Museum of Contemporary Religious Art

October 20, 2010

A review, at l(e)ast

As noted recently, we are pleased to have received a review of MOCRA’s James Rosen exhibition in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We are truly grateful for the coverage, but sadly, such coverage in our local daily newspaper is now the exception rather than the rule.

The visual arts community in St. Louis, like those in many other markets, has been affected by the seismic shifts in the media terrain over the past five or so years. The accustomed ecosystem, in which reviews not only stimulate public interest in an exhibition (and hopefully contribute to the public discourse about art), but also lend credibility to a venue and help attract artists and lenders–this ecosystem has been disrupted, and as happens in the natural world, the viability and adaptability of the art community are not entirely certain, yet are certainly not entirely without hope.

On the downside, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch no longer has a full-time visual arts critic, although it does still periodically publish exhibition previews and reviews. (This observation is not an indictment of the talented staff members from other disciplines and stringers who contribute these previews and reviews when they are given the opportunity.) Notably, its weekend events supplement rarely includes mention of any but the biggest of blockbuster exhibitions.

The weekly Riverfront Times, which once allotted space for full-length reviews, now limits itself to “capsule” reviews which don’t allow for much more than a quick summary of what is on display. This is a shame, since reviewer Jessica Baran is a perceptive and eloquent critic.

On the upside, there are still quarters of the St. Louis media committed to in-depth consideration of the visual arts, including independent radio station KDHX-FM’s “Arts Interview” programSt. Louis Public Radio (KWMU-FM)’s weekly “Cityscape” program, and periodic features on PBS affiliate KETC’s “Living St. Louis.” The West End Word still publishes regular exhibition reviews.

We’ve also seen some new outlets and initiatives in recent years, some from institutions and others from grassroots origins. The online-only St. Louis Beacon posts regular visual art reviews from Ivy Cooper. Two collaborative ventures include the Saint Louis Art Map blog (full disclosure: MOCRA is a founding partner), and the experiment (ever to be repeated?) of bringing in a visiting art critic to produce long-form reviews of several exhibitions at various venues, sponsored jointly by the Beacon, KETC, and KWMU. Boots Contemporary Art Space has given us five issues of the biannual Boot Print (here’s hoping that we’ll see more). Art St. Louis sponsors a blog that gives special attention to local and regional artists, while Art-Patrol St. Louis keeps current on exhibition openings and events.

While it’s an “older” format by social media standards, special mention must be made of the Critical Mass listserv, which has been going strong since February 2000. It’s an outgrowth of an earlier collaborative effort that produced a print gallery guide for several years. Beyond being a place to announce exhibitions and events, Critical Mass has seen some thoughtful, sometimes heated discussion about the state of the visual arts in the St. Louis region.

Other sources, while not focused exclusively on the visual arts, have been consistent in bringing attention to the gallery and museum scene. Where Magazine – St. Louis regularly highlights exhibitions in the area for the benefit of out-of-town visitors.  Sauce Magazine makes room in each monthly issue to feature at least one or two current exhibitions, while St. Louis Magazine‘s Look/Listen blog keeps tabs on the visual arts. Culture Surfer has established a niche by presenting video content, including artist interviews. A number of arts calendar sites help get the word out about exhibition openings, notably the Regional Arts Commission’s Arts Zipper.

St. Louis has a toehold in the blogosphere* as well. There are institutional blogs, such as the shared blog of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Kemper Art Museum News, and the White Flag Projects blog. On the (all-too-neglected) Illinois side of the river, the Schmidt Art Center launched a blog this past March. Of course, you are presently reading MOCRA’s own blog. There are a number of individual bloggers covering the St. Louis art scene as well.

This roll call is not an exhaustive survey of the current terrain–I haven’t even tried to explore the role of Facebook, Twitter, and other entrants in the field of social media. Feel free to mention additional resources in the comments section to this post.

At present, though, I find it encouraging that many people from varied points of origin on the visual arts spectrum are venturing into the void left by the Post-Dispatch and other media heavyweights. Institutions like MOCRA wonder what will emerge as the new “measuring sticks” of (professional) critical appraisal, and whether they will help to stabilize the arts ecosystem. At the same time, the atomization of arts criticism and discussion has opened the floor to previously unheard voices and given those voices much wider reach than they ever could have had previously. Hopefully that bodes well for renewed interest and engagement in, and moral and financial support for, the visual arts in the St. Louis region.

— David Brinker, Assistant Director

* The term “blogosphere” is credited to a much loved and much missed member of the St. Louis arts community, the late Brad Graham. It’s a shame his other suggestion, “blogmos,” didn’t catch on instead.



  1. David,
    Thanks for taking the time and doing the research on arts information/review outlets for folks to check out. Glad that you posted this on Critical Mass. Now I also know about you and MOCRA’s blog. Keep up the good work. Dion Dion

    Comment by Dion Dion — October 24, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

  2. Thank you for mentioning the Schmidt Art Center! We often do feel neglected being on the other side of the river!

    Comment by Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College — December 1, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

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