The pictured photograph, Lena on the Bally Box, Essex Junction, VT, is the work of Susan Meiselas. From 1972 to 1975, Meiselas traveled across the East Coast, documenting the lives of the women who worked as strippers in the small-town carnival burlesque shows that crisscrossed this corner of America. In addition to photographing the dancers, the managers, the come-on men and the customers, Meiselas interviewed the women about themselves and talked to their boyfriends and their customers as well.
Perhaps this is why her photographs seem to contain so much information. Meiselas has done more than fix the shadows in place; her photos from those three summers (collected in the book Carnival Strippers) are teeming with the human lives of the people depicted. Instead of isolating the dancers, the workers and the customers in portraits, Meiselas' photographs depict these people at their points of contact. Lena stands on the box, her face set in blank defiance -- but defiance of what? This is how she makes her living: She needs the man ogling her from below; she needs the barker who's talking up her charms and objectifying her in the process. A person can work a job he or she needs and still hate the job. Nobody wants to work, but some jobs are definitely worse than others. The argument of whether the sex trade damages the worker or the customer is stripped of its rhetoric; Lena is bored by it anyway and just wants her shift to be over. Just like you.
This month, the Houska St. Louis Gallery (4728 McPherson Avenue; 314-454-0959 or www.houska.com) adorns its usually whimsical walls with some art that's more serious and topical. From Friday, April 8, through April 23, the free exhibit Still Here: The Changing Art of Living with HIV can be viewed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday or by appointment. Featured artist Nancer LeMoins will be on hand Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. for the exhibit's opening reception. LeMoins, a nationally recognized artist, has been living with HIV/AIDS for almost twenty years, and this show includes several of her works, as well as fourteen other images. -- Mia York
Nature poetry really hit its stride with Walt Whitman, but just because his Leaves of Grass was first published 150 years ago -- and nature really isn't what it used to be -- doesn't mean poets have stopped trying to record this planet's ceaseless natural beauty. The free "Poetry and Gardens" festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard; 314-577-9400 or www.mobot.org) celebrates the poetic efforts of these fine people from noon to 2:30 p.m. by presenting a variety of performers, including esteemed nature poet Pattiann Rogers. She comes here from colorful Colorado (where there's lots of nature) to read from her book Song of the World Becoming. Visit www.elders-probe-the-arts.org or call 314-991-1529 for more details about the poetic program. -- Mark Dischinger
It's true: Lots of people in St. Louis are much more affluent than you. These people eat gourmet meals and have money left over at the end of the month. But before you resume grumbling into your Hamburger Helper, think about the fact that some of the well-to-do (or at least the more well-to-do-than-you) collect art. Cool, huh? See one of these local, private collections at Art Struck: The William D. Merwin Collection of Contemporary Art, an exhibit of more than 40 artists (including Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns), which opens on Friday, April 8, at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art (in O'Donnell Hall, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-3399 or sluma.slu.edu). Stop by for the reception on opening day (from 5:30 to 8 p.m.) or anytime between then and July 17, when this private collection becomes, well, private again. -- Alison Sieloff