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Beacon blog: Mature muses still inspire

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 7, 2010 - Friday evening at the Sheldon Galleries in Grand Center was an ingathering of the clan, a rigorously unorganized group of men and women who've been interested keenly in the visual arts in St. Louis -- not just recently, but for decades. Many decades. Some for more than half a century. A long time, by any calculation.

As a group, those of us who've maintained our membership in the clan have watched with interest when activity in the arts has been supercharged and exhilarating, and with dismay when interest in drawings and paintings and sculptures has gone slack.

I'll leave the whys of all that to someone in the statistics business. My seat-of-the-pants reaction is that leadership in the major institutions and intelligent attention from the press has plenty to do with the health of the local arts community. But in any event, the graph noting the ups and downs of the fortunes of the visual arts in St. Louis looks like an EKG, which many of us have produced.

Nowadays, given the effects of the recently completed recession, the line is migrating downward. Some galleries that show challenging work hang on by a thread. Exhibition budgets are challenged. Critics disappear.

In the midst of all this bad news, Grand Center, where the Beacon's office is located, is a bright spot, in that it is in the business of providing a hospitable environment for the arts in many forms, including, I am happy to say, poetry. Our digs are in the KETC building, and the HQ of River Styx, the literary organization that produces River Styx magazine, is just down Olive Street from us. And just across the alleyway from us is the Sheldon, which boasts an internationally famous concert hall and a warren of art-rich galleries, overseen by a talented and dedicated director, Olivia Lahs-Gonzales.

It was in the Sheldon that the clan members established a stronghold the other night. Cheek by jowl, its members gathered in the galleries given over to a show called "Maturity and Its Muse," and if you haven't guessed, all the work in the show was produced by those described by names such as seniors, golden-agers, the elderly, creakies, older adults, etc.

If you go see this exhibition, you might exclaim that the work doesn't look as if it were produced by old people, but by and large it was. In many cases, the work looks so good and so fresh because of age of the creators -- men and women who have been around the block a few times, and have actually thought over and over again about the shapes and forms and colors and lines and positive and negative spaces in which they traffic. But perhaps more importantly, they have thought about what it means to step up to the plate and to make something they have the audacity to describe as Art.

I encourage you to go to see this show because of its bounteous variety and the grace with which it is endowed, as well as for the very important lesson it provides. Which is, chronology is bunk. To prove my point, please consider the following.

# Louise Bourgeois, who born on Christmas day in 1911 and died on May 31 this year, died pretty much with her boots on. She worked until the week before she expired producing her inspired and inspiring sculptures.

# Pablo Picasso, that great bull-genius of an artist, continued working with a vengeance until a year or so before his death at 91 in April 1973.

# Patricia Degener, my friend and colleague, kept at it until the viper that is cancer kept her from her clay and finally brought her down. Patsy died last spring at 85.

All of us give lip service to the various enterprises of old folks. Lynn Friedman Hamilton, for many years an art dealer in St. Louis and an enthusiast always, made it her business to show just how important, how sparkling, how refreshing and edifying the work of this generation of St. Louis artists is now, and will continue to be.

Hamilton did a marvelous job organizing the show, which is filled with works of art by many familiar names, and some that were to me nice surprises. Just about everyone concerned with this show has his or her Medicare card, including this writer. I contributed an essay about Mrs. Degener, and feel in good company.

There are two special events coming up about "Maturity and Its Muse" readers might find interesting. Ken Anderson, professor of art at the University of Missouri St. Louis, will moderate a discussion by a panel comprised of artists who have work in the show. It is to be Saturday (Oct. 9) from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. in the Sheldon Concert Hall. The artists will respond to the topic "Maturity and Its Muse: Artists Informed by Time." Admission is free.

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

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