[ALT+SPACE]: Alternative Spaces in the Arts Community of Saint Louis

(Originally published in the Winter 2018 edition of All the Art: The Visual Quarterly of St. Louis)

The primary purpose of an arts institution is to serve the interests of the public, respond to its needs, and to make objects of cultural significance available through collection and display. A wide variety of Saint Louis-based arts institutions and groups participate in this tradition and provide a spectrum of viewing possibilities to the general public. Most Saint Louis museums and galleries, however, also work within a set of fixed parameters – the most concrete of which is, perhaps, the physical site in which their collection is housed. While a permanent location affords many advantages such as security and the ability to make meaningful investments in cultural work through the construction of an expansive collection, it also requires that the public go to it – something that is not a guaranteed possibility for certain parts of the STL community.

[ALT+SPACE], a curatorial collective based in Saint Louis, addresses this issue. While STL arts institutions are, in general, free to attend and accessible, the needs of the public are far too diverse and unwieldy for any one arts institution to address. [ALT+SPACE] asks: “What if the public did not have to seek out art? What if, instead, the art sought out the public?”

The mission and method of [ALT+SPACE] is more experimental than some of its institutional counterparts. Taking the form of a “pop-up” gallery, [ALT+SPACE] exclusively curates the work of Saint Louis-based artists in unorthodox exhibition spaces such as cafés, bars, storefronts, public parks, warehouses, and other spaces not initially envisioned for the exhibition of art.

By co-opting these spaces and redefining their function as sites of art appreciation and analysis, art is brought directly to the public, bringing to the fore essential questions that explore the relationship between the public, the artist, and arts institutions: How would an environment directly suited to the specific needs of artists and the meaning of their work affect the relationship between the public and art? How might that interaction change in familiar, accessible spaces and with local artists? And what exhibitions might arise if curators could respond in real time to unfolding political and social events?

CONSENT/DISSENT, [ALT+SPACE]’s inaugural exhibition, explores potential responses to these questions. A group exhibition, CONSENT/DISSENT examines the experiences of straight and queer women in light of the Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasy Ford hearing. Situated more broadly within the Trump era, this exhibition investigates the emotional labor demanded of women within our society and the discursive, rhetorical, and visual construction of women as well. Crucially, CONSENT/DISSENT is a testimony of agency. The works in the exhibition, and the exhibition itself, act as a direct response to the current socio-political climate.

Featured in the exhibition is The Talk by Amy Chen, an undergraduate in the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program at Washington University in Saint Louis. The Talk is a mylar installation piece that documents the emotional labor performed by women following a sexual assault. According to Chen, her work relates to the way survivors often facilitate communal healing as part of this performance. Another piece, Exposed, by Sophie Devincenti, a mixed-media artist from the San Francisco Bay Area currently residing in Saint Louis, is a rumination on themes of sexuality, empowerment, and womanhood. In Exposed, the female body is revealed through frantic brushstrokes of fleshtones, reds, and pinks, conjuring an amorphous, organic form reminiscent of menstrual fluid and mucus secretions. Devincenti’s work creates discomfort within the viewer, a strategy intended to provoke productive conversation about gender and identity.

These works, among others by artists Janie Stamm, Sixue Yang, Rachel Lebo, and Brie Henderson, respond to the nation’s identity crisis concerning the role of women in politics and society. CONSENT/DISSENT will open at Foam (3359 S Jefferson Ave, St. Louis, MO 63118), an establishment known for its ethical business practices and investment in emerging and innovative talent, on December 8, 2018 @ 6-9pm and will remain on display until December 18th.