Last year, Hall of Fame ball player Ted Simmons and art printer Maryanne Ellison presented Simmons with a collection they’d built up over decades.
It was a part gift, part purchase by the couple to the St. Louis Art Museum, which paid just over $2.3 million, about half the value of the artworks.
At the time, Elizabeth Wyckoff, curator of prints, drawings and photographs, said the large purchase of politically and socially conscious pieces was “transformative” for the museum’s print collection after World War II.
“It changes the whole character of the American art story that the museum can tell,” she said. Simmons’ collection includes 43 artists, 25 of whom were not represented in the museum at all.
Now the museum is ready to show the rest of the city more than 200 of the 833 works acquired. They are mostly contemporary prints, but contain drawings, collages, photographs and even woodblocks.
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Alluding to Simmons’ position as cardinal behind home plate, the exhibition is titled ‘Catching the Moment’. It runs from June 26 through September. 11.
But while more than 200 works make up only about a quarter of the collection, there is still a lot to see. That’s why curator Wyckoff and Sophie Barbisan, associate paper conservator, propose 10 “must-see” pieces. Barbisan chose and describes the first two, the rest of Wyckoff.
Enrique Chagoya, “Illegal Alien’s Guide to Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, 2010 • Chagoya’s lithographs are a mix of hand-drawn and photolithographic processes, developed in collaboration with master printer Bud Shark of his press, Shark’s Ink. The artist often refers to Mesoamerican culture, both with the images he chooses and the amate paper backing used for codices in ancient Mexico.
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, “Celebrating 40,000 Years of American Art”, 1995 • Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s print, made in St. Louis at the Washington University School of Art’s Collaborative Print Workshop, now called Island Press, was designed as a “brief commentary on colonial thinking.” She reminds us that there were advanced civilizations here before Europeans arrived on this continent. Using the collagraph technique allowed the artist to play with textures, while working on a PVC sheet with a thick application of acrylic glue, dusted with the abrasive grit carborundum, along with collages of various papers and canvases.
Kiki Smith, ‘Finger Bowl’, 1995 • Kiki Smith’s ‘Finger Bowl’ is the first work of art a visitor encounters in the exhibition, and it also appears to be the first acquisition Ted and Maryanne Ellison Simmons made when they decided to get serious about collecting contemporary art. The solid silver bowl is literally formed by the fingers of the artist himself, which press into the inside of the bowl. Three fingers stand in as the ‘feet’.
Liliana Porter, “To Fix It”, 2018 • There are three works by Liliana Porter in ‘Catching the Moment’ and one of her captivating videos can also be seen in Gallery 301. All of these works contain small figurines or toys that she has collected over decades. In “To Fix It,” a small, kneeling worker works on the delicate workings of a wall clock.
Bruce Conner, “BOMBHEAD”, 2003 • Bruce Conner’s “BOMBHEAD” is a digital print that originated from a much smaller, handmade collage he made more than a decade earlier, in which he cut and pasted a newspaper clipping of an atomic mushroom cloud over the head of a uniformed figure . The work depicts the infamous shape-shifting artist adapting to the latest digital technology in 2003, even allowing a little bit of red paint to daub the tie clip.
HC Westermann, ‘Dance of Death’ from ‘The Connecticut Ballroom’, 1976 • HC Westermann was a master craftsman perhaps best known for his expertly crafted wooden sculptures that confuse, surprise and disturb viewers. The whimsically elegant couple in “Dance of Death” disembark among rats on an abandoned pier, with the hulking carcass of a battleship in the background – a reminder of the artist’s years as a Marine aboard the USS Enterprise in the Pacific- chapter of World War II.
Peter Hujar, ‘Candy Darling on Her Deathbed’, 1973 • Warhol superstar and transgender icon Candy Darling posed elegantly and dramatically for Peter Hujar in 1973, before dying of lymphoma the following year at age 29. The scene was carefully choreographed by both actress and photographer. Hujar subtly modulated the black, gray and white hues of the flowery hospital room with his fluorescent light.
Tom Huck, “Snacktime Marcy” woodblocks, 1999 • The Simmonses didn’t stop at collecting nearly every print Tom Huck ever made; they also looked for drawings and woodblocks, such as these for his triptych “Snacktime Marcy”. Having the woodblocks in the collection allows visitors to learn about the printing process, but also reveals Huck’s incredible artistry involved in carving the image into the birch plywood blocks by hand.
Roger Shimomura, “Yellow No Same, No. 1”, 1992 • “Yellow No Same, No. 1” comes from a portfolio of 12 prints, each of the same elongated format, with two sets of figures strongly separated by barbed wire. Roger Shimomura is an American artist of Japanese descent who as a child was imprisoned with his family in an internment camp, as ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. These prints refer directly to that experience, juxtaposing Japanese Americans. in their 1940s dress. the barbed wire with Kabuki actors on the outside.
Helen Frankenthaler, ‘Savage Breeze’, 1974 • Helen Frankenthaler approached printmaking just as she painted – with a seriously experimental attitude. “Savage Breeze” stands out for its impressive scale and the artist’s choice to emphasize the grain of the woodblocks in the texture of the print. It was printed at Universal Limited Art Editions on Long Island, New York, in collaboration with the master printers there, but she nearly gave up before deciding to add a coat of white ink: finally, that gave it the “glow.” ‘ she searched.
What “Catching the Moment: Contemporary Art from the Ted L. and Maryanne Ellison Simmons Collection” • When June 26 – Sept. 11; opening hours are 10am – 5pm Tuesday-Sunday, 10am – 9pm Friday, • Where St. Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park • How much $12, $10 for seniors and students, $6 for ages 6-12, free for ages 5 and under; free for museum members and on Fridays • More information slam.org