Updated with Mel Chin discussing one of his works now at CAM.
Two exhibits debuting Friday night at St. Louis’ Contemporary Art Museum resonate with recent events in Ferguson.
The Mel Chin and Mark Flood openings were planned long before last month’s shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer. But they inadvertently debut at an opportune time, according to CAM's executive director Lisa Melandri.
“Both Mark Flood and Mel Chin talk about powerlessness, the lack of voice that certain people have in our country, the lack of political power,” Melandri said.
A retrospective of artist Chin, called “Rematch,” includes work exploring topics around violence and economic disparity. A signature piece, “Home y Sew,” features a cross-section of a gun, filled with emergency-kit items one might use after being shot, including painkillers and an ace bandage.
Another piece is a combination of a police nightstick and a microphone. The mic will be live at all times and CAM visitors are invited to use it.
"Something that you think of as an object that holds people down, is literally turned into a vehicle by which you can find your voice," Melandri said.
There are 50 "Rematch" pieces in all, culled from 40 years of work. The exhibition includes sculpture, video, drawing, painting as well as a rare look at his performance pieces and public land art.
Exhibitions spark 'Creative Unrest'
A second opening presents the work of Flood, who explores and disparages government and other institutions, including Wall Street and the overall art market.
“Another Painting” is Flood’s first solo museum exhibition. It features, among others, a missile with the words “Kill People" on its side. Is it a command or a descriptive phrase? That's open to interpretation, Melandri said.
A second Flood piece does seem to contain more of a mandate. It's a blue-toned painting that proclaims "Feel Nothing."
A public discussion around art and social justice, called "Creative Unrest," is planned for Oct. 23. The event will feature local artists, including Mallory Nezam, who co-founded the #ChalkedUnarmed street art effort featuring crime-scene chalk outlines of men killed by police.
"Artists like Mel and Mark have long been catalysts for discussions about effecting change," Melandri said. "Local artists will discuss those traditions and how those things have worked for them in their own practice."
'Fundreds' against lead poisoning
The Chin exhibition also includes items from the artist's New Orleans-born “Operation Paydirt” and “Fundred Dollar Bill Project,” which raises money from children’s drawings to fund efforts to address soil contaminated with lead.
In connection with the "Fundred" project, children (and adults) can create their own fake bills from a template at the CAM exhibit and in kids' events around the area.
"It turns anyone who draws one of these into one of the authors of the art piece," Melandri said. "As you make them, they will become part of the exhibition."
Chin has been collecting the bills since 2008 and will continue for several more years. The final project will find its way to Washington, D.C., as a kind of petition asking Congress to deal with lead poisoning.
More exhibits will also be on display at CAM Friday night, including the desolate landscapes of Carla Klein. Other art shows on display during September’s First Fridays Grand Center include Bruno David Gallery's "Buzz Spector: New Work," The International Photography Hall of Fame's "Portrait/Process," Portfolio Gallery's 'Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection" and Saint Louis University Museum of Art's "The Dream: presented by the Winter Family Collection and 'The Dreamer.'"
Mel Chin’s ‘Rematch’ and other CAM openings
Where: Contemporary Art Museum, 3750 Washington Blvd., 63108
When: Opening reception 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5; runs through Dec. 20
How much: Free
Information: CAM website
Willis Ryder Arnold contributed to this report.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL