By Paul Langdon
The newest ticketed exhibit at the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) is Catching the Moment: Contemporary Art from the Ted L. and Maryanne Ellison Simmons Collection. This exhibition celebrates the 2020 acquisition of over 800 pieces of art, vastly expanding the museum’s collection of prints, photographs, drawings, collages, and three-dimensional objects by a diverse selection of 39 artists working in the United States from the mid-1900s to today.
Ted L. Simmons is a former St. Louis Cardinals player and Baseball Hall of Famer and his wife Maryanne Ellison Simmons is an artist and founder of Wildwood Press. The couple were particularly interested in contemporary art that explored social issues including the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis. After collecting for decades, they donated half of the cumulative value of their entire collection to SLAM and the museum purchased the remaining stake.
“The Simmons Collection adds considerable breadth and depth to the Saint Louis Art Museum’s collection,” says Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Elizabeth Wyckoff. “Many of the artists were very socially and politically motivated in their artwork. So that builds in an area that the Museum’s collection was not so strong in before. There are also a number of LGBTQ artists who were not represented in the Museum before, a number of women artists, African-American artists, Native American, Latin American artists; it really builds the collection in a number of ways in terms of identity and also in the types of subjects that are represented.”
“Along with my two co-curators, Andrea Ferber and Elizabeth Wyckoff, we actually looked at almost every work within this collection while attempting to decide what would get narrowed down and included,” recalls Assistant Curator for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Clare Kobasa. “And we wanted to focus both on the things that made this collection special, so for example, artists that were held in particular depth like Kiki Smith, Enrique Chagoya, and Tom Huck, and then also on some of the themes that emerged to us as we were looking through the works.”
Visitors to this exhibition will likely see familiar imagery sprinkled throughout. As these works mostly range from the 1960s to the present day, and oftentimes reflect on the eras they are from, many cultural icons make appearances; including First Lady Jackie Kennedy and the heavy metal band Motorhead, as well as popular fictional characters like Donald Duck, Superman, and Alice in Wonderland.
While every artist brings something unique to this body of work, one particularly worth noting is St. Louis’ own Tom Huck, whose origins are uniquely connected to SLAM. “He grew up in this area, just south of here. And when he was younger his parents brought him to the Museum and discovered his interest in prints,” explains Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Andrea Ferber. “So, they would bring him to the Prints Study Room where he would see works by Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt, and a lot of other master printmakers. And he was also especially influenced by Max Beckmann. At the Saint Louis Art Museum has the Largest Collection of Max Beckmann in the world. So, he draws inspiration from those artists very directly. You can see direct appropriations from Beckmann and Dürer in his style and approach to printmaking.”
You can learn more about Tom Huck at www.hecmedia.org/posts/tom-huck.
“One thing that I hope people take away from this exhibition is that this is a collection of work that remains here at the museum. So once these works come off the walls there are still opportunities to see them in the study room for prints, drawings and photographs right here at the museum.” Kobasa adds.
Catching the Moment: Contemporary Art from the Ted L. and Maryanne Ellison Simmons Collection remains on show at SLAM through September 11, 2022. To learn more please visit www.slam.org.