Dan and I decided to spend a few moments at the St. Louis Art Museum. That’s because we met a lovely lady in our neighborhood’s mail center who encouraged us to take in the current exhibit, “Catching the Moment.” This exhibit displays the art collected by Ted and Maryanne Ellison Simmons. Ted Simmons was a St. Louis Cardinals baseball player in the 1970’s. Dan loves baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals. If I’m ever gonna get Dan inside the art museum, this is the hook.
The exhibit features 39 artists; however, many of the pieces are from three artists on which the Simmones chose to focus their collection. The collection is made up of contemporary art pieces which by their nature, focus on the issues of the day. Of course, I am not going to recreate the exhibit, but rather just present my thoughts and reactions.
The first artist of the main three is Kiki Smith. According to the St. Louis Art Museum’s website, her pieces focus on “explorations of the body and self as well as environmental concerns.” Her “Finger Bowl” piece was the first purchase the Simmones made for what would become their contemporary collection.
I also was drawn to this porcelain piece where the artist depicts herself as a young girl. The museum card on this sculpture describes her as “humble yet confident.”
The second artist featured prominently in the collection was Enrique Chagoya. He is described by the St. Louis Art Museum’s website as having “wide-ranging post-colonial critique.” Below are two depictions of the same historical event – Daniel Boone’s daughter, Jemima, being kidnapped by a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding party. The first piece is a lithograph by Chagoya.
The second portrayal of the kidnapping of Daniel Boone’s daughter is a picture I took when we visited Daniel Boone’s home in Defiance, Missouri. Of course, it’s a completely different perspective of the kidnapping.
Regarding Enrique Chagoya’s “Detention at the Border of Language”, the museum display says
The kidnapping of colonist Daniel Boone’s daughter Jemima is recast as the activity of a border patrol. As Enrique Chagoya notes, “Today, some politicians call refugees from Central America and other countries ‘illegal aliens’ but for me they are no different from the Pilgrims or Daniel Boone’s daughter.” Chagoya scrambled the identities of the figures, who take on heads borrowed from different Indigenous communities, while Jemima becomes a cartoon duck. In doing so, the artist calls attention to the irony that people living on historically stolen land carry hatred toward foreigners.St. Louis Art Museum
Catching the Moment exhibition
Which one reflects the truth more accurately? Perhaps we can all agree that viewing history can be done from many perspectives. I’d venture to say that taken together can perhaps give us the most accurate, and perhaps complex, interpretation of the actual events.
The exhibition also contains a video where Maryanne and Ted discuss the collection. Ted’s favorite piece is a simple depiction of a fertilized egg. Ted said he is a fan of “lowest common denominators.” I really didn’t understand why this piece would be anyone’s favorite until after I had seen a bit more of the collection.
The collection contains a photograph which is “Untitled”; however, it has been given the description “Face in Dirt.” This photo was another self portrait and was created by the artist, David Wojnarowicz after he had been given an AIDS diagnosis. About a year after the photo was taken, David died from AIDS, and it was then his friend and traveling companion printed the photo and shared it with others. Other pieces in the exhibit speak of the cruelty often felt because of sexual preference.
My heart goes out to all those who suffer or are hurt by others due to some critical judgement for one reason or another. No matter what our differences may be, our humanity connects us all. Perhaps this is why Ted Simmons chose that simple fertilized egg as his favorite – because that piece reflects our basic humanity.
The third artist featured was Tom Huck who is noted as “rural Missouri scoundrel epics in woodcut form.” The “Catching the Moment” exhibit contained over 200 pieces, and I could only absorb a portion of it. You can call me a Missouri scoundrel, but I came up short with regards to Tom Huck. It’s no commentary on the artist; I had just reached my saturation point. The Simmones, on the other hand, collected Tom Huck’s work extensively.
The exhibit also includes a video where Maryanne and Ted are talking about the collection. In this video, each discussed which piece was his or her personal favorite. I’ve already mentioned Ted’s favorite. Maryanne’s favorite was a piece entitled “Pay Attention.” While I wholeheartedly agree with this piece’s sentiment to “pay attention” to issues, I don’t like the vulgar words in the art work. I realize these words are supposed to shock the viewer, but it doesn’t inspire me to pay attention. It just inspires me to move along. He used the “F” word. Big deal.
For full disclosure, I have to say that contemporary art is not my favorite. While I appreciate and value its societal commentary, it’s not all that pleasing to look at. Some of it is disturbing.
Some of it is too abstract both literally and figuratively – for me. Even after reading the piece descriptions, for some of the art, I just didn’t get it.
Other pieces, I got, and while in general I agreed with the viewpoint, my own opinion was a bit more tempered. For example, in Chagoya’s “Detention at the Border” piece above, wouldn’t Jemima be considered a “dreamer?”
Even still, the exhibit challenged me to experience and to think outside of my own comfort zone. For some art, like this exhibition, I think that’s the idea.
Visiting the art museum, which is located in Forest Park, reminded me of the wonderful cultural institutions St. Louis has to offer. Forest Park was once the site of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Today it is home to the art museum, the zoo, the history museum, the science center, and more – with much of it being free. The day we were there, the park was bustling with people, and the park was absolutely beautiful with its architectural features enhanced by flowers and landscaping.
Dan and I kind of forget about all this sometimes. We often focus on our local area in St. Charles, which we enjoy so much. And we focus on places we visit or hope to visit in our travel trailer. But this visit reminds me to “pay attention” and to “catch more moments” in Forest Park – St. Louis’s jewel .