Contemporary Art Museum's 2014 Spring Exhibit is Massive in Scope and Meaning

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

For the Contemporary Arts Museum’s previous exhibit, the building was reduced to its bare bones, but for the museum’s 2014 Spring Exhibition, the Brad Cloepfil structure has been restored to its full space. The difference is palpable, but then the museum always seems to possess the chameleon-like quality of taking on the personality of the art it contains. It’s as though the building grows organically around its exhibits, unlike other museums where art has been placed—sometimes forced—into a non-adaptive structure. This may be the true brilliance of the building’s design. “It was conceived to be a place to be turned inside out,” says Lisa Milandri, Executive Director of CAM.

Serapis by Ron Gorchov Courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

Serapis by Ron Gorchov
Courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

Just looking at the exhibit lineup proves CAM is continuing their emphasis on hyper-utilization of the museum’s space. There are seven exhibits in this spring opening, the first of which, Ron Gorchov’s “Serapis,” confronts you just inside the entrance. At 14 feet tall and 13 feet wide, the piece commands attention, and suggests with its four layers—like major geological striations—that we are delving deeper into art, some of it bordering on the bizarre.

Here, the sound art series “Audible Interruptions,” the second iteration of the series created by St. Louis-based artists Nathan Cook and Andrew James, can already be heard oozing from the hallway leading to the restrooms

Half King by Nicole Eisenman Courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

Half King by Nicole Eisenman Courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

In the front room, Young Polish artist Tomasz Kowalski gets his first solo museum show in the United States, which includes, according to the museum, a series of paintings inspired by Polish theater and stage design. Here, Kowalski’s paintings make heavy use of muted colors and seem to capture just a portion of a much larger narrative scene transpiring just outside the canvas’ borders, such as one work where viewers can just make out, through the slats of a blind, the suggestion of the unseen world beyond.

The Nicole Eisenman career survey is particularly impressive. “In Love with My Nemesis” includes more than 120 works with examples from Eisenman’s art work from the 1990s to the present, including paintings, sculpture and printmaking. Eisenman’s work can draw you in with its apparent whimsy and sense of play, but when viewed up close, the scene can be jarring. She fills space in an eccentric way, sometimes presenting us with an image that’s pure fun to work that is as disturbing as it is meaningful. The painting “Wereartist” comes to mind, depicting an artist—full moon visible outside the window—hurriedly trying to complete a painting before turning into a werewolf.

Big Mickey by Joyce Pensato Courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

Big Mickey by Joyce Pensato
Courtesy of Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis

“I Killed Kenny,” the first career survey of artist Joyce Pensato, contains some of her important early work as well as a site-specific mural of Pensato’s unique representation of five Mickey Mouse figures, at once depicting the innocence of the character’s origin, but aged now, roughed up by life. Pensato has always drawn on cartoon iconography, and here, there are several of her “Mickeys,” a Batman or two, a Felix the Cat and other works. Her technique bears some resemblance to Pollack’s splatter style, but Pensato’s splatter work is more frenzied and furtive. There is an urgency to her art.

“Readykeulous by Ridykeulous: This is What Liberation Feels Like,” installed upstairs in the balcony area, is a curatorial initiative organized by Nicole Eisenman and A.L Steiner. The exhibit presents a selection of “emotionally charged” works, which might better be described as angry. There is rage here, perhaps justified to a degree, but often delivered in an harsh way, such as the large painting of a dominate female figure with a large phallus protruding from the groin area, along with the inscription that commands the viewer to perform an act of fellatio, though not so gracefully stated. Subtle, it isn’t. “This is What Liberation Feels Like” can make the viewer uncomfortable, particularly males, which is precisely the intent.

Melter 2 by Takeshi Murata Courtesy of Contemporary Arts Museum, St. Louis

Melter 2 by Takeshi Murata
Courtesy of Contemporary Arts Museum, St. Louis

The museum has managed to include one more massive work, thanks to Street Views, CAM’s series of large-scale video art projected on the building’s Washington Boulevard facade. The series features Takeshi Murata’s “Melter 2” a colored animation that oozes, flows and transmogrifies from one shape to another.

For more information about CAM’s 2014 Spring Exhibit, please visit the Contemporary Art Museum website.

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