The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis opens its doors to the public this Saturday, complete with a new building and a new exhibition that it hopes will not only stir the cultural sensibilities of St. Louisans, but make a big noise in the national art world.
The opening exhibition proves that the Museum is already innovating. A Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary Africa Abroad, curated by Tumelo Mosaka of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and Shannon Fitzgerald of the Contemporary, is being billed as the first show in the United States to feature modern art from Africa "that addresses the theme of authentic African art." The exhibit is a collection of work by "eleven artists coming from Africa, looking back to Africa, informed by it, who have created pieces that challenge Western ideas of what Africa is," says Fitzgerald. Six of the eleven artists will discuss their work and the exhibition on Saturday. "When you look at a continent the size of Africa, you wonder how it could be considered as one unit, when it's a collection of very diverse ideas and people," adds Fitzgerald. "This exhibition addresses that misconception."
The opening of America's latest museum for modern art also calls for a red carpet/black tie Inaugural Gala on Friday night, an event fit for St. Louis cognoscenti and assorted big cheeses. Such dignitaries as Mayor Slay, Governor Holden, Senators Kit Bond and Jim Talent, and celebrity emcees Al Roker ("America's favorite weatherman") and his wife, Deborah Roberts of "20/20," will attend. Roker, as it turns out, is an avid art collector. "He has a genuine interest in the exhibit we're showing," says Contemporary special events manager Cassie Brown, "and because of the collection he has, he's very interested in supporting this opening."
For those of us not attending the Gala, there's the more user-friendly Budweiser True Music Block Party on Saturday night, just outside the Museum. The true music will be supplied by true band WildTrybe and true DJs, and you'll have a chance to win a true Vespa, which, along with your presence at such an upscale event, can only add to your own authenticity. Or, you can take your Budweiser and Ted Drewes "Contemporary" concrete and make conversation with the "who's-who" destined to be floating through, casually sipping drinks in the VIP room (with snacks by Wolfgang Puck Catering).
The most wallet-friendly grand-opening event, though, is the Family Connect scavenger hunt. On Saturday, kids will enjoy various activities in the Museum, along with gift bags, all for free.
The opening of the Contemporary is about more than posh parties and scavenger hunts, of course; it's an event that will energize our cultural district with the richness and raw power of new art. By seeking the outer boundaries of art, the space becomes another permanent link between St. Louis and the world at large. It's that kind of forward momentum that gives cities life.