At a recent talk at the Bruno David Gallery, artist Leslie Laskey invited those assembled to consider two key questions: "Why do you come to see art? Why are you here?" Artist Jill Downen offered an answer during her portion of the talk. "Art is a form of communication," she said, and people who view it are seeking a connection.
Downen couldn't be more accurate: When we look at art, we're not merely observers. We are having a dialogue with an artist's vision, absorbing what we see and reacting to the work.
If you're paying attention, you can have these kinds of conversations with art all over St. Louis. You'll find creative expression on university campuses during student shows, at event spaces/galleries — including the Koken Art Factory, Third Degree Glass Factory, Mad Art Gallery and Event Space, and Blank Space — at art-focused eateries like the recently relocated Dark Room, at art fairs and craft fairs, and, of course, at local artists' studios, which are dotted throughout the metropolitan area.
Entire streets and districts lend themselves to these exchanges as well. A stroll down Cherokee Street offers the thrilling, unpredictable feel of an ever-evolving art project, a sense also being cultivated through the Granite City Art and Design District across the river. Less obvious St. Louis attractions also invite this conversation, from the fearlessly surrealistic City Museum to the eclectic World Chess Hall of Fame.
Though we've recently lost some forward-thinking spaces — RIP, Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts and White Flag Projects — more than enough places allow you to immerse yourself in art, whether you're an art liker, a lover or a collector, and whether you're seeking inspiration or just something unexpected. Get out there.
Art Saint Louis (1223 Pine Street, 314-241-4810) The juried multimedia shows here highlight St. Louis-area artists and focus on various broad themes — think light, experiences and feelings.
Atrium Gallery (4814 Washington Avenue, 314-367-1076) This mainstay in the local gallery scene — operating for more than 30 years — specializes in exhibitions of contemporary large-scale sculptures and paintings by artists from all over.
Bruno David Gallery (7513 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-696-2377) Representing several celebrated local contemporary artists working in a variety of media, this gallery also has an additional exhibition space, Bruno David Projects (1245 South Vandeventer Avenue), open by appointment only.
Citygarden (801 Market Street, 314-241-3337) Locals killing time downtown during jury duty breaks and visitors to St. Louis enjoy exploring this manicured outdoor sculpture garden that includes works by Donald Baechler, Jim Dine, Laura Ford, Keith Haring, Julian Opie and more.
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) (3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660) A neighbor to the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, this non-collecting, Brad Cloepfil-designed museum features exhibitions by significant artists from all over, while highlighting the work of local talents, too, through the Great Rivers Biennial Arts Award Program and events like the Open Studios STL tours.
Craft Alliance Center of Art + Design (6640 Delmar Boulevard, 314-725-1177 and 501 North Grand Boulevard, 314-534-7528) Expect to see beautifully imagined craft arts in varied media, with a bit of elevated quirk thrown in on occasion; if inspiration strikes, classes also are offered.
Des Lee Gallery (1627 Washington Avenue, 314-621-8735) Home to Washington University student and faculty exhibits, this contemporary gallery also shows intriguing works by artists known the world over.
Duane Reed Gallery (4729 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-4100) Established in 1994, this contemporary gallery holds its own among its artsy neighbors along McPherson in the Central West End, presenting several eye-catching shows featuring artists working in various media each year.
Duet (3526 Washington Avenue, Suite 300; 314-478-4776) Exhibitions here juxtapose differing viewpoints by pairing pieces by a St. Louis artist with ones by someone in another community.
Foundry Art Centre (520 N. Main Center, St. Charles; 636-255-0270) This train-car factory turned studio and event/exhibition space offers opportunities to both interact with working artists and check out themed juried shows.
Gallery 210 (44 Arnold B. Grobman Drive on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, 314-516-5976) Founded 45-plus years ago with the goal of bringing regional art to this university campus, this space aims to be reflective of the community as it addresses contemporary topics.
Hoffman LaChance Contemporary (2713 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-960-5322) What this gallery lacks in size, it makes up for in the quality of its frequently changing, thoughtful exhibits that feature both local and non-local artists.
Houska Gallery (4728 McPherson Avenue, 314-496-1377) This pocket-size gallery, across the street from several others in the Central West End, offers works by its namesake, artist Charles Houska, along with shows and pieces by various established St. Louis artists.
International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum (3415 Olive Street, 314-535-1999) With the work of more than 500 artists in its permanent collection, this museum presents rotating photographs through the ages, and equipment, too. For more photography, check out the May Gallery (8300 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-246-7673), located on the Webster University campus.
Jacoby Arts Center (627 East Broadway, Alton, Illinois; 618-462-5222) This community arts spot features exhibitions of local artists and community members alike, along with concerts, theater, classes and more.
Jill A. McGuire Gallery at the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) (6128 Delmar Boulevard, 314-863-5811) Locally driven and proud, this space highlights diverse voices and perspectives through community-centric, and sometimes non-traditional, shows.
Laumeier Sculpture Park (12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278) An expansive outdoor sculpture park, with an indoor gallery, too, Laumeier showcases works by Mark di Suvero, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Alexander Liberman, Ernest Trova and others, both in wide open spaces and tucked among the trees.
The Luminary (2701 Cherokee Street, 314-773-1533) A nimble, experimental artist-run space, the Luminary not only hosts various exhibitions and concerts throughout the year, but it also supports artists through a residency program and subsidized studios.
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (1 Brookings Drive, 314-935-4523) One of the oldest teaching museums in the country, the Kemper was founded in 1881 and boasts an impressive modern art collection, vibrant exhibits and enriching supporting programs in a cool, Fumihiko Maki-designed space.
Millstone Gallery at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) (524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555) Regional contemporary artists show here, surrounded by all sorts of creative expression, from dance to theater to song and more.
Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) (3700 West Pine Mall Boulevard, 314-977-7170) Housed in a former chapel, this contemplative, interfaith museum on the campus of Saint Louis University exhibits art with themes that speak to the spiritual, without any proselytizing.
Philip Slein Gallery (4735 McPherson Avenue, 314-361-2617) This contemporary art gallery complements its neighbors in the Central West End, showcasing bold painters with an eye for color.
projects+gallery (4733 McPherson Avenue, 314-696-8678) Surrounded by contemporary art galleries, this space fits right in while introducing a bit of a twist, by focusing on other artistic endeavors, including remarkable fashion pieces, that often aren't given the exhibition treatment.
Pulitzer Arts Foundation (3716 Washington Boulevard, 314-754-1850) The Tadao Ando-designed Pulitzer presents long-running exhibitions of works in varying media, from varying time periods and of varying themes, plus engaging poetry readings, classes and more. Free midday tours are offered in conjunction with its neighbor CAM.
St. Louis Artists' Guild and Galleries (12 N. Jackson Avenue, Clayton; 314-727-6266) Founded in 1886, the guild has been a steadfast champion for regional artists, providing both classes and opportunities to show their work in frequently changing juried exhibits on a variety of themes.
Saint Louis Art Museum (1 Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park, 314-721-0072) It's easy to spend an entire day exploring the comforting permanence of this city museum, founded in 1879 — the café and restaurant on site can provide sustenance. The collection ranges from ancient art to new media, and the recently added, David Chipperfield-designed wing for modern and contemporary art is home to various special ticketed exhibitions throughout the year.
Saint Louis University Museum of Art (3663 Lindell Boulevard, 314-977-6631) Check out the third floor of this historic building for a look into Jesuit mission life in the 1800s; wind through several small galleries on the second floor for modern and contemporary art, including pieces from Chihuly, Picasso, Warhol and others; and visit the first floor for exhibitions that span various media, styles and time periods.
Sheldon Art Galleries (3648 Washington Boulevard, 314-533-9900) Adjacent to the historic Sheldon Concert Hall, these six galleries focus on various diverse themes — music, photography and local art among them — and regularly present noteworthy exhibits.
William Shearburn Gallery (665 S. Skinker Boulevard; 314-367-8020) Showing well-known St. Louisans and internationally recognized artists too, this gallery offers few, but memorable, exhibitions throughout the year.