Art Attack

Stand clear: A young St. Louis sculptor named Moses has entered the building

"I felt like this guy was in the room," Moses recalls. "He's so irreverent and against the idea of uppity art. And he was 85 years old and still making beautiful things. I felt like you could be who you wanted to be as an artist and still succeed. I wanted to quit school, put all my money in the stock market and just make art. But my parents wouldn't let me."

Moses was something of a vexing student. "He needed a lot more space than we could provide in the classrooms and his senior studio, which, to his annoyance, he had to share with another student the first semester," Michael Knutson, Moses' advisor, writes in an e-mail.

"He produced so much labor-intensive, large-scale work for his thesis that he insisted on showing in a gallery on campus by himself, rather than with the other nine seniors in a warehouse space we'd rented off campus."

At $4,000, the six-by-seven-foot Public 
Broadcasting System photographs are the least 
expensive works in the series.
At $4,000, the six-by-seven-foot Public Broadcasting System photographs are the least expensive works in the series.
Moses sees a market for his art among rappers like P. 
Diddy and Jay-Z.
Jennifer Silverberg
Moses sees a market for his art among rappers like P. Diddy and Jay-Z.

Details

“The Audiophile Series” on display through March 26.

Where: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
How much: $5 adults; $3 seniors. Free for children and students. Free for all visitors all day Wednesday and Saturday, and after 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Contact: 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org.

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Allows Moses: "A lot of them did think I was an asshole." Indeed, his days at Reed College were not exactly filled with collegial camaraderie. "Nobody really dug me. I wasn't making friends, and they weren't asking me to be in shows with them. The same thing happens in St. Louis.

"But I really get off making this shit," he continues. "It turns me on. It makes me feel alive.

"Say I'm at a show, standing by a piece of mine and another artist walks by, and I say, 'Isn't this cool?' I'm tripping out on something, I'm dancing around. I'm happy. To me, it feels good. That just pisses people off. They don't get that I'm not saying my stuff is better than theirs."

Moses cultivates the image of "the rogue artist," observes Shannon Fitzgerald, chief curator at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Moses says his influences include Marcel Duchamp, cofounder of Dadaism, and graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. He dismisses any comparisons Fitzgerald draws between his own work and that of contemporary mixed-media artists Christian Marclay or Tom Sachs.

"No one's doing what I do," Moses insists. "And if they are, it's because they're copying me."


Moses' studio could be a hardware store or a lumberyard, cluttered with power tools, planks of wood and boxes of subwoofers that fill the metal shelves near the door, where the boombox is always blaring.

The night his friend at Reed turned him onto Wu-Tang Clan, Moses put away the rock music and began listening exclusively to rap and hip-hop artists.

"They were painting images of pop culture — I loved that," he says.

The music sent Moses off on a five-year expedition to create "The Audiophile Series," large-scale sculptures made from turntables, subwoofers, LPs and stereo receivers — an alchemy of 50 years' worth of consumer electronics. He envisioned the series would archive and venerate contemporary hip-hop, DJ and street culture.

"I wanted people like 50 Cent to look at me and say, 'This dude is different, but he's down.'"

Each installation required chopping, breaking down and repackaging. The largest of them all is Soundboard, a 1,500-pound collage of 182 gray stereo equalizers, all enjoined in a steel frame.

For Two Turntables and a Microphone, Moses cut 1,500 record sleeves and installed them in a shelf to create a faux record collection. For Boombox he removed the guts of 51 old subwoofers to reduce their depth before installing them in a shallow wooden box. The condensing of the objects fosters an element of trompe l'oeil,or tricking the viewer into seeing something that isn't there.

Moses took six-by-seven-foot photographs of shiny 1980s-era boomboxes and called them Public Broadcasting System, and for Revolution 2.0he framed and painted twenty turntables white.

The collection's centerpiece is American Dream: We Like the Cars That Go BOOM!Playing with the recent trend of "pimping rides," Moses bought a black '92 Chevy Blazer, stripped the engine, recast the windows in fiberglass and embedded 300 speakers in the body.

He also commissioned popular St. Louis hip-hop DJ Crucial to make a music track composed entirely of bass notes emanating from the truck's interior. Moses finished the piece by fitting the wheels with gleaming silver rims.

"You don't have to love art to be like, 'Hey, that's cool,'" Moses says of the piece.

The laborious series was nearly three-quarters finished last summer, but Moses wasn't sure if he wanted to keep going.

"I've had a lot of people with a lot of money come into the studio, look at my work, pat me on the back and say, 'Great job, keep it up.' There hasn't been much recognition in terms of 'Geez, how do you pay for this? Can we help you?'"

"There's no market in St. Louis for the large-scale conceptual type of work that Moses is doing," explains Tom Bussmann, co-owner of Philip Slein Gallery.

Elaborates Dion Dion of Art St. Louis: "There's the cost of his work and being able to display it. The amplifier piece he exhibited with us, even though it was large, was still in the possible range of being sold, like to somebody with a downtown loft. But the price was a problem. He wanted $10,000.

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