The ArtsZipper Blog

Saint Louis Contemporary Arts Museum a True Treat for Patrons

If you're at all interested in art, hot social and ethical topics of the day, or just having your mind wracked with powerful questions then you'll want to check out three exhibits currently featured at the Saint Louis CAM (Contemporary Arts Museum). These extraordinarily intriguing artists address everything from perceptions of African American life, universal themes of violence and lust, and the advancement of technology. A day here will leave you both slightly confounded and truly inspired.

In the Front Room of CAM is found an installation piece by Kerry James Marshall entitled "Garden of Delights" which explores the history of race through a mock garden style spread. Chicago native, Marshall is primarily known for his paintings, but this 3D immersion takes a look at the realities versus perceptions of African American life. The garden displays images running the gambit of a typical day in Chicago. A photo of Marshall's kindergarten teacher sprouts from one flower bloom while the graven image of murdered Black Panther member, Fred Hampton, protrudes from another stem. Flaming Cheeto bags scatter the tiled walk way done in the colors of the Pan-African flag suggesting the complexity and nuanced life of Black America. If this concept intrigues you, then be sure to also see Marshall's "Watts 1963" on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum when the new Modern and Contemporary Wing opens June 29, 2013.

Lari Pittman's "A Decorated Chronology" graces the main gallery with a focus on sexuality, desire, and violence in the human experience. Pittman uses his work to make social commentary at political touchstones. Life as a gay American in Los Angeles at the onset of the AIDS outbreak in the late 80s and early 90s is especially depicted through Pittman's paintings. Earlier sign work in his career birthed a certain style in his works that is eye-catching, bold, and altogether wonderful.

Strangely interesting are his series of paintings created post 9/11. Mostly conceptual, these paintings are disturbing and starkly contrast earlier works. Regardless of topic, hybridity of high and low culture is seamless in his output. Pittman really produces mystifying works that require you to slow down and absorb them entirely.

Mika Taanila's "Tomorrow's New Dream" is an unusual exhibit focusing on the underlying question of what happens when humans push themselves too far technologically. Taanila follows the advent of the digital and the outdating of other media through history. The installations Six Day Run, Twilight, and The Most Electrified Town in Finland are all video projections on one, two, and three channels at a time depicting various events and how they contribute to the answer of this exhibit's overarching question. The sounds and sights of Taanila's work are truly unique.

Look for other upcoming events surrounding Taanila's exhibit at CAM in Grand Center. A performance by St. Louis musicians in response to the film The Most Electrified Town in Finland, a panel discussion, and two other short films by Mika will be shown at the gallery in the coming weeks.

Hours: 11-6 Wed / 11-9 Thu & Fri / 10-5 Sat & Sun

3750 Washington Blvd St. Louis, MO 63108

(314) 535-4660


Travel the World in Kodachrome with Harry & Edna

As an avid thrifter, I am no stranger to sifting through bins and boxes of someone else's things.  I get giddy upon finding a treasure after hours of searching.  Although usually my hunt ends there.

Things were different for Jeff Phillips.  While visiting his parents in St. Charles, he bought a box of 1,100 photographs at an estate sale.  The collection ended up being mostly pictures of an older couple traveling the world in the 1950's.  The images made him smile, laugh, and struck up some serious curiosity.  He started a Facebook page called "Is This Your Mother?".  The idea behind it was this: if one image was posted on the page every day, how long would it take for someone to recognize their mother or father? 

It turns out that the couple had no children; but that is what makes this story so special.  As the "social media effect" spread, people commented under the photos with fictional accounts of the couple's exploits and reminisced over when they had vacationed in the very same places way back when.

Eventually, people started sending Jeff private messages with hints that they had noticed in the photos, such as a license plate number or hotel.  Jeff started to call them the search party.  Then, a mere three weeks into the hunt, a woman from Washington state emailed him with an answer.  Their names were Harry August Grossman and Edna Annette Lehr.  Edna died in 1983, and Harry passed away three years later.

"Lost and Found: The Search for Harry and Edna" is currently gracing the walls of the Foundry Art Centre.  I attended the exhibit and artist talk last weekend and was intrigued the entire time.  Although the funky images and captions displayed alongside are humorous, curator Jeff Phillips explained that he wants people to take away much more than laughs.  He posed this question to the audience: does technology help or hinder the preservation of our memories? And in the age of smart phones, are our images really lasting?  Someone could find a box of photos from the 1950's and piece together a whole story from them, but it is hard to imagine the same happening with any images captured during this era. 


Visit Foundry Art Centre here


Exhibit Hours:


Tuesday-Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Friday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunday-12 p.m.-4 p.m.


The exhibit is free and runs through June 21.



Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night

Witness an international exhibit right here in St. Louis that will leave you both enriched and speechless.  The Lantern Festival at Missouri Botanical Garden hosts over 20 colorful, enormous lantern sets.  The detailed, outdoor lanterns are created from silk, steel, porcelain and other materials that come to life once the sun sets. 

Chinese culture is celebrated throughout the exhibition by recreating an ancient tradition that is often only found in Asia, dating back over 2,000 years.  The different lantern sets each have their own exclusive story that represents a part of ancient Chinese tradition.   

The Magic by Night opens at 6 p.m. which leaves you plenty of time to visit the Food Court which offers Chinese fare ranging from delicious crab Rangoon to fried rice and much more.  If you are lucky enough to find a cool evening to go in which it is not sweltering hot, take the time to find a table to sit at and thoroughly enjoy your food.  If shopping is your hobby, you will be right at home at the Lantern Festival Bazaar.  The Bazaar offers Asian merchandise and souvenirs that cater to every age and interest.

There are nightly stage shows at the outdoor Cohen Amphitheater and indoor Shoenberg Theater including Sand Drawing, the ancient Chinese tradition of sand animation and the ChenLong Troupe, which includes a juggler, acrobatic performers, and the ancient Chinese art of Bian Lian (face-changing).  The ChenLong Troupe performance will leave you astonished.  Watching a juggler lie on her back as she uses her feet to quickly juggle a large pot is not something you see everyday.  The acrobats' physical strength and flexibility is visibly apparent when you watch them lift each other and bend in unthinkable ways with such ease. 

Take time to stop and feel like a kid again while making  a wish at the Wishing Tree and Wishing Well, both significant items in a traditional lantern festival.  Numerous traditional artisans are also on site creating one of a kind, unique works of art including seal engraving, straw pictures, charcoal portrait drawings and many more.

At 8 p.m. the magic happens, the lanterns are illuminated and radiate throughout the garden.  As you walk through the garden and admire each illuminated lantern set, you can read the story behind it in the provided guide or off of the on-site description.    My personal favorite due to the complexity of the lights and the overwhelming size, Heavenly Temple, was structured after a Beijing Heavenly Temple from 1420.  Other exceptional lanterns such as the Four-Faced Buddha that blinks and shines and the Porcelain Dragon that blows out smoke as it moves its head from side to side are breathtaking. 

The Lantern Festival: Art by Day, Magic by Night is an exhibition that you truly do not want to miss!

The exhibition runs through August 19th at the Missouri Botanical Garden.  For exhibit hours and ticket information visit:

Check Out the Inspirational Exhibit , Art by Children of Artists


Immediately upon entering the gallery Art by Children of Artists, you are greeted with unique, creative works of art produced by local, young minds.  One of the first displays of artwork, Cat Town, contains over twenty pictures of drawn cats mixed with a few, real life pictures.  A puzzle depicting a picture of a cat is also available to piece together.  The main focus of this display is a large, dry erase board that has a spotted bunny staring at a cat who has a carrot resting on its' tail.  Right away, you can tell it is artwork created by a child.  Not because of the complexity of the artwork, but because of the endless amount of creativity that is visible.  Not only are the cats in Cat Town each presented in different settings, but they are also different colors, wearing different clothes, and have names such as Mr. George and Mrs. Georgina.

The gallery contains work from over 16 local children whose parents are active in the art community here in St. Louis.  Growing up with parents who are active in the arts has shaped and influenced their lives everyday since birth.  The children artists presented in this gallery range in age, with the youngest being two years old. 

Each child artist brings something completely different and distinct to the gallery.  The artwork ranges from pictures of cats and dogs to insects, aliens, monsters, family, people and even Japanese cartoon characters.  There are paintings, drawings and 3-D artwork such as wooden boxing figures and squishy sock toy people. 

After viewing the gallery, I was intrigued at how the artwork was so raw and real.  Looking at the different pieces of artwork makes you realize exactly how open and unbiased young children are.    At such a young age, they have beliefs and ideas that have not been influenced by many outside factors yet.  Considering how these children's parents are present and active in the art community also makes you ponder how that has formed and shaped their artistic abilities.

Art by Children of Artists will leave you inspired and delighted!  You can visit Art by Children of Artists now until Saturday September 22, 2012 at the Sheldon Art Galleries.  This event is free and open to the public.


For more information: 

(314) 533-9900

Broadway's "Rock of Ages" Melts Faces for Two More Nights Only

Lonny and the Cast of Rock of Ages (Justin Colombo and Company). Photo by Kate Egan


Rock of Ages' narrator, who is inexplicably an hilarious impersonation of Jack Black, opens with: "Look at the person sitting next to you. No, not the person you came with, the other one." I dutifully smile and nod facetiously at the older stranger next to me, who does the same toward me. "By the end of this show," he continues, "you will be making out."

I chuckled and turned back to the guy hogging the other armrest just in time to see him freeze and visibly balk. He left after intermission. I tried not to take it personally--but there was no chance I was leaving, Jack Black--I mean Lonny--promised to melt our faces off. Besides I was still a little confused: if I am at a rock concert why am I sitting in a velvet seat next to someone who doesn't want to make out with me? And if I'm at a musical why is my face being melted off?

It was difficult at first to know how to respond to the huge performance on stage. Throughout the night they played a compilation of every mixtape you ever made. Laughter from the crowd began mere bars into each song as we all recognized which it would be, and how the plot was being built from the stories of those familiar power ballads.

Lest my confusion be confused with lack of enthusiasm, friends who know me will recognize this show had me at Mr. Big's "To Be With You."

As it goes on, the show plays with the concept of just what is a musical. At one point the narrator explains to one of the characters why things are going the way they are going by producing a copy of "Script-writing for Dummies." They don't just break the fourth wall, they trample it and then throw some of the bricks at you.

The sight gags are to die for. The wine coolers, the sitting-in-chairs-backwards, Arby's (which I never knew was an 80s phenomenon), the dance moves (they did not forget the Roger Rabbit), and finally, the death knell of Rock rung in by boy bandz. It's all there.

Remember when crossword clues got easier for you? Like, instead of clues like "Levantine coffee cup" (?!), there was "Wack, in hip-hop." Or remember when Trivial Pursuit Genus II (or better yet, III) came out and you finally understood how people were answering questions without having a doctorate?

Rock of Ages is like that for musicals. It's not that the structure of the plot or the expertise of the performance (or music) are less than the classic musicals of the past, it's that it's a musical where the frame of reference is finally totally ours. It's in moments like this that I realize that all of those who count themselves children of the 80s are finally adults--at least by the default of the march of time--and we're ready to really laugh about it.

Surprisingly, no one came dressed in their 80s finery. The show goes on tonight and tomorrow night (Sat and Sun, Feb 4 & 5) as part of The Fabulous Fox's Broadway Series. Do it.



Danielle Sommer

Last Chance to See Ensemble Español’s Spanish Dance Theatre at The Touhill Tonight

Spanish Dance

The electricity began from moment one of the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance performance Friday evening at The Touhill. With furrowed brows, chins raised and eyes cast downward in concentration, heeled shoes called out, "Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat." And with the confidant flip of a ruffled skirt, the women charged, elbows forward, "Rat-a-tat-a-tat-tat, Ha!" In response, coat-tails were flung backward to reveal the men's hands pridefully--nobly--ensconced on the hips of their high-waisted pants. Their collective heels hit the floor in a progressively faster and more complex display as the dancers' grace resolved into a puffed-chest freight-train of flamenco rhythm.

The chemistry between the dancers was palpable. Dark passion and flirty charm exchanged equally as dancers circled each other, their moves culminating in arms tossed succinctly and triumphantly in the air before resuming another impossibly beautiful combination. A rhythm that was double-timed was--seemingly beyond human capability--quadrupled. As if the energetic dancers were not (literally) breathtaking enough, less than twenty minutes into the two-and-a-half hour performance, two Spanish guitarists took the rear-stage in silhouette and the most wonderfully gravelly, mournful, haunting traditional singer you could hope for turned the fiery performance into an out and out conflagration.

St. Louis audiences have been known to treat the final curtain as a starter-pistol for a pedestrian drag-race to the parking lot. This was far from the case last night. The entire room leaped to it's feet to applaud, and whistled and howled until the stage lights fell again and the house lights illuminated. In the lobby afterwards, I passed an elderly man delivering coffee to his companion with a jaunty "rat-a-tat" of his own heels and a tickled expression on his face. There was a ripple of warm chuckles from those who passed. I think we all kind of wanted to do that.

I'd advise The Touhill get some safety-belts in preparation for tonight's performance. Members of the audience were on the edge of their seats for so long last night, I was afraid some were in danger of falling off. Saturday's evening performance is the company's last for this show. Run--do not walk--to the box office to snag a ticket. It's the best night of performance available in town and out.




(Danielle Sommer)

Adrian Kellard's Meditations on Healing- Now through December 11


It's easy for time and space to fall away in Adrian Kellard's "The Learned Art of Compassion" exhibit. During my visit to the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) at St. Louis University last week, I entered the exhibit on a clear autumn day and was surprised to see the sun setting as I left.  

 "The Learned Art of Compassion" commemorates two important artistic and social milestones: the twentieth anniversary of the artists' death and the thirtieth anniversary of the identification of the HIV virus that causes AIDS. As an ambitious artist gaining international acclaim in the 1980's, Kellard's life was tragically cut short at the age of 32 because of complications due to AIDS.  Kellard was a New York native who left his working class background to study art at The State University of New York (SUNY) and to later receive training under a celebrated artist in his program. His work tells the story of his encounter with success, illness, and spirituality.

What I love about Kellard's style is that his art is practical. Almost every one of his works serves a useful function: a calendar-themed privacy screen, a decorative table, a prayer vigil with a built-in clock. Kellard's installations are not only captivating in their confident play with colors (blood reds, kelp greens, bumblebee yellows); they are also surprisingly hopeful. I forget that these murals and carvings are made by the hands of a man suffering from AIDS.

Drawing inspiration from his working class background and his academic study of German Expressionist printmakers, Kellard's work is an expose of "high" and "low" art. Themes of transcendent religious experience are rendered with hardware store materials like pine wood and latex paint, vestiges of his low-income background. In the same way, Kellard makes the divinity of the Christian tradition accessible by portraying it with a style that quotes pop culture icons.

I appreciate how Kellard's work rethinks the humanity of Christ. We witness Christ's sorrows and his joys, his good days and his bad days in carefully crafted woodcarvings. We also experience Kellard's own process of healing and how intensely he relied on the mercy of Christ. In his largest installation "Healing, Learned Art of Compassion" the face of Christ resembles that of someone with AIDS. His eyes are sunken in. He looks grey with illness. In this practice of empathy, Kellard sees himself as someone both broken and sanctified, sick and well.

When you go to see "The Learned Art of Compassion," you will be blessed by the honest storytelling of these works. Time spent in the exhibition leaves the viewer with a renewed sense of what it means to be well, and hopefully, a lesson on how to learn compassion.  

Regular museum hours are 11 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free, though there is a suggested donation of $5 or $1 for students and children. Call (314) 977-7170 or visit the MOCRA web site for more information.


Photo: Adrian Kellard, St. Francis screen, 1985.
Latex on wood with hinges. Collection of Antonia Lasicki and
William Devia, Niskayuna, NY.

"Monet's Water Lilies": Now Until January 22 at the St. Louis Art Museum

When I was twelve years old, my father and I took a bus through the countryside outside of Paris to spend the day in the quaint village of Givereny where Claude Monet lived and painted.  We crossed the same rickety wood planks that inspired his Japanese bridge paintings, lunched on cheese and baguettes alongside little garden paths, and passed through the same threshold of the house where Monet and his family lived for over forty years.

Seeing the Saint Louis Art Museum's new exhibit "Monet's Water Lilies" refreshed in my mind the wonder of that day, and also unleashed a new, informed fascination with the life and work of the Impressionist painter. Upon entering the exhibit, guests are greeted by Monet himself as captured in rare footage from 1915. Shot with grainy, black and white film, the silent and serene observation of Monet at his painting stool (brush in hand, dressed in a white, crisp suit, smoking a cigarette) offers the kind of intimacy with the artist rarely seen in feature exhibits.  Monet looks tender, grandfatherly and kind, and perhaps this kind of introduction readies the viewer for an even more personal engagement with a world-renowned work.

The main event of "Monet's Water Lilies" is the famous triptych (or three-panel series), "Agapanthus." Named after the African Lilly, the painting once featured an Agapanthus plant, which Monet ultimately painted out. From the time of Monet's death until thirty years later, "Agapanthus" was stored in Monet's studios and largely ignored. It wasn't until the late fifties that the triptych was purchased by three institutions: the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City and the Cleveland Museum of Art. SLAM's momentous exhibit is the first time the three sections have been united since.

In the central room of the exhibition, a comfortable stretch of seating runs the length of the entire triptych and invites guests to take a seat and get lost in the Givereny landscape. For a painting absent of a horizontal line, this work achieves incredible dimension while working in a flat space. The gentle movement in color drifts from reflections of sky, to lily pads, to the vague point of shore. Guests whisper, a woman cups her face in her hand, and a group of students relish in the quiet romance of getting to know a man by the strokes of a brush: these are the small glories of "Monet's Water Lilies."

See the exhibit from now until January 22, 2012. SLAM is offering a series of classes and workshops centered on Monet's work from now until January 22, 2012. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, $6 for children 6 to 12, free for children younger than 6, free to Members every day, and free to all on Fridays. An audio tour accompanies the exhibition and is included in the price of $8 and $10 tickets. Audio tours are available on Fridays for $3. Purchase tickets at

The Certainty of Beauty in "Precarious Worlds"



From now until January 9, 2012, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum will showcase "Precarious Worlds: Contemporary Art from Germany," one of my favorite exhibitions of the year.  The collection is a thoughtful look at the social and cultural responses to a digitized, globalized, and standardized modern era. "Precarious Worlds" tells the story of the period after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War as Germany reimagines itself in light of a new political landscape. Just as much a history lesson as an art exhibition, guests of the Kemper will get a feel for the German identity in the '90s to the present.

When I went to see "Precarious Worlds," I was amazed by the range of expression within the exhibition. Each work deals with the tension between reality and fantasy with unexpected and unique technique.  Wolfgang Tilmans' photographs, for instance, challenge what we expect from enlarged photography by blowing up a standard-sized image to abstract, dreamy proportions. I really love the artist's approach in making "Silver 71." He creates a photo without a camera, pushing photosensitive paper through a processor to capture the imprints left by dirt and residue in the machine. His work is technically a photo, although it comes off looking more like a painting.

I watched in amusement as a family of five (baby in tow!) approached Corinne Wasmuht's "Llanganuco Falls," a dreamscape of inverted waterfalls and psychedelic pastels. The father turned to his darling, polka-dotted daughters: "What's going on here?" The urbane twelve year old with feathers in her hair spoke up: "For me, some of them look like waterfalls upside down." She hesitated. "I can't really explain what I see. But it's beautiful."

In a lot of ways, the experience of seeing "Precarious Worlds" on Community Day was the perfect rendering of exactly what the artists were getting at: rethinking reality with childlike imagination. I love that children seem to understand the secrets of these pieces with incredible intuition (perhaps more so than their musing parents!) They pick up on the adult issues (the pain of war, feelings of uncertainty, loss) but also celebrate the quiet mystery of the exhibit with sweet, innocent remarks.

"Precarious Worlds" is free and open to the public from September 9, 2011 to January 9, 2012. The Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum is located on the campus of Washington University. For more information, call (314) 935-4523 or visit

Image caption:  Corinne Wasmuht, Llanganuco Falls, 2008. Oil on wood, 117 1/4 x 153 1/2". Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University purchase with funds from the David Woods Kemper Memorial Foundation, 2011.

September 9: Five Museums, Five Exhibition Openings

To improve accessibility to the five exhibition openings, the galleries are teaming up to provide a shuttle to connect the Kemper and the Steinberg Gallery at Washington University with the three featured galleries in the Grand Center District. Admission to all five galleries is free, as is the shuttle.

Getting Started
With public receptions are at different times, the smart money is on starting at the Grand Center District. There is an excellent selection of restaurants is within walking distance of the museums.

Bruno David Gallery
The opening reception at the Bruno David Gallery begins at 5 p.m. and features works by four artists: Leslie Laskey (also featured at the Steinberg gallery) - "S.E.N.T.:Security Envelopes Now Tampered;" Kelley Johnson: "Works on Paper Series;" "MoPA (Museum of Pocket Art): Retrospective;" and William Morris: "Atraxia."

Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
The exhibition generating the most buzz is Reflections of the Buddha at the Pulitzer. The exhibit brings together images of the Buddha from different periods and different parts of Asia.  It opens at 5 p.m. with a Buddist chant at 6 p.m.  Emily Pulitzer and senior curator Francesca Herndon-Consagra will make opening remarks at 6:30 p.m.

Contemporary Art Museum
Australian artist David Noonan has his first US solo next door at the Contemporary Art Museum. The public reception begins at 7 p.m. Noonan's art uses different mediums to create a sense of mystery and challenge perceptions.

Mildred Kemper Lane Art Museum
There are two new exhibitions at the Kemper opening at 7pm. "Precarious Worlds: Contemporary Art from Germany" explores the post-Wall zeitgeist found in these recent additions to the Kemper's permanent collection. Tomas Saraceno: CLOUD-SPECIFIC is a fascinating partially aerial installation that envisions a world of living in the sky -- not in the Jetsons' sense, but instead in natural constructs such as spider webs, clouds and bubbles.

Art is said to have the ability to take you to different places, and it's difficult to imagine that adage being more true than here in St. Louis on September 9.

You can follow Drew on Twitter

TS4 Image from the installation of the fall 2011 exhibition Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific. Courtesy of the Mildred Kemper Lane Art Museum

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