This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 24, 2012 - Is Cherokee the pounding heart or the soul of St. Louis? Is it the clever, turning mind or the third eye gazing at our arch/navel? However you parse it, Cherokee is a vital part of our city anatomy.
The art scene on Cherokee is local in the best sort of way. Artists originally from Bosnia, Brazil, Germany, Jefferson County often turn toward their adopted city for inspiration. They are not looking for signs of the 1904 World’s Fair or fabled Gaslight Square. Cherokee people are too absorbed in their own creation stories to look backward. Right now you can see this clearly in the work of Brea and James McAnally.
How to Build a World That Won’t Fall Apart, part 1 presents a visual manifesto against the demolition of landmark buildings. It is a public declaration born of St. Louis hopes and problems, but the message can travel. A written treatise accompanies, in the form of an exhibit brochure, and those lucky enough to spot them can take home an almost invisible plexiglass calling card inscribed with a karmic message.
Words are often part and parcel with the artwork. Sculptural arrangements -- such as the shiny chrome plated ceremonial shovels lined up before a red line of brick sand -- make good design sense. They are pleasing to the eye. The engraved message upon each shovel is easily missed so that, at first glance, the work, You Cannot Wait for a Tool without Blood on It, appears to be a straightforward display of patterned objects organized as composition. Such subtle clues are like winks and nods. In the words of my 8-year-old son, “These artworks are like brain teasers, everything is smart and strange.” He then smiled with approval to find feathers holding up stone in Strike Work.
The artwork was active throughout the opening night.
While standing before a vinyl #Occupy banner in the storefront window of The Luminary’s temporary space, Brea McAnally broke her frozen pose to explain to my son the process she used to create the cement galoshes she was standing in for art’s sake. This husband and wife team got a real workout as the evening went on. The two switched places between the window pose and a seat set before a tarp-covered heap of red bricks that had been taken from the Pevely Building site. There the artist on duty pounded away methodically as red brick dust fell to the floor at the foot of the black tarped mass. The piece is titled, Father Biondi Is A Liar.
The show is charming and elegant more than it is relentless. But there is message found throughout. Like the blood red paint slashed across white boxes in Myth of the Pelican, each aesthetic pleasure is tinged with something solemn.
Sarah Hermes Griesbach is a graduate student in art history at Washington University. She has been a teacher in the area and volunteers as a docent at the Art Museum. She will be reviewing the local art scene for the St. Louis Beacon.