Total Exhibitionist

Matthew Strauss has audacious plans to remake the city's art scene.

In addition to the upcoming shows featuring abstract painters from St. Louis and emerging west-coast artists, Strauss plans for the gallery to host a series of artist lectures that accompany each five-week show. Between shows he plans to give the space over to single-engagement performance-art productions.

"It's going to be a place that's about ideas and intellectual practice and rigor, and I think that's what Matt wants to bring," says Kim Humphries, who himself won the Great Rivers Biennial in 2004. Humphries is also slated to produce a performance art project at White Flag on New Year's Eve.

"It's a fabulous way to include people with the desire and the skills in the community to be active not have to raise money and to be able to bring unique projects to the community. He wants to have a core group of people who hopefully will call this home and pick up some of the challenges," Humphries continues. "Since it's a nonprofit, Matt will not be stepping on any galleries' toes. If something were to sell, Matt has absolutely no commercial interest in it whatsoever, so he's not threatening the gallery system."

A detail from one of Bill Smith's intricately crafted sculptures.
Jennifer Silverberg
A detail from one of Bill Smith's intricately crafted sculptures.

The entry of White Flag has people in the city's arts community hoping that St. Louis may be turning a corner for visual arts.

"I'm very excited. Alternative art spaces have come and gone in St. Louis, but to have one that has staying power and that will mature over time is really what we need — a space between the commercial galleries and us, for instance," says the Contemporary's Shannon Fitzgerald.

"There's really been a renaissance in St. Louis arts," adds gallery owner Philip Slein. "I think having a number of different venues makes everyone try harder. We have to walk a fine line between keeping our doors open and showing fine, cutting-edge work. But being a nonprofit? I think that gives you freedom to really focus on ideas."

Strauss says that once his gallery is up and running, he plans to appoint a board of directors that will determine the its focus.

"White Flag is not about my taste. It's about facilitating things that are not going to go on otherwise. That's why we're having so many outside curators coming in," he says. "Four of the things on the schedule I have nothing to do with. I might hate it. It's entirely possible that I'll hate everything in the show."

The gallery will be open two days a week, and Strauss hopes to draw on the expertise of the local arts community to curate shows and determine White Flag's mission.

"The artists that I've brought over have all seen the value in this and been very generous in saying that they'd like to be involved, but ultimately for this place to work the artists are going to have to get over their personal petty bullshit," he says. "There've been a lot of promising starts to things in St. Louis that went nowhere at best, and this might end up being one of them. But if this can't work here, then it can't work anywhere."

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