Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

| Scene Reporter

Walking into a contemporary art museum is always a bit of an adventure. You don’t know exactly what to expect, only that it will be something very different from what is classically defined as “art.” With its current exhibitions, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis does not fail to deliver that journey. Its two main exhibitions, “1991-1994, Improbable History” by Sean Landers and “Modern Movie Pop” by Stephen Prina, are definitely works from the contemporary world of art.

The exhibits are introduced by a “Front Room,” which is a sort of mini-exhibition, featuring one work from a different artist. The current piece, on display until Feb. 28, is by the Norwegian artist Torbjørn Redlined. Consisting of four silver gelatin prints, the work focuses on the British comic strip character Andy Capp, an individual often invoked by Norwegian politicians as a sort of archetypal plebeian. Redlined places Capp in four odd and, frankly, confusing situations, thus demonstrating the pervasiveness of the common folk. The works serve as a lead-in to the exhibition, a sort of “everyman” to guide the public inward into the museum.

The first of the two main exhibits is “1991-1994, Improbable History.” Opening with “Tricast (Funeral for a Friend by Elton John),” the artist sings three different, very off-key renditions of the song simultaneously on three different screens. Echoing throughout the gallery, the work serves as an anthem for the exhibit. Continuing into the body of the exhibition, the viewer is greeted by several leaves of paper: One is a letter from a debt collection agency regarding payments due by Landers from the early ’90s, and the others are Landers’ response to them, detailing how he would love to become a productive member of society and repay them, but at this point lacks the financial solvency to do so. This sets the tone for the exhibit: It is simultaneously deeply personal, given the nature of the letter, but, at the same time, removed, because of both the time difference and the fact that it is merely cold text, rather than something more interactive.

The rest of the exhibit is an adventure into the life and mind of Landers. Highlights of the exhibit include “Naked in Nature,” 58 photographs of Landers, well, naked in nature. Perhaps the most telling work is a video titled “Dancing with Death,” in which the artist dances around his studio looking for all the world like a hippie, complete with long hair, on acid. Video and photography are only one aspect of the exhibition, however.

Throughout the exhibit, there are several large boards with Landers’ scrawl littered across it, given such names as “Fart.” The most notable of these is “Thought Bubble,” an enormous work. Located on a wall in the rear of the exhibit, the piece brings to mind “The Last Judgment,” Michelangelo’s fresco on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel, despite Landers’ distinctly non-religious approach. Besides the obvious—both works are very large and hang at the back of a large room with a lot of open space—they each reveal more to the viewer when approached and studied than is immediately apparent.

Many more works bear mention, but these are enough to understand the basic design of the exhibit: an escapade into the psyche of the artist as a creator, and nature of self-examination. “1991-1994, Improbable History” is on display until April 11.

When compared to the Contemporary Museum St. Louis’ previous installation, “For the blind man…,” the current work is much more minimalist. This is not intended to be a criticism, however. “For the blind man…,” used numerous works to tell very little, giving the exhibit an air of mystery and confusion. While this exists in Prina’s and Landers’ work, they often use fewer pieces to tell more about themselves and their goals.