St. Louis in America

A writer for Art in America takes a three-day tour of St. Louis and assesses the art scene

Lloyd says her optimistic overview of the St. Louis art scene was genuinely felt. "I was impressed by the energy, and I was impressed by the sense of cooperation. At least people were talking and eager to bolster the whole scene together and work together. Other places I've lived, that has not been the case -- there seems to be a lot more competition rather than cooperation among institutions [in other cities].

"I was impressed by that, and I was impressed by the fact that things like the Pulitzer and the Forum were locating in an area of the downtown that was still not prime. That's a good sign to me that things were happening to reclaim the downtown. It's good to see an urban center start to come back through the arts. I've seen this in other cities, and it's great when you see that starting to happen.

"So I think, comparatively with other cities I've been to and done this kind of research, I felt pretty good about St. Louis."

Art in America's July issue features "Art under the Arch," an overview of the local art scene that begins with the Arch and ends with the Arch.
Art in America's July issue features "Art under the Arch," an overview of the local art scene that begins with the Arch and ends with the Arch.

The Forum's Elizabeth Wright Millard shares Lloyd's sense of optimism but admits it's a requirement of her position, being that she's in the midst of trying to fund that new building. Millard notes, however, that in terms of referencing academic institutions, the article is "Wash. U.-centric": "It sounds like we're a one-horse town in terms of art departments, and we really aren't."

The article also mentions Webster University, which, Millard says, has "a quiet program, but it's an extraordinary one in the sense of the kind of freedom the kids have." If Lloyd commits sins of omission in the article (Lemp Brewery happenings and the City Museum being two of the most remarkable), the inclusion of St. Louis University as having a major art program is a sin of commission.

Phil Robinson, professor of fine arts at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says SLU's inclusion is a reflection of "money and power speaking." Robinson, who moved to St. Louis as a Freund fellow at Wash. U., goes on to say, "UMSL is invisible, and Wash. U. is the main honcho of a small town." He's bemused about the status conferred on his former employer by the national art monthly: "One person said to me, '[Wash. U.] is a safe school to send rich kids to in the middle of the country.' That's right. It's not as big as Chicago. It's certainly not New York, and what the hell are they doing out there in San Francisco? You can't send your kids out there."

Robinson is most perplexed by the exclusion of UM-St. Louis' Gallery 210, curated by Terry Suhre, which brings in consistently engaging artists and artworks. "That upset me more," he says. "If the RFT can make a recognition of the quality of the work this institution produced, how is it no one outside can even allude to that we're here?"

No good deed goes unpunished. Art in America gives St. Louis ink, but, because of the nature of the magazine and the methodology employed, that ink is bound to be insufficient. Lloyd calls back after our discussion, saying that folks who were missed should write letters to the AiA editors. The arts professionals she spoke to didn't mention the Lemp Brewery or the City Museum, she says: "Those were holes that didn't get filled. That's the chance that you take, but I always hate that when it happens. If you don't make the right connection, things get totally missed."

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