Commentary: Good art does not have to be within the walls of a museum | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: Good art does not have to be within the walls of a museum

Aug 7, 2017

Nancy Kranzberg

It's nice to visit an art museum to view beautiful and exciting art exhibitions or to see and hear music, dance or poetry from a stage, but the walls and stages are not always essential to feel and hear the excitement of a work of art. Take for example Desert X in Palm Springs, California.  

The description of the exhibition in the catalogue says, "Desert X is an exhibition of site-specific art installations that range across the Coachella Valley. Artists from different parts of the world were selected to make the blank canvas upon which contemporary artists - like the writers, architects, musicians and others before them - projected  their visions and created, from the extraordinary natural and social history around them, objects and experiences that reflect upon the matchless spectacle of the geologic epic.”

Susan Davis, the founder of this incredible exhibition was influenced by a trip to Cartagena, Columbia where she experienced the city's first art biennial. Artists installed their work at various institutions and tourist sites, as well as in neighborhoods in and beyond the walls of the beautiful colonial city. On her airplane descent to Palm Springs, she was struck by the beauty of the mountains, the windmills, and the glorious weather. She envisioned people coming to the Coachella Valley and seeing it through the lens of contemporary art.

The catalogue describes Neville Wakefield, the Director of Desert X--"Wakefield broke from traditional art spaces as curator of "Elevation 1049: Between Heaven and Hell," an exhibition of site-specific artworks in the ski and vacation village of Gstaad in the Swiss Alps. Like parts of the Coachella Valley, Gstaad enjoys natural beauty, great affluence and an appreciable amount of art. With "Elevation,”  Wakefield enlisted artists to create on the white landscape rather than in the white-walled confines of a gallery, museum or makeshift space at an art fair." 

Our own Laumeier Sculpture Park is filled with site specific works of art. Site-specific work is, of course, not transportable like a typical painting or sculpture in a museum, but is created by an artist for a specific site and its surroundings. Site-specific works can include dance or music or art works in other disciplines. Em Piro, past director of St. Lou Fringe says, "Site-specific projects also challenge artists to think seriously about the in-the-now relevance of their work. When pieces are brought to life outside of a stage, gallery, or venue, they become that much more visceral and relevant to our times." 

Dana Turkovic, Associate Curator of Laumeier, says that Laumeier was on the ground floor of having site-specific works of art and includes works of this kind by world renowned artists such as Mary Miss and Beverly Pepper. And Laumeier has had cutting edge groups of artists such as The New Music Circle perform around the park and I even saw a dance troupe riding around on the grounds in balletic poses on lawn mowers.

Another nationally known new music group, "Alarm Will Sound" recently performed a piece, "Ten Thousand Birds" in the Public Media Commons in Grand Center. It was a piece by world famous John Luther Adams and inaugurated the Public Media Commons in Grand Center located between KETC, The Nine Network, and St. Louis Public Radio. The piece is based on the songs of birds native to Missouri and the western limit of the eastern hardwood forest, and fully embraces the orchestral range of colors in the instrumentation of "Alarm Will Sound." Musicians moved around the space where time was not measured. The score is its own self-contained world that occupies its own physical space and time.

And Jessica Baran, St Louis's nationally published poet, pointed out  how the works of sculptor Donald Judd when placed in the severe West Texas landscape in Marfa ,Texas, take on an entirely different look. The severity of his geometrical boxes becomes much more humanized with an emphasis on the sensual materials he uses, drawing our attention to the stone and metal as seen in nature rather than in museums which somehow misses the point.

One can still enjoy a beautiful Rembrandt on the walls of a prestigious museum or admire a Rodin indoors or outdoors, but let's leave ourselves open to enjoying art in other environments.