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Kahlil Robert Irving’s ‘At Dusk’ Exhibit Ruminates On Physical, Digital Time

Kahlil Robert Irving's "At Dusk" exhibit is on display at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis through February 21, 2021.
Dusty Kessler
Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis
Kahlil Robert Irving's "At Dusk" exhibit is on display at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis through Feb. 21, 2021.

Dusk is a transition period one might or might not look forward to each day. It can evoke the idea of closure or of a new beginning. And in Kahlil Robert Irving’s “At Dusk” exhibit, twilight becomes a meditation on the Christian sentiment “What's done in the dark will come to light.”

“There are many things done in the dark,” Irving said on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “How do you deal with that transition of time, through experience?”

His exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis explores this and other questions. Ceramic sculptures, wall art and a huge 6-by-65-foot collage of digital memes, social media posts and news article clippings are juxtaposed to portray the Black experience in the United States.

Dusty Kessler
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Artist Kahlil Robert Irving describes the collage in his "At Dusk" exhibit akin to a diary."It is only the things that I'm really interacting with online at any given time," he said on Tuesday's "St. Louis on the Air."

“There are a lot of things that I'm talking about in the whole show, not just the sculptures, about violence and ideas of celebration and family — personal issues that I'm interested in that are presented in the work,” he said.

“Some people will never understand, and then there are some issues in the work that everybody will understand. There is space for Black people to live within the work without anybody else intruding on their experience, and then there is room for laughter and joy. So it's more like a covering of the last three or four years of my art practice together in one exhibition.”

At first glance, Irving’s sculptures look like common objects such as takeout boxes, metal scraps and trashed tableware. But then his intricate craft takes over.

“The point is to fool the viewer. If you read the materials list on the wall in the museum, you'll see that they're not plastic, they're not glass — they are ceramic,” Irving said. He added that the sculptures reference a history of industrialization and manufacturing.

“There's a lot of engineering and a lot of ingenuity and invention possibilities in material. And even in the 1904 World's Fair, there were a lot of companies that came to the United States, specifically St. Louis, that showed engineering and inventive possibilities with ceramic. And so the sculpture specifically built on this history of invention and possibility,” he said.

Dusty Kessler
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
"Just because you see a sculpture that looks like it's made out of to-go boxes or found objects, in fact, there's more information to see; and not just the objects themselves, but there are images on the surfaces of the sculptures that take the work a step further," artist Kahlil Robert Irving said about his sculptures in the "At Dusk" exhibit at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

Growing recognition

Irving joined host Sarah Fenske to delve further into his exhibit and his career growth as an artist. He’s a recipient of the Great Rivers Biennial Arts Award Program, which highlights emerging artists in the St. Louis region and provides them with a $20,000 stipend. “At Dusk” is featured as part of the Great Rivers Biennial 2020 program.

Irving also shared with listeners the news he found out just this morning: He’s been named as one of the artists on Forbes’ annual "30 Under 30" list, which highlights young leaders and entrepreneurs.

“Being recognized in esteemed places and spaces … I'm interested in challenging space and just challenging a lot of things that we think we know, to try to do better and make a difference for everybody in the world.”

Related Event

What: 2020 Great Rivers Biennial Exhibit
When: Now through Feb. 21, 2021
Where: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (3750 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108) or online

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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