Rounding out the show is Recto/Verso, a marvelous collection of embroidered and painted portraits by Cayce Zavaglia. Zavaglia, a relative unknown in St. Louis, brings magnificent craftsmanship to these small-scale works. With a painter's eye, she combines different types of thread to create meticulous images that have the luminosity and depth of a finely rendered oil painting.

These works, which can't help but recall the craftsmanship of medieval tapestries, are stitched directly on to the canvas, which Zavaglia paints in mottled hues of pink, gray and yellow. These backgrounds, some of which appear to have been sanded down, make the portraits themselves appear all the richer, popping to life against their unobtrusive backdrops.

As realistic as these beautiful little portraits are, Zavaglia, in keeping with one of the show's inherent themes, is also fascinated by the underlying structure of her craft. In Rebecca (Verso), for instance, Zavaglia displays the canvas on a pedestal, allowing viewers to see both the surface — a richly crafted portrait of a woman — as well as the verso side, which reveals the work's reverse image. Here, the recognizable figure is partially obscured by the network of loose threads and knots that undergird its surface beauty. It is, in a sense, a visual riff on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Location Info


Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

3750 Washington Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108

Category: Art Galleries

Region: St. Louis - Grand Center


Great Rivers Biennial
Through August 9 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or Open Wed. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thurs. and Fri. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free all summer.

Similarly, Zavaglia is presenting a series of large-scale acrylic portraits that seek to re-create these semi-abstract embroidered images. They are interesting enough as paintings. Still, they lose some of their force when exhibited next to the thing itself. Overall, however, it is a marvelous body of work from a skilled artist who deserves greater local recognition.

Organized by associate curator Kelly Shindler and sponsored by the Gateway Foundation, this year's panel of judges included artist Mel Chin; Lowery Stokes Sims, curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York; and Lynne Warren, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Together, this panel of judges has selected three very different artists who wrestle with similar questions from different perspectives. Whether St. Louis can keep them? Only time will tell. 

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