Bruno David moved his gallery from New York City to St. Louis in 2004. In the process he wedded a national and global art conversation with the Midwest and has remained equally attentive to artists who represent the breadth of St. Louis and the region. David has been a principal in the growth of the city’s image as a vigorous contemporary art production locus. His build-out of artists and projects coincided with the recent enhancement of the Pulitzer Foundation space, and the St. Louis Contemporary Art Center, which were across the street from him for 15 years. The gallery also matured in tandem with space, projects, and prestige at the Kemper Art Museum and likewise with the modern addition to the St. Louis Art Museum.
The identity of the gallery is methodologically mosaic. The pattern of its graphic margins inform artists work as much as the contrast of medium and language. From Chicago David includes Richard Hull and William Conger who have connections to the city’s exploration of fetishism, craft, and the breaching of psychological spaces. He shows native Chicagoan Buzz Spector, a mixed media artist and writer who recently retired from the Sam Fox School of Art at Washington University. Several more of the school’s art faculty are featured including painter/printmaker Carmon Colangelo, painter Michael Byron, mixed-media artists Monika Weiss and Patricia Olynyk, and master printer Tom Reed. Painter Chris Kahler from nearby Eastern Illinois University, Kansas City sculptor/installation artist Jill Downen, and sculptor Thomas Sleet, Media Director at the Missouri History Museum, form about half of the artists. With the ample space David moved to a few years ago he’s able to show several separate exhibitions at once. Viewing work there now has the feel of a small museum.
David is an engaging personality who’s genuinely optimistic about the dimensions and capacity of St. Louis culture. He’s rightly cautious about market, technological, or academic trends, relying on his experience to measure how subjects and media recur over time. The gallery focuses mainly on traditional studio production, although photography and video are frequent staples. Despite the number of artists, David makes exhibition installations that provide focus and intimacy and regularly furnishes them with smartly designed catalogues and informative online features.
Bruno David also represents collaborative projects from the award winning St. Louis Story Stitchers Art Collective with artist/director Susan Colangelo. Since 2013, the collective has given voice to those directly affected by the dramatic uptick in urban violence and subsequent public dialogue on race and dedicated to documenting the experience of African American youth and similarly underrepresented cultures. Their name was inspired by quilting used to surreptitiously communicate on the Underground Railroad. It also refers to the interactive AIDS Name project quilt and has adopted its goal of projecting significant undervalued narratives to other artists and the public at large. The Collective’s projects include video production, podcasts, spoken word and hip-hop performance, and visual art all with an emphasis on community narratives. “Stitching” is a connective, hands-on alternative for producing art and learning interactively. The organization engenders art as social practice with the added value of supplementing education and working for social justice.
Monika Weiss, one of the five artists currently up in the gallery, features a sound and film work titled “Metamorphosis | Nirbhaya.” The film is an introduction to her in-process monument project which observes a litany of un-commemorated victims of gendered violence. Her monument installation is planned for her native Poland and accompanied by a monograph with a text by Griselda Pollock.
The artist’s “anti-monument” will include a video and sound projection, like the one shown in St. Louis, which portray those who have been trafficked, brutalized, and de-identified. She raises questions about the legacy of monuments themselves, articulating how the architecture contributes to a veneration of masculinity imprinted throughout history. In their stead Weiss commemorates the tribulations of the anonymous and interrogates the architecture of heroism.
Also exhibiting is Jill Downen, whose sculpture is informed by our relationship to conventional architecture. She produces interactive environments that bridge autonomous objects and common spaces, speaking back to the environments that encapsulate ordinary experience as well that which contextualizes fine art. She writes, “The body is the primary vehicle one has for understanding the world. I want to offer viewers immersive environments that heighten the senses and ways of knowing that are often private and experiential.”
For Downen, the discipline of art is a body of knowledge with an alternate grammar for defining space and identity. It’s fragmentary and mutable the way time and thought often are. She prefers meditative encounters with form, ones that exclude decoration and the distractions of undisciplined imaginations. Her practice, is about reading dimensionally. Her visual text is appended to the gallery, illustrating how architecture and our bodies are inscribed and countersigned through occupancy.
St. Louis is a complex culture. Their universities nourish an erudite visual demographic. Its geographical location on the cultural corridor between the Gulf and the Great Lakes afford it fertile ground for art, architecture, music, and literature that synthesizes urban and rural sensibilities. It’s a vibrant, fluid mix of ethnic and multi-national culture influencing a historic site that is more typical of inland America than generally represented in either mainstream or alternative press, and it merits close attention.
Monika Weiss and Jill Downen, along with solo exhibitions by Daniel Raedke, Rachel Youn, and Damon Freed are up through March 6th, 2022