Beware: Contemporary art ahead (Feb. 16)

February 13, 2008

Not everyone is into contemporary art. It’s weird, it’s hard to understand, it’s ugly, it’s … the nay-sayers’ list could go on forever. I imagine that’s why the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis has so very many free educational opportunities, from lunchtime potlucks to evening chats over wine and cheese. It also offers a free family day, sponsored by Maritz; this month’s is coming up Saturday, Feb. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. There will be the usual hands-on activities, family gallery guides, a sing-along and dance, interactive storytelling — and best of all, a warning about adult content. What better way to get your kids to want to go to the museum than to tell them you have to approve the artworks before they can see them?

OK, OK, I’m kidding — you probably don’t want to tell the kids about the warning, although you might want to pre-screen some of the exhibits. For example, Juan William Chavez deals with themes like violence and desire in his “live-drawings.” But before you write him off entirely as over kids’ heads, you should know that he spent last year as an artist in residence at my kid’s school, and the students really seemed to respond to his interest in drawing and cinema. I wasn’t privvy to most of the interaction, but I did see their final projects on display last spring at his Cherokee Street gallery, Boots Contemporary Art Space.

Chavez was one of three winners of the 2008 Great Rivers Biennial, a juried competition where three artists were selected from 200 entries. Like the other winners, Corey Escoto and Michelle Oosterbaan, Chavez received a $20,000 award in addition to this prestigious exhibition.

Your kids may decide they neither like nor understand the exhibits (if you decide to let them see them; there will be activities for kids age 5 to 10 in the communal areas of the museum, not in view of the exhibits). And I think that it’s just as important to give kids a chance to see (or hear) things they don’t like as to always reinforce their opinions with things they do. After our last trip to the children’s symphony, M.’s little friend decided she didn’t like baroque music. And I told her that’s fine — at least she gave it a fair listen. M., meanwhile, was whispering to me, “Do I like this music, Mom?” And despite hearing his friend criticize it, he eventually decided he did.

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