Commentary: The St. Louis Art Museum is one of the city's true gems | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: The St. Louis Art Museum is one of the city's true gems

Mar 17, 2017

Nancy Kranzberg

How many of us have gone sledding down Art Hill in Forest Park or biked or walked along its many paths. We all love the park and use it, but many miss one of the city's true gems looming high on the hill, the St. Louis Art Museum.

When speaking to Brent Benjamin, the director of the museum, he reminded me that the St. Louis Art Museum is not only one of the country's top premier encyclopedic art museums, but is one of a handful of museums of its kind that is free and open to the public. This, of course, is due to the generosity of the tax payers.

The museum is over 100 years old and over 75% of the collection has been donated by St. Louis collectors and philanthropists. The beautiful beaux arts style museum was designed by Cass Gilbert and Sir John Chipperfield was the internationally recognized architect of the new east wing building.

Brent Benjamin describes the museum as the ideal of a democratic Palace of the Arts, which Cass Gilbert so powerfully embodied in our original building and now finds beautiful, modern-day expression, at once rigorous and elegant, in the adjoining masterwork by Sir David Chipperfield.

The Museum's collections span some 5,000 years and feature masterpieces from the ancient Mediterranean, Asia, Africa, the Islamic world, Europe and the Americas.

All aspects of the collections were celebrated at the time of the opening of the new wing which features modern and contemporary art as well as other works. The museum's former temporary exhibition galleries in the 1904 building are now devoted to the permanent collection, and more than 50 galleries in the Cass Gilbert-designed main building  recently have been reinstalled as part of a renovation project complementing the East Building expansion.

The curators at our museum are constantly working to present the works in the most engaging way. Melissa Wolfe, curator of American Art, just recently reinstalled the American Collection and it shines even brighter than before and Alex Marr, assistant curator of Native American Art says the museum began collecting Native American Art in 1920 and with a recent gift by the Donald Danforth family has motivated renewed engagement of interest in Native American Art.

Nicole Bridges is associate curator in charge of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas and associate curator for African art and can boast of having presented exhibitions such as the work of Nick Cave and “Atua: Sacred Gods from Polynesia” and Genevieve Cortinovis, Assistant Curator of Decorative Art and Design, says she is proud that the collection committee agreed to purchase some beautiful woven silk textiles for her department.

Some of the museum’s highlights include the Ballard Oriental Rug Collection which was recently featured in a special exhibition, incredible Chinese Bronzes, the largest collection of Max Beckmann works in the world, the Chinese Porcelain Collection which was recently expanded due to the donation of the C.C. and Edith Spink's 225 piece bequest and the Piero di Cosimo Renaissance Altar piece.

The board of trustees collection committee comprised of curators and museum trustees diligently chooses works to be purchased and displayed at our museum. Simon Kelly, Curator of Modern Art, recently boasted of the museum's purchase of a Rachel Whiteread post minimalist cast concrete work to be displayed on the museums grounds and the Grace Taylor Broughton Sculpture Garden thoughtfully marries masterworks with landscape design and architecture. This exciting outdoor gallery showcases the Museum's strong ,international collection of 20th century and contemporary sculpture.

The curators often collaborate within the museum walls and even reach out to other institutions such as Washington University and the Missouri History Museum. Lisa Cakmack, assistant curator of Ancient Art recently worked with Judy Mann, Curator of European Art to 1800, on a research project to examine another of the museum's highlights, The Reclining Pan, a beautiful Renaissance piece carved from ancient stone and Ms. Cakmack has worked with Washington University in regards to our mummies.

Zoe Perkins, Curator of Textiles, is working with Genevieve Cortinovis to curate our special exhibition, "Reigning Men," one of the year's highlights.

Amanda Thompson Rundahl, Director of Learning and Engagement , says that our docent program is unique and there is a diverse array of educational programs available for all ages. And Rene Franklin, Director of Audience Development, says, "The Art Museum has something for everyone. We must build awareness of our wonderful museum and let all people know what they have been missing."

If you want to become a member of the fabulous St. Louis Art Museum, you will receive a discount in one of two restaurants, and in one of the two gift shops and will be able to enter special exhibitions without charge and my favorite perk is to receive the museum calendar to check all the exciting exhibitions and free lectures that take place at the Museum.

Above the portals of the St. Louis Art Museum are the words, "Art has truth, take refuge there." I do it on a regular basis and I hope you will too.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.