Photographer Gary Simmons leads a tour of the (empty) halls of academe in a new exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum

"I'm really drawn to an object or space that has a layered history -- like a ballroom or an amusement park," Simmons has said. "These are places that people have shared but have a very personal experience to, yet they define something larger and structural, a certain kind of political or perhaps romantic experience."

The perspective of Simmons' camera forces the viewer into the room. We become the nocturnal janitor, and we are creeping around the spooky, empty, alien halls of academia. Just as the visitor to Simmons' moving-train-image exhibit participated in the experience by having to wind around the closely spaced blackboards, visitors to Currents 80 will feel as if they can step into the walls, into these inviting yet clinical spaces. Again, the way we move through a room forever alters our perception of what the room is, our memory of what the room was. Our physical motions "fragment our experience," as Simmons says, allowing us to "construct memory." This conceit operates cleverly within the artworks as well as within the gallery itself.

As an artist who has referenced race, class, the way memory works, how we learn and the meta-experience of the museum itself, Simmons would seem to be in a protean stage of development, and it is exciting to host his work in St Louis.

Gary Simmons, "Not in Session," chromogenic print, 60 by 75 inches, 1998
Gary Simmons, "Not in Session," chromogenic print, 60 by 75 inches, 1998

Currents 80: Gary Simmons is on display Dec. 10-Feb. 27.

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