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Relationship between art and design is focus of CAM's 10th anniversary

Dominic Molon
Provided by CAM

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: St. Louis’ Contemporary Art Museum's "mission is not to preserve, but to provoke," according to the website of its architect. Ten years after the museum began challenging assumptions about art with its building and exhibits, CAM will celebrate Brad Cloepfil’s design, beginning this Friday with site-specific installations paying tribute to its surface, scale, transparency and boundaries.

“Place is the Space" is an exhibit of five artists: Belleville native Jill Downen; Belgian team Carla Arocha and Stephane Schraenen; Chicago's Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle; Brooklyn’s Virginia Overton; and Paris' Dominique Petitgand. It stems from an unusual collaboration between Cloepfil and CAM’s chief curator Dominic Molon.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a museum and an architect working together to do a new show of other artists’ work in the architect’s building,” Molon said.

Less than a week after the opening of “Space is the Place,” Molon will move on to a new place of his own: the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design, a renowned collecting institution. Molon talked with the Beacon about his St. Louis bucket list and his swan song at CAM.

St. Louis Beacon: Could you elaborate on how “Place is the Space” came about?

Dominic Molon: Brad started talking about the fundamental elements that went into the building. Then it narrowed it down to, “OK, who are the artists who can address the notion of scale really well? Who can address the notions of surface?” and so on. So it was a process.

I came up with long list of artists I felt could address these various things and I submitted that to Brad, and Brad came back with, “This is interesting," or "Not this."

Why was it important to include an artist with deep St. Louis roots?

Molon: When I invited Jill Downen, she was based in St. Louis. Now, she’s relocated to Kansas City but Jill has had a strong presence here, and that was something I really wanted, for at least one of the artists to have a strong association with city.

From Jill Downen's Biennial work
Credit Provided by CAM
From Jill Downen's Biennial work

Obviously, the building is something many artists in St. Louis have really taken to, especially given The Contemporary’s relationship to the art community here. It’s a place where there’s a realistic prospect of showing your work in some way, shape or form. And I think The Contemporary has a real obligation to weave the artists of the community into its programmatic fabric.

How will Jill’s piece relate to CAM’s anniversary and the themes of this exhibit?

Molon: The whole premise of her work is to address the symbiosis between the human/physical and the architectural/structural and find the ways that buildings can have these organic personalities or sensibilities that are not dissimilar from human beings: They age, they grow old; they have a history.

Jill’s piece is a reconstruction of what she did in the Great Rivers Biennial here in 2004. It was an entire corner built out of these folds that seem to very naturally grow out of the wall. Once she installed the piece, she realized it was making these scars, these marks on the corner of the wall. So she’s going to reconstruct that process, these marks, that were created from the removal of the art from the wall.

It’s really very interesting for her to revisit that piece but it also becomes very symbolic of the fact so many other works of art -- not only Jill’s in 2004, but since the building opened -- have gone up and down and they've left their marks on the wall which have been painted over. It testifies to this hidden history of the presentation of art in the building that becomes the fabric of the building, but it’s something people don’t perhaps know about.

What other events will accompany the exhibit?

Molon: There’s a panel discussion with Brad and other architects that’s planned for St. Louis Design Week. It focuses on architects who, like Brad, are making a sort of habit of building museums, looking at the notion of museum-making today. Because the show focuses so strongly on this particular building, we wanted to open a dialogue about what it means to build museums today and the challenges of doing so.

An artists’ panel will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7 with Brad, three of the five artists in the show and me. We’ll be talking about why so many artists are responding directly to museum spaces in the way that they do. I think it will be interesting to have the artists in our exhibition talk to the architect who built this building that they responded to, especially because it’s so unusual that Brad remains so fond of the building and so connected to it, and actually volunteered to do this show.

On another topic, what’s on your bucket list before you leave St. Louis?

Molon: Ted Drewes is something we already often do but there are few others. It’s mostly food: I need one more trip to Dressel’s and I’m sure another trip to Pastaria’s in our future. We just crossed Seoul Taco off our list; they have a food truck and their spot in The Loop. It’s Korean-Mexican fusion and it’s pretty awesome.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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