Thursday, September 24, 2009

Accidental Sculpture

During my first weekend driving around St. Louis, I saw some very interesting accidental sculpture in extraordinary public space, such as the beautiful installation above in the mid-century modern (mostly late 40's, not so much Eames) shop above, TFA on Grand.

Driving around around the waterfront of St. Louis we saw this single wind generator next to an urban home, then below, an angel lost amongst the industrial grid that imprisons the river.

There are two glorious strands of deliberate architecture in St. Louis, however. Most well-known is the St. Louis Arch by Eero Saarinen, commemorating Thomas Jefferson and the march towards Manifest Destiny, the conquest of the west.

Oddly, it is the Cahokia Mounds that are the most exquisite sculpture project in the region, the sculptures that refute the Arch as a monument to the American continent

There are many strands to tease out of all; I will continue this investigation anon.

(The bottom two pictures were captured from their respective websites; the rest are courtesy the author.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Road Trip Art

A selection of room keys, PHX - STL:
Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix (most lush experience)
Sheraton, Albuquerque (palm trees???)
Hyatt Express, Tulsa (rather dull suburban location)
Moonrise Hotel, St. Louis (best bed)

Museums make art experiences happen deliberately. Road trips make art experiences happen accidentally.

Some of my favorite images from my four day tour with Mary Louise:

Bathroom painting, Munds Park, AZ (image of Munds Park):

Mega-church, OK:

Sculpture Park, Coffeeyville, KS:

Pump jacks, a selection of sizes:

Finally, remnants of unpacking:

The efficiency of the American I-highway system made our trip fast, but our detours made it interesting. We drove through Window Rock, AZ, to see the administrative capital of the Navajo Nation, and Tucumcari, NM, a formerly thriving town on Route 66 but now a struggling enclave of dilapidated 1950s motels, to measure the impact of the highway system on small town America.

We also stopped in Coffeeyville, KS, where my grandfather Ogden grew up. The docent at the historical Brown Mansion confused our looking for the downtown (mostly empty storefronts) with their commercial strip (Arby's, gas stations), a testament to a town that hasn't yet revitalized its old real estate stock with boutiques and bars (too far from KC and Tulsa?)

The most dramatic image was outside Amarillo, TX (see previous post), which consolidated Amarillo's reputation for me.

Small town America looks like Stephen Shore to me, although Robert Frank loomed large in my mind while driving as well. Like any art experience, I learned a lot about the world in this trip, the trials and tribulations of people living outside big cities--and in our go-go, internet connected world, what a great and rare privilege it is to spend four days with a friend. We found artistic moments everywhere, thanks to the refined eyes of photographers who allow us to frame images laden with social and political content.

On a side note: I'm for the government's stimulus package, but improving roads seems less urgent than helping these smaller communities reinvest in themselves.

© all images author and Mary Louise Schumacher

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Burnin' Truck Loads of Art

© Mary-Louise Schumacher

My dear pal Mary Louise Schumacher and I recently took four days to drive from Phoenix, Arizona to St. Louis, Missouri, for me to take up my new post as Executive Director at the Laumeier Sculpture Park.

We had four fun days of yakking about art, life and America. We would cover two topics per day, and eight hours was often not enough time for all our side-trips.

Our best image of the trip: this burning truck-load of cars, which threw off an incredible wall of heat as we passed dangerously close (what WAS that police car doing?)

This trip led me to reflect on my art career, which has led me deliberately, nomadically, zigzagging across the country: KS, NY, LA, MKE, PHX, STL. Each shift was triggered by a new school, new opportunity or a personal change.

The cumulative effect is that I have lived in big markets and small, each with their own great riches. We all are connected on-line, but we only live in one place, and finding that form of groundedness is what makes a move both challenging and rewarding. I have found the center in the most dispersed places, each with its own gem artists and jewel institutions that give a place, and its residents, life and meaning. With my move to St. Louis, I am honored to enter into a rich and complex society that, while outward looking, takes great meaning from within as well.

Buzz Spector, an artist friend from my LA years and recently installed dean of the College and Graduate School of Art, part of Washington University's Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, sent me the lyrics from Terry Allen's 1979 double album, "Lubbock (on everything)" in response to our burning truck picture:

Truckload of Art


Once upon a time…
Sometime ago back on the east coast
In New York City, to be exact…
A bunch of artists and painters and
sculptors and musicians and
poets and writers and dancers
and architects
Started feeling real superior
to their ego-counter-parts
Out on the West Coast…so,
They all got together and decided
They would show those snotty surfer upstarts
A thing or two about the Big Apple
And…they hired themselves a truck
It was a big, spanking new white-shiny
Chrome-plated cab-over
With mudflaps, stereo, tv, AM & FM radio,
Leather seats and a naugahide sleeper…
All fresh
With new American Flag decals and "ART ARK"
Printed on the side of the door
With solid 24 karat gold leaf type…
And they filled up this truck
With the most significant piles
And influential heaps of Art Work
To ever be assembled in Modern Times,
And it sent it West…to chide
Cajole, humble and humiliate…the Golden Bear.
And this is the true story of that truck…

A Truckload of Art
From New York City
Came rollin down the road
Yeah the driver was singing
And the sunset was pretty
But the truck turned over
And she rolled off the road
Yeah a Truckload of Art
is burning near the highway
Precious objects are scattered
All over the ground
And it's a terrible sight
If a person were to see it
But there weren't nobody around

Yeah the driver went sailing
High in the sky
Landing in the gold lap of the Lord
Who smiled and then said
"Son, you're better off dead
Than haulin a truckload
full of hot avant-gárde

Yes…an important artwork
Was thrown burning to the ground
Tragically…landing in the weeds
And the smoke could be seen
Ahhh for miles all around
Yeah but nobody…knows what it means
Yes…a Truckload of Art
Is burning near the highway
And it's a tough job for the highway patrol
Ahhh they'll soon see the smoke
An come runnin to poke
Then dig a deep ditch
And throw the arts in a hole

Yeah a Truckload of Art
Is burning near the highway
And it's raging far-out of control
And what the critics have cheered
Is now shattered and queered
And their noble reviews
Have been stewed on the road

Allen's lyrics were in protest of New York's attitude towards LA / San Francisco. Both cities are getting along quite nicely, thank you, and have developed rich communities outside the East Coast.

While I would never advocate burning truck loads of art, I do agree that great art exists everywhere, you just have to learn context and history to understand the specific Modernist nuances of each community.

I look forward to doing that in St. Louis.