The goal of the Modern Artists was clear: old ways were archaic, and there was a new, industrialized world to investigate. Experimentation with materials and subject matter was the primary objective, and mistakes were often considered constructive and honest.
Artists began to focus on famous icons and pop-culture as a way of drawing in an audience to share a collective nostalgia. They strove to unite senses and memories by using strong, familiar images like the American Flag, or TV commercials and ads, and even cleaning products we still associate with our childhoods. Also present in their works were hot topics in the news we experienced as a nation, and figures we loved and idolized, such as Jackie Kennedy. This art form forced an audience to look at objects they recognized, but in an isolated environment. This encouraged viewers to consider these symbols as something other than their intended purpose. Some artists amplified colour to give their simplified subjects a kind of untamed freedom from realistic restraints. The Modernists’ goal was to reveal and surprise, but most of all, to evoke a response.
Kodner Gallery of Fine Art’s new exhibition Modernism – Art + Design takes this art form and re-visualizes it. Gathering an eclectic and extraordinary collection of Modern works together, Gallery Director and Art Collector Stephanie Stokes creates an effectual stream of consciousness. While using lighting techniques and mid-20th century décor, Ms. Stokes forms her own visual statements.
Q: How did you begin putting together this exhibition? What was your vision in selecting these particular works and featuring them together with pieces of furniture?
Stephanie Stokes: Modernism has always been a personal passion. It is what my husband and I collect and have in our own home, so this exhibition is really a labor of love for me. The idea really began with recent trends in popular culture. In the last few years, I have started to notice a renewed interest in Modern art and design, especially among young people. I started to see this style popping up everywhere, articles were being written on Modernism in design and lifestyle magazines such as Dwell, it was being pinned all over Pinterest and it could even be seen in the set design of movies and TV shows. So I thought that this would be a perfect time to explore the concept of Modernism, give it a local spin by highlighting St. Louis' own Modern heritage, and finally, exposing Kodner Gallery's important and eclectic inventory of Modern art to local collectors and art enthusiasts.
Once I started selecting a cohesive collection of Modern artworks, I kept imagining how all of these pieces would look in a home, sometimes my own home (smiles) and about how we always tell our clients to "buy what you love" first and foremost. I tell clients, that unless you are opening your own personal museum, the art you buy will be something to enjoy on your wall everyday. It will be a part of your home and hopefully become a family treasure to be passed to generations to come. With that said, what better way to show visitors to the exhibition how a particular piece might look in a home setting than to actually display the art in such a way. I contacted MoModerne, which has become St. Louis' premier destination for vintage furnishings and decor and together, we selected some excellent examples of Modern design to highlight the artworks. My vision was to create a series of vignettes throughout the exhibit space. The overall result was very approachable, when I say approachable I mean that literally, we want visitors to sit on the Herman Miller sofa under the Italian Modernist painting by Enrico Donati, or take a break at the Eero Saarinen Tulip Table and Chairs surrounded by a monumental oil by French modern master, Bernard Buffet. By displaying the art in this warm and non-intimidating fashion, my goal was to create an environment where visitors would feel comfortable learning about Modernism and investing in these pieces, whether they are an experienced collector or just getting started.
Q: You mentioned that you wanted to bring this collection of pop art and Modernism to the public in a way that incorporated it into the decorative process. How did you try to make Modern Art accessible to someone who wants to integrate it into their home design, but is unsure how to make it fit in?
SS: While I am not an interior designer myself, the Gallery has developed wonderful relationships with some of St. Louis's top designers and one thing I have learned from working with them is that in a successful interior space, all design elements have to work together to create a cohesive look and feel. The artwork chosen for a space and the way it is displayed is a very big part of this. We want to show viewers how art and design can complement each other. Also, by using period furnishings, I wanted to demonstrate how vintage items can be incorporated into today's modern home. Many of us have pieces that we have inherited from family, or picked up at a flea market or antique mall. Through sites like Pinterest and Etsy, today's young collectors are learning how to incorporate vintage design and I feel that there has been a recent and renewed desire to create spaces that are both eclectic and unique.
Q: What would you say to art purists who might believe that showcasing works of art alongside living room décor might blur the meaning of what a particular painting or print is trying to convey in its commentary or insight? Do you think that Modern Art takes on a fresh, new purpose by presenting it in a home environment?
SS: There are some "purists" who might prefer to see works by Modern Masters such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Maurice Utrillo and St. Louis' own Ernest Trova, displayed in a more minimal, "museum-like" setting. I wanted to think outside the box and take this exhibition in a direction that most other galleries have never gone, while still keeping the artwork at the forefront or diminishing its academic importance. I know I have already used the word "approachable" but I think it is the perfect word to describe this show. Galleries can be intimidating, especially for the beginning collector who is on a budget.
SS: Kodner Gallery is known for our welcoming space and we have always prided ourself on having the very best fine art for every price point. I think this idea of "fine art for everyone" really echoes the very ideals of Modernism itself, which challenged the notion that art must only realistically depict the world and was only to be enjoyed by the elite. These artists, designers and architects experimented with the expressive use of color, non-traditional materials, and new techniques and mediums to create a revolutionary movement which was to be enjoyed by individuals from all walks of life. I think that our exhibition stands as a homage to Modernism itself.
Q: In this exhibition we see a wide range of different mediums, and also of artists; some internationally famous like Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg, as well as modern artists from right here in our hometown that many St. Louisans might not be familiar with, such as Arthur Osver. What do you want the public to experience from your variety of choices?
SS: When creating this exhibition, I wanted to highlight Modernism beginning with roots in Impressionism, the movements of Fauvism, Cubism, and Surrealism which flowered in the first decade of the 20th century, and finally the Post-War movements such as Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art. I combined paintings, drawings, fine prints, sculpture by such artists as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Maurice Vlaminck, Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and Robert Rauschenberg with Modern design from such greats as Frank Gehry, Harry Bertoia and William Platner.
Because we were pulling from such a broad spectrum of Modern movements and styles, we were able to create a varied and eclectic collection with something for every taste. I was also very excited to highlight art and design with a St. Louis connection and educate our visitors about our own rich Modern heritage. Harris Armstrong and William Bernoudy designed some of the best examples of modern architecture and design here. During the mid 20th century the faculty of Washington University Art Department consisted of such Modernist greats as Max Beckmann, Arthur Osver, Fred Greene Carpenter, and Werner Drewes. Even our beloved Gateway Arch, the symbol of St. Louis, was designed by one of the pioneers of Modernism, Eero Saarinen. Many of these artists and designers are represented in this exhibition.
Kodner Gallery’s Modernism – Art + Design runs through August 30th, located at 9650 Clayton Road. For more information, check out their website at www.kodnergallery.com
Gallery Photos by Autumn Rinaldi