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Cardinals Hall of Famer Ted Simmons is a catch for St. Louis Art Museum

Ted Simmons and Maryanne Ellison Simmons stand close together, smiling at the camera.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Ted Simmons, a former St. Louis Cardinal and a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his artist wife, Maryanne Ellison Simmons, on Monday at St. Louis Public Radio’s headquarters in Grand Center.

Early in his professional baseball career, Ted Simmons realized his love for contemporary art.

“I'd be playing a game in Philadelphia that night, for instance, and I'd get on the train at 30 Street Station in Philadelphia — and 45 minutes later, I was in Wilmington, Delaware, at the Winterthur Museum,” the former Cardinals catcher and Baseball Hall of Famer told St. Louis on the Air. “Baseball gave me the luxury of going [to museums] in the day and playing in the night."

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Elizabeth Wyckoff, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the St. Louis Art Museum, speaks to the media about “Finger Bowl (1995)” by artist Kiki Smith on Wednesday during a press preview of “Catching the Moment,” a collection of contemporary art from the Ted L. And Maryanne Ellison Simmons Collection at the museum. Wyckoff said the piece kicked off the Simmonses’ art collection endeavors.

In 1988, after he and his wife, Maryanne Ellison Simmons, amassed a collection of early American furniture, Ted Simmons decided he wanted to start collecting contemporary art. Maryanne Simmons said her first thought was, “Oh my God, it's so hard to print it, now we have to collect it?” Ted told Maryanne that he liked contemporary art so much that he could study it — so they started collecting.

Now, 190 pieces from Ted and Maryanne Simmons’ 833-piece contemporary art collection are on display at the St. Louis Art Museum. “Catching the Moment” opened at the museum on Sunday.

Maryanne Simmons is a seasoned artist and printmaker. She opened Wildwood Press in St. Louis in 1996 and has been its master printer ever since. Her experience gave the couple an advantage in collecting. “One of the things that printmakers have always done,” Maryanne Simmons said, “is trade work with other artists.” This gives them access to a lot of contemporary work.

The Simmonses’ approach to collecting is informed by David Kiehl, whom they knew from his tenure as curator of prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Kiehl advised the Simmonses to focus their collection on an artist of their generation. Heeding Kiehl’s advice, the couple directed their attention to artist Kiki Smith.

“I admired [Smith] for a very long time,” Maryanne Simmons said. “Then we started following her colleagues and her friends.”

Smith’s work is central to “Catching the Moment,” with over 20 pieces in the exhibition.

Ted Simmons noted the importance of slowly collecting from artists throughout their career because, he said, artists tend to “work their way into greatness.”

“Long term,” he said, “it’s worth the wait.”

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Brian Munoz
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Clare Kobasa, assistant curator of prints, drawings and photographs at the St. Louis Art Museum, speaks to the media about the piece “The Jerry Can Standard (1978-79)” by artists Nancy and Edwards Keinholz on Wednesday during a press preview of “Catching the Moment,” a collection of contemporary art from the Ted L. and Maryanne Ellison Simmons Collection.

One of Maryanne Simmons’ favorite pieces in the exhibition is “Pay Attention” by Bruce Nauman. “It uses some language that may offend some people,” she said, “but the point of the piece is that throughout your life — our lives — you need to pay attention.”

“Pay Attention” speaks to political and social issues that the Simmonses are particularly passionate about, such as gay rights, women’s liberation, the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis. These themes are apparent throughout the entire exhibition.

Ted Simmons said Bruce Conner’s “Bombhead'' is one of their most overtly political pieces. “[In Bombhead] you have this military guy,” he said, “and his head’s blown off with this film clip from those national archived films.” The piece particularly resonates with the Simmonses because both Maryanne Simmons and Ted Simmons remember seeing those films as children.

Jeremy D. Goodwin interviews Ted and Maryanne Simmons about "Catching The Moment"

Ted Simmons said that their collection is “more or less a chronology of [their] lives together.”

“[This pursuit has] given us a chance to collect hand in hand, in an effort to enrich our lives together,” Ted Simmons said. “We've always been able to kind of hold hands and go.”

Ted Simmons said that seeing their collection in the galleries of the St. Louis Art Museum makes them feel “lucky as can be.”

Related Event
What: “Catching the Moment: Contemporary Art from the Ted L. and Maryanne Ellison Simmons Collection”
When: June 26-Sept. 11
Where: St. Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, St. Louis, MO 63110

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 produced by Emily Woodbury, Miya Norfleet, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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