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Ferguson In Grand Center & The Central West End

Photo courtesy of the Kranzberg Arts Center: Chris Renteria photograph. (click for larger version)
December 17, 2014
From the discovery of fire to the digital revolution, artists have been making their marks. Whether picking up charcoal sticks and drawing what's important onto cave walls or spraying paint onto boarded up stores, artists make images that are as vital to life as the breathing of air.

Two gallery exhibitions in St. Louis reflect the crises and culture that has engulfed the media in recent weeks.

The recently opened "Wade in the Water" at Kranzberg Center for the Arts on Grand Boulevard, turns out to be mostly so-so. I left disappointed that it didn't capture the range of emotion expected in encountering related images, following the killing of an unarmed teen.

An image by Chris Renteria of a kneeling woman with hands-in-the-air, nearly makes the cut for prime-time photojournalism. The difference between so-so and stunning often comes in moving the camera just inches, or capturing what Henri Cartier-Bresson called the precise moment.

Photo courtesy of the Philip Slein Gallery: Adrian O. Walker photograph of Cornel West. (click for larger version)
The photographs here, some 20 in all, were shot by three different photographers — though wall texts fail to credit each specific artist. The show also includes a video of slow-moving slides with accompanying soundtrack, yet adding little to the complexity of the Ferguson story.

There's some fixing to do here and that's OK, as a major chapter in American history is in the process of being written. There are plans in place to add multi-media to this exhibition-in-progress, and I will revisit, hopeful to see more of the urgency and tragic anguish of recent events.

Vibrant Traditions

The second show, "Vibrant Traditions with an Unexpected Edge," opens Dec. 19 at the Philip Slein Gallery in the Central West End. This promises to be another crowd pleaser, following upon Slein's highly successful "Other Ways Other Times: Influences of African American Tradition."

One of the three artists included in the Kranzberg exhibition, Adrian O. Walker, has four outstanding photographs at the Slein Gallery, including the superb "Portrait of Cornel West —author, seminary professor and public personality — as he was being arrested.

This show also includes 30 photographs from the African-American collection of Jim Schmidt. His keen eye has assembled photos with a wide range of emotions, including a mock crucifixion, by Baldwin Lee, where four shirtless young men, one holding a basketball, skeptically confront the camera with a subtle air that mixes confidence and ennui.

Photo courtesy of the Philip Slein Gallery: the Daniel Jefferson "98 Classic" painting. (click for larger version)
Daniel Jefferson's "98 Classic" is mixed media — spray paint, acrylic, oil paint and marker on canvas. Jefferson is receiving national attention for his paintings on boarded-up windows in Ferguson. His murals are influenced by graffiti, surrealism and action painting.

Fifteen local African-American artists are represented in the Slein Gallery show, curated by Frieda L. Wheaton, a dedicated leader of the African-American art tradition in St. Louis. She was also curator of the recent "Hands Up Don't Shoot" exhibition at the Griot Museum of Black History.

Photo courtesy of the Philip Slein Gallery: the Joy L. Wade "Fiddler" mixed media. (click for larger version)
We've begun to acknowledge consequences from systemic inequality. Women artists make up perhaps only 15 percent of museum collections. Black artists are even less represented. It is heartening that today's artists and exhibitions demand conversations on such crucial issues.

These photos cry out for all to remain involved — in a system that's broken and in a process where artists are trying to unravel injustice — until everyone is able to breathe the same air, equally.

Wade in the Water

The Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd., through Jan. 4, 2015

Vibrant Traditions with an Unexpected Edge

Philip Slein Gallery, 4735 McPherson Ave.

Opening reception Dec. 19, through Jan. 24, 2015

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