Directing An Art Gallery In St. Louis: Bridget Melloy Of Projects+Gallery
“I realize I’m very lucky to have an art history degree and actually have a job in my field,” says Bridget Melloy, senior director of projects+gallery, an avant-garde commercial art gallery in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood. Partnered with Barrett Barrera Projects, an arts consulting company created by St. Louis arts aficionado Susan Barrett, Melloy has long looked up to Barrett’s mission. “I’ve admired her vision for a long time,” she says—we’ve caught her on the phone as she drives north to Chicago for an art fair. And now, she and Barrett have been working together for almost a decade, since Melloy graduated from college.
Keep reading for our conversation with Melloy in which we discuss her journey in the arts as well as contemporary conceptions of what art is, and what it can mean.
Many of the artists you choose to show at projects+gallery are very avant-garde, progressive and radical. How do you choose artists to show?
That’s a process Susan and I work on together. Oftentimes we discover artists while going to art fairs, like I’m doing right now, or through curators we work with. Most of the artists we work with are emerging to mid-career, who often work between two different fields. In the case of Charlie Le Mindu, for example, his work is really at the intersection of fashion and fine art. We have a very exciting show coming up with artist Christine Corday, who’s a former astrophysicist, which informs much of her work.
We have an upcoming show called “Spacewalkers +43F 14.7p,” in which the whole show is informed by temperature and pressure. It asked the question, “What does a material have to undertake in order to fold?” That comes out in a number of steel sculptures Christine created, and she’ll also be debuting some clothing garments she designed, like space suits that can be worn in different atmospheres. One will be a custom space suit inspired by St. Louis, based on the exact temperature and pressure impacting the city. It’s going to be a really neat show, and a precursor to a larger solo exhibit Christine will have at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
Tell me about the current exhibition you have, featuring works by international artist Hassan Hajjaj and St. Louis-based artist Basil Kincaid (up through October 28).
Hassan Hajjaj is a really interesting artist. He lives and works between Morocco and London, taught himself photography and shoots with a real ‘fashion’ photography style. He got really into the hip-hop/reggae scene in London, where he began making his own clothing and furniture. He created a streetwear line called R.A.P. London and photographed his friends and musicians wearing his clothing in these environments he created. Almost all of them include these plastic woven mats, which are very bright and colorful with beautiful patterns. He’ll hang those up or put them on the floor, for a beautiful clash of colors and patterns, with what they’re wearing and these backgrounds. From there, he really took off as a photographer.
He also did a series of photos called “Kesh Angels.” They’re all female henna artists who work in the tourist trade in Morocco, and they all ride motorbikes or scooters. They’re like a motorcycle gang, and he was fascinated with these women who turned the stereotype of an Arabic woman on its head. The images are very loud and bright.
The five new works by Basil Kincaid we’re showing are a part of his quilting practice, in which he has taken the quilts out of their installation context and is now repurposing the quilting he’s already completed, by hanging them on painting stretchers. They become wall objects—a bit more uniform, but still have an installation quality of the quilts. It becomes a continuation of a larger conversation that connects traditional craft to the contemporary experience.
How is your vision informed by the St. Louis community, and how has it been received?
We’ve had a really great response locally, and we’re always so pleased to see so many people come out for opening receptions. Time and time again I hear how our gallery is unlike any other in St. Louis, and that we’re showing work you wouldn’t see in any other gallery here. People also tell us, ‘I saw this kind of work in New York, San Francisco, L.A. or Chicago—thank you for bringing it to St. Louis.’ People come here expecting to see that caliber of work, even if it’s from an emerging artist.
In terms of the community, we’ve aimed to listen to the community and understand what they want and what dialogues are happening now in the community. That’s why we have local artists to also engage in that local conversation as a reflection of our community, but we’re a space where you can also see national and international artists. It’s also a really great experience working for a female-owned company. Almost all of us are women. That’s really unique and unusual—especially in the art world, which more often than not is very male dominated. I feel really fortunate to have that.
One trend amongst the artists you choose appears to be that they don’t limit themselves to paint on a canvas. Is that conscious?
That’s really a reflection of what we’re seeing in the broader art community. It’s less about, ‘Are you a painter? A sculptor? Fashion designer? Scientist?’ Those are all being blended. It’s a movement that provokes a lot of questions. For example, can a wig designed by Charlie Le Mindu, worn by Lady Gaga, be art? Or a piece of steel bent in on itself. Can that be artwork? We’re really seeing the art world changing.
What do you believe is the power of art?
Much of its power, I believe, is allowing a platform for voices to be heard. That’s something we really pride ourselves on at projects+gallery, in particular. We work with artists to present their work, but most often we’re not curating those shows. We really hand the reigns over to the artists to put on their own show. They have a lot of control over their narrative and voice. The gallery space really transforms between shows. We’ve painted the walls or carpeted the floors for different shows to transform the space. Art in general allows for voices to be heard that are often oppressed, which brings new ideas to the forefront of contemporary society to be heard.
We’re really interested in working with artists who are pushing those boundaries and talking about interesting things. We had a great show this past summer called “Almost Now, Just Then,” which featured all local Black artists who have worked together for quite awhile and put together their own show. They were playing with the idea of what it means to be a Black artist—that they’re a constellation, and together they can create a bigger vision than they would alone. It was really nice to work with local artists in that capacity—to just hand the gallery over to them and say, ‘Go for it. What do you want to say? What do you want to show to be?’
What is your background in the arts, and how did you get involved in the field?
I’ve always been interested in artwork my whole life. My mother, in particular, was always taking us to art museums and exposing us to arts. When I went to college I knew I wanted to study art history, but in the back of my mind I had a more practical nature in mind. I double-majored with a dual degree in business and art history. I was lucky enough to meet Susan Barrett right out of college, and we’ve been working together for about nine years now.
What’s inspiring about her vision is that it’s much larger than St. Louis, but she chooses to stay here. Oftentimes we talk about taking these shows to other parts of the country, and the world. Last year, I traveled to Abu Dhabi for an art fair. We’re working with artists locally, nationally and internationally. She wants to bring in all these different artists and really get their work out there. She really believes in that connection to the artists, putting together exhibitions and traveling them throughout the country. That’s something you don’t see in a lot of places.
I started as her assistant. Our careers have led us in many different directions. I left for a little bit and started at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Clayton and got into the auction world. It’s been nice to have had this multi-faceted experience working in museums, the auction house and now working at projects+gallery. Gallery work is right up my alley. I love the pace of gallery work, that there’s always something new, and working directly with artists. We’re working with great artists and clients who want to support them, especially since we’re a contemporary gallery, and connecting them with art they want to live with and the artists who make it.
Cover Image: Hassan Hajjaj “Kesh Angels,” shot at projects+gallery
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