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Expansion raises profile of St. Louis Art Museum

Expansion raises profile of St. Louis Art Museum


St. Louis’ museums and galleries continued to welcome big-name artists and major exhibits. But the biggest art news in 2012 was the completion of the construction of the St. Louis Art Museum’s expansion. Museum officials say the $160 million project will raise the museum’s national profile and allow it to stage larger exhibits.

Major growth • The St. Louis Art Museum completed construction of its new wing, which will feature 300-space parking garage, a 100-seat restaurant and enormous galleries to showcase the museum’s vast holdings of contemporary and modern art. The public will get its first look during the opening weekend festival June 29-30. Designed by renowned British architect David Chipperfield, the building features a one-of-a-kind grid of skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows, which illuminate the artworks naturally.

“It’s a building that is about mass, about weight,” said museum director Brent Benjamin. “So much of contemporary museum architecture is about lightness and transparency, but this is a building about mass because the Cass Gilbert building is a great big pile of stone. Whatever was going to be here needed to stand up to it in terms of massiveness and weight. That is quite an accomplishment.”

The expansion also features a major outdoor sculpture, “Stone Sea,” a series of 25 stone arches.

Moving in Lisa Melandri stepped in as the new director of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, replacing longtime director Paul Ha. Melandri served 11 years as deputy director at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Melandri has continued to welcome a range of events to the museum and plans to book exhibits that showcase major midcareer artists.

“I’m interested in thinking about how midcareer artists are influencing the young artists of the day,” Melandri said. “I think a healthy exhibition program can pingpong between emerging talents and those who have paved the way. I like taking a long view, a historical view. I think it can be really informative for understanding where we sit with art that we make today.”

Flying high • Lambert-St. Louis International Airport has joined the growing number of airports displaying original contemporary art. It erected nine glass screens by local artists, installed a colorful terrazzo medallion by artist Alicia LaChance and has created a gallery space for rotating exhibits near the baggage claim. Some airports spend millions of dollars on their art programs; Lambert only has spent $45,000 on its glass screens. But the program’s supporters hope to raise more money in 2013 for a major suspended work.

“These days, people have a lot of ‘dwell’ time,” said Meredith McKinley, the public art consultant who helped coordinate Lambert’s initiative. “You get to the airport and you have to linger in those gate areas. Public art programs in airports offer travelers waiting to board something to appreciate and explore. And for the people getting off their planes, their first impression is that this is a city with a wealth of artistic talent.”

Moving on •  More than a year after the death of its co-founder and creative mastermind Bob Cassilly, City Museum continues to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors and is making plans to expand onto a vacant floor of the International Shoe Building.

Camp out • Dutch artist Dré Wapenaar erected a tree tent — a teardrop-shaped abode fitted with a wood floor, covered in canvas and secured to a tree branch — for “Camp Out,” Laumeier Sculpture Park’s ambitious summer exhibition that explores the concept of home.

Go for Barocci Italian artist Federico Barocci’s work links the High Renaissance and the Baroque, and he influenced generations of painters who came after him. He’s not well-known, however; in an exhibition 10 years in the making, St. Louis Art Museum curator Judith Mann set out to fix that with “Federico Barocci: Renaissance Master,” on view through Jan. 20. Although his paintings are a bit sweet for some tastes, the real appeal of the show is the way in which sketches and studies have been put together to demonstrate how the artist arrived at his final designs and finished works.

Mix master • “John Stezaker,” at the Kemper Art Museum last January through April, featured works by the British collagist who in a visit here described himself as an “anti-conceptual artist.” The first U.S. museum exhibition of his work, it included more than 100 pieces.

Illuminating luminaries • Portraits of prominent figures including Leonard Bernstein, Martha Graham and Andy Warhol were featured in “Arnold Newman: Luminaries of the Twentieth Century in Art, Politics and Culture” at the Sheldon Art Galleries. The photography exhibition, part of the Sheldon’s 100th anniversary celebration, runs through Jan. 19. Also at the Sheldon, “Al Hirschfeld’s Jazz and Broadway Scrapbook,” which runs through Jan. 5, features more than 100 drawings and other pieces dating from 1914 through 2002. The St. Louis-born Hirschfeld was known for distinctive caricatures that earned him the nickname, “The Line King.”

Progress report • “The Progress of Love” at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts showcased work by four artists: Sophie Calle, Zina Saro-Wiwa, Temitayo Ogunbiyi and Yinka Shonibare. The exhibition, which runs through April 20, is presented in collaboration with shows at the Menil Collection in Houston and the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria.

Quote of the year • “When you come to see an exhibition, it’s like opening a book,” says Bruno David, who owns the eponymous gallery in Grand Center. “You expose yourself to a different way to see the world.” David brings several worldviews together in each of his exhibitions, and some of them — like last spring’s collection by artist Chris Kahler — open fascinating new vistas.

Sarah Bryan Miller and Calvin Wilson of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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