The Contemporary places experimentation front and center.

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis debuts "The Front Room."

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The Front Room

February 1 also marks the debut of "The Front Room," a permanent series of smaller exhibitions presented by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis that will run alongside the museum's larger exhibitions. Conceived as a less-formal exhibition space where established and emerging artists can freely experiment, the series is intended to better capture the crosscurrents and byways of the current arts scene.

"You can look at it as the Contemporary now has two different spaces within a space. They have two different rhythms and functions," says museum director Paul Ha. "The main space will be more formal, more museum-like. The side space will have a much quicker pace. It will be more nimble, where we can change shows as we see and travel."

The first eight shows, which will last anywhere from a few days to two weeks, will run concurrently with the Great Rivers Biennial 2008 and feature only local artists.

"We were careful to select people who have a real presence here," says assistant curator Laura Fried. "These are people who are really hyper-involved in what's going on."

The inaugural exhibition features a work by White Flag Projects director (and Great Rivers Biennial 2006 winner) Matt Strauss titled The Provincial Gallery Simulator, a critique of the commercial gallery system. Others slated to exhibit in the space include Evil Prints founder Tom Huck, who'll curate Outlaw Prints 2008, an exhibition of printed works; Boots Contemporary Arts Space director (and Great Rivers Biennial 2008 winner) Juan William Chávez, who'll present Shoebox: Boots Substation, for which he'll convert the space into a satellite gallery and reading room; and independent curator Dana Turkovic, who will present Homegrown, a temporary archive devoted to the current local arts scene.

"Our curatorial act is picking the individuals. The participants themselves have absolute freedom to do whatever they want," says Ha. "It's very important that the artists feel that they have that carte blanche."

In April, once the biennial closes, the Contemporary's curatorial staff will begin inviting national and international artists to exhibit in the space.

"We'll have many more people and projects coming through the Contemporary," says Ha, adding that he hopes The Front Room will help break down some of the barriers between artist and viewer. "There's this stigma of art being something that you experience only through looking at it in a grand building. I feel like: No, you should be able to come in and call up the artist."

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