighthouse optics. This building was named for Ayres Davies, the first mayor of the town. The lens was installed there in 1995, and since that time the collection has expanded to include many examples of Fresnel lens technology including buoy and harbour lights, ship lanterns and hand lanterns. Today, visitors can discover the history of lighthouse illumination, and see the stunning collection of lenses and lanterns, among other important artefacts.

Ponce Inlet Lighthouse / Permanent

Spiders Alive!

(Photo: Florida Museum of Natural History / Courtesy of Peeling Productions)

This interactive, family-friendly exhibition delves into the world of spiders, scorpions and their relatives with more than a dozen live species on display. Visitors can discover the unique traits and characteristics of this diverse group of animals through large touchable models that reveal spider anatomy and their differences from insects while rare fossils — including one that’s 100 million years old — display species from the past. There’s also videos showcasing unique animal behaviours, such as a diving bell spider living under water and a southern black widow spinning silk.

Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville / Through 4 September 2023

The Stranahan House 

(Photo: The Stranahan House)

Built in 1901 by Frank Stranahan, credited as Fort Lauderdale’s founding father, and his wife Ivy Cromartie Stranahan, the area’s first school teacher, Stranahan House is the oldest surviving structure in Broward County,  southeastern Florida, and has served as a trading post, post office, community gathering, and home to the Stranahans. The house is a wood-frame vernacular structure with wide porches and a stunning view of the New River. It was lovingly restored by the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society and the Fort Lauderdale Board of Realtors and opened to the public as a historic house museum in 1984, attracting a steady stream of visitors throughout the year.

Historic Stranahan House, Fort Lauderdale / Permanent

Reclaiming Home: Contemporary Seminole Art

(Photo: Alyssa Osceola (Seminole, b. 2001), Carolyn (detail), 2022. Oil on wood panel, 36 × 36 in. Courtesy of the artist)

Today Florida remains home to a large community of Seminoles, a Native American people who emerged in the state during the 18th century. Featuring a wide range of art by Seminole and mixed-heritage artists, this exhibition marks The Ringling Museum’s first presentation of contemporary art by Native American artists with ancestral, historical, and present-day connections to Florida. Its aim is to serve as an important step towards establishing a meaningful relationship with Florida’s Native American artistic community and provide a fuller understanding of the complexities of issues within the art of the Seminole diaspora.

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota / Through 4 September 2023

Ride On! Historic Bicycles from the Keith Pariani Collection

First developed in Europe in the early nineteenth century, the bicycle took decades of design and engineering to make it safe and convenient for the average rider. The first popular models were high-wheeled and dangerous for unskilled riders because of the frequency of falls. However, with the invention of the “Safety” bicycle, the vehicle became a safer and more popular mode of transportation. By the 1890s, the safety bicycle was widely used in the U.S. for both transportation and recreation. Drawn from the collection of St. Augustine bicycle aficionado Keith Pariani, this exhibition features bicycles selected by Pariani as important examples of design in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century bicycle manufacture.

Lightner Museum, St. Augustine / Through 30 September 2023

American Made: Paintings and Sculptures from the DeMell Jacobsen Collection 

(Photo: John F. Francis (American, 1808-86). Strawberries and Cakes, 1860, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Thomas H. and Diane DeMell Jacobsen PhD Foundation)

Spanning two centuries of American creativity, this exhibition begins with Colonial-era portraits by masters such as Benjamin West and Sarah Miriam Peale, and then moves on to highlight the development of mid-19th-century landscape painting. Visitors will discover works depicting the United States from coast to coast by artists including Thomas Cole and Jasper Francis Copsey, and even a monumental arctic scene by William Bradford. In addition to landscape paintings, the exhibition features still lives and genre scenes — two other types of paintings that became popular in the 19th century – including several enticing images of fruits, flowers, and other delights.

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens / 24 September 2023

Imagined East: Decorative Arts and the Imperial Gaze

Orientalist art and décor swept through the Western world in the late 19th century.  Beautiful objects from, or inspired by, North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia were brought together in the homes of wealthy collectors to signify that one was both well-travelled and well-educated. Featuring a diverse assortment of sculptures, pottery, paintings, prints, furniture and more, this exhibition explores the roots of Orientalism, its appeal and significance as a decorative style, and the cultural impact of the movement.

Henry B. Plant Museum, University of Tampa / Through 20 August 2023

Equine Art : From the Permanent Collection

(Photo: John Nost Sartorius (1759-1828), “Sport and Horse,” 19th Century, Oil on canvas, 28 x 34 in. Gift of Arthur I. Appleton)

Ranging from Eurasian Steppe Bronze Age horse-bridle bits to contemporary works, the Appleton Museum’s equine art collection spans over 3,000 years of history from around the world. Particularly notable is the collection’s wide range of human-horse endeavours, such as riding, hunting, racing and farming. Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition features a selection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and more that show the varying ways that horses have been depicted throughout cultures and history.

Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala / Through 24 September 2023

Taking Pictures: Women of Independent Spirit

This exhibition celebrates the anonymous women who shaped the evolution of vernacular photography during the ‘analog era’ of the late 19th to late 20th century. It charts photography’s momentum across the 20th century as a medium for self expression alongside the expansion of women’s independence. Arranged in constellations, the photographs on display connect through shared gestures, shadow patterns and echoing poses of women belonging to an intersection of race, class, age, and era.

Tampa Museum of Art / Through 8 October 2023

Sandra Ramos: Entropydoscopes

(Photo: Sandra Ramos, Entropydoscopes (detail), 2023. Digital video still. © Sandra Ramos)

Sandra Ramos works in a range of media, including painting, printmaking, collage, and video. As both an artist and independent curator, she is interested in wide-ranging concepts, from cultural identity and migration to social media. For this exhibition, Ramos created light boxes featuring kaleidoscopic videos composed of images personally meaningful to her. Some elements have recognisable details, others are completely distorted. As a result, viewers catch glimpses of the artist’s memories through entropy (a state of disorder), transforming her kaleidoscopic cylinders into channels to an uncertain realm.  

Lowe Art Museum, Coral Gables / 15 June – 8 October 2023

Don Pinder: Eyes on the Island

Born and raised in Key West during the Great Depression, Don Pinder trained as an aerial photographer while serving in the Marine Corps, capturing compelling images over Okinawa and Borneo during WWII. This experience led to jobs at notable Key West newspapers, providing Pinder with a wealth of photographic opportunities – from celebrities to destitute vagabonds. During his long career, he photographed several U.S. Presidents and covered business openings, movie premiers, and more. In the first exhibition devoted exclusively to Pinder’s career in Key West, visitors can enjoy more than 50 black-and-white and colour photographs made during his years documenting the island city’s history and culture.

Key West Museum of Art & History at the Custom House / 14 July – 5 November 2023

Akin: Capturing Human Intimacy and Tenderness

(Photo: Gift of Diane and David Green in honor of our son Lee R. Greene, 2005.19)

Since the medium’s inception, the camera has uniquely captured the delicate bonds between individuals, both within and outside the family unit. From 19th-century ambrotype portraits to posed family portraits and abstracted figurations that evoke companionship, this exhibition highlights the photographer’s desire to document our innermost relations. Featuring approximately 30 photographs from the Norton Museum of Art’s permanent collection, spanning over 100 years, this exhibition traces the various ways intimacy manifests in our interpersonal relationships.

Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach / Through 23 July 2023

Fanatics – Thomas Edison, Connie Mack and Spring Training in Fort Myers

(Photo: Edison & Ford Winter Estates)

The Edison & Ford Winter Estate have partnered with the Connie Mack III family to create a baseball exhibit, showcasing original artifacts and photographs. The exhibit explores the baseball connection with Thomas Edison and Connie Mack during the early 1900s and also traces the long history of spring training in Fort Myers and how every team that trained here longer than two years won a World Series pennant. Visitors can see how baseball evolved from the 19th century to the present and the sport’s major impact in Fort Myers. Many artifacts related to Connie Mack and his Hall of Fame players are on display.

Edison & Ford Winter Estates, Fort Myers / Through 2028

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii

(Photo: Self-Portrait, by Takuichi F…20” W, Private collection.jpg)

Takuichi Fujii was 50 years old when war broke out between the U.S. and Japan. In a climate of increasing fear and propaganda, he became one of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry on the Pacific Coast forced to leave their homes and live in geographically isolated incarceration camps. Confronting such circumstances, Fujii began an illustrated diary that spans the years from his forced removal in 1942 to the closing of his camp in Minidoka in 1945. This exhibition showcases many of the ink drawings from the diary, including detailed images of the incarceration camps, and the inmates’ daily routines and pastimes, all serving as a remarkable visual record of this important time in American history.

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens / 6 May – 6 October 2023