Best Of 2015

Best Art Gallery
Photo by Mabel Suen
The Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park is a treasure trove of world-famous art, but it does more than serve as a storehouse for agreed-upon classics. Using its supplemental galleries (234 through 236, as well as 301 and 321), the museum presents the work of contemporary artists in a variety of media. This past year saw the installation of all 40 of Nicholas Nixon's The Brown Sisters photographs, an exhibit that permitted you to see the passage of time in the faces of four sisters. There was also a selection of prints created after the phantasmagorical style of Hieronymus Bosch, and a stark collection drawings and prints of the night sky by "intense realist" Vija Celmins. Mariam Ghani's Currents 110 exhibition The City showcased her film inspired by the psychogeography of St. Louis, particularly the once-populous areas of Kinloch and the riverfront. With its fictional narrative and beautifully framed shots of these now-empty spaces, Ghani showed the old St. Louis that still haunts the modern St. Louis. She gave us a new way to see our hometown in a building that simultaneously represents its past and its present. Forest Park, St. Louis, 63110. 314-721-0072, www.slam.org.

Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment
This wasn't just the year that Ferguson burned and the national media camped out in town. For St. Louis, this was a year of provocative art and thrilling performances. Indeed, the unrest at our doorstep galvanized local artists. Read on as our staff celebrates the best in dance, theater, film, music and fine arts -- some controversial, some confrontational, but all of it worth revisiting.
Best Concert
Micah Usher
The most critically lauded hip-hop duo of 2014 almost didn't make it to St. Louis for its scheduled November stop at the Ready Room. The bus that held Run the Jewels, a.k.a. Atlanta's Killer Mike and New York's El-P, stalled on the side of the road in the middle of Illinois on the way to the show. Compounding matters? A long-awaited announcement from St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch ended up being scheduled for that very evening. This wasn't just any politico's press conference. The date was November 24 — and the grand jury investigating the death of Ferguson teenager Michael Brown was about to release its verdict. The city braced for unrest, and many shops shut their doors. The owners of the Ready Room, however, chose to stay open. Just before Run the Jewels' engine finally restarted, El-P remarked on Twitter that the performers were likely "some of the only people trying to get in to St. Louis right now." Upon arrival, Run the Jewels performed with an intensity rarely seen in any musical act. Even as Ferguson burned and tear gas filled St. Louis streets, the duo performed a stunning, emotional set that served as an outlet for a city crying out in pain. Killer Mike, who opened the show with a tearful speech about racism and police brutality, put it best: "There's an old saying in the South: 'You got to shout to get it out.' And I'm so happy to be here in St. Louis."
Owner/talent buyer Mike Cracchiolo and managing partner Laura Sisul.
Mabel Suen
Owner/talent buyer Mike Cracchiolo and managing partner Laura Sisul.
The Ready Room came flying out of the gate in April of last year with an inaugural show featuring revered Georgia-based indie rockers Of Montreal — an auspicious start for any venue. The next three months saw similarly impressive bookings gracing the stage: Mates of State, the Faint, the Dandy Warhols, Hoodie Allen and Swans were among the Ready Room’s earliest shows. The 800-capacity venue owes its considerable talent-buying power to its status as a big brother of sorts to the Firebird, which has long been celebrated for its ability to draw top acts. Between the Ready Room, Music Record Shop and the Demo — three establishments located side-by-side-by-side — the 4100 block of Manchester Avenue in the Grove has quickly become one of the most vital locations for music in all of St. Louis. 4195 Manchester Avenue, St. Louis, 63110. 314-833-3929, www.thereadyroom.com.
Food is the new rock, or so you'll hear culinary snobs declare. Whereas our leading cultural critics once swooned over Keith Richards' riffs and Bob Dylan's lyrics, they now thrill to a perfectly foraged plate of local carrots drizzled with balsamic reduction — or an expertly cured torchon of foie gras. We see their point, but after taking part in the Contemporary Art Museum's Feast Your Eyes dinner series, we found ourselves struck by a better analogy: Really, food is the new art. At this monthly event, the city's top chefs find inspiration in the museum's exhibits, serving a tasting menu that pairs brilliantly with the pieces on display. Museum curators mingle with guests and explain the back-story on the art, while the chefs address the table before each course, detailing how the food they are serving was informed by the artists' work. It's a brilliant combo, and while the evening could easily be stuffy in less skilled hands, this is the oh-so-modern Contemporary Art Museum — it's an intimate gathering in which the conversation is as sparkling as the cocktails. If only more art events were this dazzling, museums could start charging Madonna-level prices for admission. 3750 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, 63108. 314-535-4660, www.camstl.org.
Best Movie Theater
Forget those sprawling megaplexes. Movies are best enjoyed in a small neighborhood theater that embraces its history while looking toward the future. The Hi-­Pointe has been around since 1922, just before "talkies" went mainstream. Known as Missouri's oldest single-­screen movie house, the theater has upgraded its sound and flagship movie screen over the decades, and, this spring, added a second screen known as the Backlot. Proud of its legacy near the giant Amoco sign at Skinker and McCausland, the Hi­-Pointe also celebrates local film milestones, recently hosting fifth-anniversary festivities for Late Nite Grindhouse, a monthly midnight film series that focuses on horror and exploitation flicks. Combining such niche entertainment with traditional touches such as velvet curtains and real­ butter popcorn, the Hi-­Pointe makes what's old new again — in the best possible way. 1005 McCausland Avenue, Richmond Heights, 63117. 314-995-6273, pointetheatre.com.
The gimmick in Rupert Holmes' murder-mystery musical is that every cast member is the potential killer. An audience vote determines who did the deed, so there's an ending ready to go for every character. Director Justin Been made sure that no one would leave disappointed in the outcome by assembling a perfect cast of killers. The actors stopped songs to soak up applause, argued about the length and quality of their introductions, and shot dirty looks at one another when someone had the audacity to get a bigger hand. Even the dance troupe got in on the act, badgering the actors and refusing to dance with players they felt were beneath their talents. Drood is funny enough on its own, but this cast elevated Stray Dog's production into a memorable performance — or, rather, a continuous series of memorable performances from everyone involved. Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue, St. Louis, 63104. 314-865-1995, www.straydogtheatre.org.
Do you know how difficult it is to express an emotion purely through dance? Think about that, and maybe even imagine how ridiculous you'd look if you tried your hardest — and were 100 percent serious — about conveying a feeling to an audience by busting a move. The fleet-footed dancers at Big Muddy essentially do what a painter does with a canvas, or a songwriter does with an instrument and voice. Only they do it by dancing. Though there's an experimental visual experience involved, at the end of the day, it's pure expression vis-à-vis body contortion. Since 2010, Big Muddy has etched its mark into the respected ranks of the St. Louis arts community by showcasing the region's most talented dancers. And exciting times abound at Big Muddy: 2015 will mark its first year at the Marcelle, a new theater space in Grand Center. There it will surely thrive among its arts-oriented neighbors. And in turn, our city will too. 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis, 63103. 314-338-4058, www.thebigmuddydanceco.org.
After it became clear last November that prosecutors wouldn't be charging Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, peaceful protest gave way to anger — and among the innocent victims were business owners in Ferguson and on St. Louis' Grand Boulevard. While a community seethed, glass storefronts were shattered. But by the very next morning, a loosely affiliated group of local artists was already making plans to turn tragedy into artistic opportunity, setting out to cover boarded-up glass with plywood art. The cheerful designs didn't just provide a message of resilience — they became a draw, bringing much-needed foot traffic to South Grand during a difficult time. Nearly one year after glass was smashed and Ferguson burned, the art has inspired a book and has been chosen for inclusion at a Ferguson-related archive at the Missouri History Museum, a fitting tribute to the important role these local artists played in keeping spirits hopeful during some very dark days. www.paintforpeacestl.org.
Best Hip-Hop Club
Mabel Suen
It does Blank Space a disservice to call it a "hip-hop club": It is so much more to so many people. Nevertheless, the Cherokee Street venue has become the St. Louis hip-hop scene's premier spot. For years Blank Space has played host to regular DJ nights — including the all-vinyl monthly event Bump & Hustle, which celebrated its three-year anniversary in July — and innumerable underground hip-hop events. St. Louis' DJ MAKossa and DJ Needles (the founders of B&H) are among the many local stalwarts who host shows here: Tef Poe, Nick Menn, the MME collective, Mathias and the Pirates, Thelonious Kryptonite and many others regularly perform. Blank Space was founded as an open-ended experiment deliberately lacking curatorial oversight — a mission that remains firmly in place — but over the years it has morphed into a venue the St. Louis underground hip-hop community can proudly call home. 2847 Cherokee Street, St. Louis, 63118. 314-300-8831, www.facebook.com/lugarenblanco.