Has it really been just one year since the Contemporary Art Museum opened the doors to its new digs in Grand Center (3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org)? It seems that it's been there forever, that for years now St. Louis has enjoyed a premier museum on the contemporary circuit, that we've always had an ode to the future constructed of concrete. And while the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis has been in existence since 1980, the stunning museum designed by Brad Cloepfil has only existed since last September, during which time it's quadrupled the number of visitors. Time to celebrate.
But before we get to the drinks, let's talk about why we're here: art, for art's sake and for the sake of humanity. Yes, we said it -- humanity. There's the old Dostoyevsky trope about society being measured by the quality of its prisons (telling, sure, especially these days when jails are the small town's profitable alternative to Wal-Mart), but there is as much truth in beauty. Libraries, museums, concert halls and parks are all elements that build a city and make it real. Art is the way Jean-Luc Godard saw filmmaking: as a way to spend money, not make it.
Friday, September 10, marks the beginning of the Contemporary's birthday celebration, and said celebration comes with a double opening reception (at 7 p.m.) and with no expense on your part (except for the obligatory cash bar). Admission to the Contemporary will be free through Friday, September 17, providing you the opportunity to experience British video artist Keith Piper's Crusade and New Video, New Europe, created by 39 Eastern European artists.
Crusade, made specifically for the Contemporary and filmed in St. Louis, traces the region's history from the eleventh century to the present using HDTV technology combined with landscape painting. Piper speaks about his work Saturday, September 11, at 1 p.m., with a docent-led tour starting at 3 p.m.
New Video, New Europe features pieces ranging from humorous video diaries to harrowing portraits of the former Yugoslavia. Each piece is different, examining life in the new Eastern Europe as parts of it join the EU and try to move past terrifying wars. With St. Louis' recent immigrant population hailing from many of these countries, New Video, New Europe, taken together with Crusade, should provide a rather clear view of what the city and the people of St. Louis (both new and old) are as a whole. This combination of introspection and retrospection is not uncommon on a birthday.
The capstone to the birthday festivities, though, comes Tuesday, September 14, when Glenn Lowry -- director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where all the art you've seen in art books is hanging on the walls -- lectures on the importance of contemporary art. Lowry is one of the most respected museum directors alive right now, partly owing to the eagerly awaited new MoMA in Manhattan, and his speaking at the Contemporary in the supercool lecture hall speaks volumes about the museum's place in the art world. His lecture's at 7 p.m.; there's a reception at 6 p.m. Both events are free, but you'll need a ticket (available at the museum).