Behind the Art
CAMs major May opening delves into the creative process.
With “Occupational Therapy,” one of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis’ many summer exhibitions opening May 1, Associate Curator Kelly Shindler turns the audience’s focus not on the art directly, but on the artists behind the works. Even more than that, though, it’s the story of creative processes and the challenges and tensions that underlie it: Will their art be sold? Will they languish in obscurity? How do they differentiate themselves from what’s come before while still remaining relevant?
Shindler was inspired by last spring’s “Dear Nemesis, Nicole Eisenman 1993–2013” show, which included pieces such as a figure reclining on a psychologist’s couch—a stand-in for Eisenman herself, Shindler says. “This idea of laying bare the challenges and complexities of making art itself is something that stuck with me.”
“I’m interested in what constellation of experience and emotion informs that final work itself—the process along the way,” Shindler says. “The show is very much about art-making as a throughway or the art practice itself as a sort of crucible to arrive at the final object or idea. The process is really the work of art.”
Viewers will explore the notebooks, doodles, manifestos and diaries—which take many moods—to get a glimpse into the minds of some of the art world’s best, including John Baldessari, Martin Kippenberger, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Lozano and Bruce Nauman. And while the exhibition could easily use this laborious process to glorify the artist, Shindler is taking a different approach: “I was interested in humanizing the creative process,” she says, noting that the exhibition attempts to demythologyize the artist through this “behind-the-scenes” exploration. “As a culture we really value success and triumph and, of course, there’s a lot of failure and disaster along the way.”
The result is an exploration of art and the creative process behind it, one that rejects the popular idea of artists as geniuses on a pedestal and humanizes them instead. Audiences will also have a chance to interact with the exhibition: Pedro Reyes’ “Sanatorium” installation, previously at The Guggenheim and the latest documenta show in Germany, offers St. Louisans a chance to train as “therapists” through a program designed by the artist and then volunteer to provide museumgoers with short “therapies” that incorporate ritual, play and experimentation.
Coinciding with the opening of “Occupational Therapy” is a series of recent work by NYC-based Laurie Simmons: “Two Boys and The Love Doll.” Simmons, who’s also the mother of “Girls” creator Lena Dunham, explores identity and how the realms of reality and fiction relate to each other, usually through lifelike objects such as dolls, ventriloquists and latex figures.
William Powhida, “Cynical Advice,” 2012.