Art Attack

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

"Now, that's not outside the realm of selling in other geographic areas of the United States. But on a practical level, I suggested to him that he exhibit some smaller pieces here, that they could be his bread and butter."

Moses tried that in 2001 while working in New York City, pulling a variety of stunts to get noticed by the boldface names in the art world. One morning he walked into a staff meeting at the Mary Boone Gallery, trained his eyes on Mary Boone herself and said, "Hi, I'm Moses. I know you're the most provocative art dealer in New York, and I think I'm the most provocative artist you've never met."

Moses had made up his mind that Boone, a blue-chip broker, should represent him. A flight of fancy, to be sure, but he'd sent off so many slides to other dealers and grant-giving committees — and he was fed up with rejection from people who'd never even laid eyes on him.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg

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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"I'd inspect the slides when they came back and look for fingerprints, to see if they had been touched," says Moses. "I was really doubtful. I decided the only way you're going to get somewhere is to have some personal contact with the people in power."

Moses proceeded to press his portfolio on Boone, only to have the clearly miffed dealer instruct him to send it by courier. He did just that, and she sent it back, unopened.

Moses returned to St. Louis in October 2001 but couldn't get a gallery to represent him, even with a handwritten letter of recommendation from famed artist Richard Serra, who Moses met while doing odd jobs at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

He tried to get his work seen by potential collectors by contacting wealthy Reed alumni, such as Steve Jobs of Apple Inc.

Desperate for money, Moses went so far as to ask the National Rifle Association to sell posters of "Bullet Flag." Again, nothing panned out. And by last summer, says his father, "Moses was clearly depressed. He quit going to the studio."

In a last-ditch attempt to raise the needed funds to finish "Audiophile," Moses applied for the Great Rivers Biennial, a competition co-sponsored by the Contemporary Art Museum and the Gateway Foundation, where he had lost once before. This time he took a different approach. Using Photoshop software, Moses superimposed images of his sculptures hanging on the Contemporary's walls.

"It was a bold maneuver," says juror Elizabeth Dunbar, curator at Kansas City's Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. "But it certainly did give us a sense of what the work looked like."

Along with Matthew Strauss and Jason Wallace Triefenbach, Moses won the Great Rivers Biennial.

"He was super-excited, completely elated, but also he had this well-of-course-it-happened-I-deserved-it attitude," remembers Vanessa Nornberg. "At the same time there was still wonder, and disbelief."

"I cried," says Moses.

The day after getting the news, Moses went back to work, spending every last penny of the $15,000 to finish "The Audiophile Series." At the evening opening on January 20, Moses says he felt "a sense of awe and jaw-dropping" as he watched visitors enter the Contemporary and gaze upon his nine immense works, which fill the first gallery.

Fellow artists praised the pieces as elegant, sleek and technically impressive. "They're pretty damn well-crafted," reports 2004 Biennial winner Kim Humphries. "I got the feeling Moses works his ass off."

"I think he has the potential to be big-league," says RFT art critic Ivy Cooper.

Some within the art intelligentsia, though, were nonplussed that Moses' works were chosen. Post-Dispatch art critic David Bonetti credited Moses for making the strongest visual presentation at the exhibition but also noted that "The Audiophile Series" highlighted Moses' immaturity as an artist.

Susan Cahan, Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, disagrees. "Moses is translating music into visceral and visual experiences," she says. "It's conceptually very interesting and very powerful."

Says Bruno David, Moses' newly retained art dealer: "I think people who are interested in rap or R&B are not necessarily the kind of people who might come to a contemporary art museum on a Saturday afternoon. And by branching out, using the crossover media that he does, Moses might have a way to reach those people. He's trying to find a way to reach out between two forms of expression — music and art."

To Cahan, the series brings to mind minimalist works by Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Ryman, as well as John Cage, the composer. "I would buy a piece if I could afford it. I think it's beautiful."

Moses' suggested prices range from $4,000 for the photographs to more than $100,000 for "Soundboard" and the Blazer.

"It is not an easy sell," acknowledges Bruno David. "The number of people interested in purchasing something like it is very limited, not because of the work itself but the way it's made, the heaviness of it, and the structural demands of hanging it."

Moses, though, is determined to find a way to make money from his first museum exhibition. He's hired superstar St. Louis publicist Jane Higgins to spread the word and hasn't ruled out trying to rent the Blazer to a musician making a rap video.

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