Great Rivers Biennial 2012

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) and Gateway Foundation are pleased to present the fifth edition of Great Rivers Biennial. Opening on Friday, May 11, 2012, this exhibition demonstrates how artists based in the St. Louis area dynamically engage with the issues, stylistic tendencies, and techniques that define the contemporary art and culture of our time. The Great Rivers Biennial 2012 winners are David Johnson, Asma Kazmi, and Mel Trad, who have developed individual projects in photography, multimedia installation, and sculpture, respectively.
Mel Trad
They explore subjects that vary from the significance of overlooked architectural details and the ability of art to empower the socially disenfranchised, to the use of discarded materials to redefine sculptural practice. Johnson, Kazmi, and Trad engage local figures and phenomena to address such universal concerns, thus underscoring how the Great Rivers Biennial furthers dialogue between St. Louis and the rest of the world.

This collaborative initiative between CAM and Gateway Foundation identifies talented emerging and mid-career artists working in the greater St. Louis metro area, provides them with an honorarium of $20,000, and offers them a major exhibition at CAM. To date, CAM, with Gateway Foundation’s financial support, has given $270,000 directly to local artists.
“CAM is proud to join Gateway Foundation in supporting an exhibition that raises the profile of St. Louis’s art community nationally and internationally, and which has made a significant impact on the lives and careers of a growing number of artists who continue to live and work in our city,” said CAM Interim Director Dwyer Brown.

Three distinguished jurors — Lisa Dorin, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at The Art Institute of Chicago; Jeffrey Grove, Hoffman Family Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the Dallas Museum of Art; and Lydia Yee, Curator, Barbican Art Gallery, London — selected the three winning artists from more than 120 submissions representing a wide range of media including drawing, painting, photography, sculpture, video, and new media.

Presented in partnership with Gateway Foundation, Great Rivers Biennial 2012 is organized by the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and curated by Assistant Curator Kelly Shindler.

Great Rivers Biennial 2012 Exhibition Projects
David Johnson seeks out and captures unexpected interplays of light, color, and form in both public and private buildings in his photographs. In doing so, he prompts renewed consideration of the way that people interact with the built environments around them. Johnson works with traditional large-format photographic processes and then produces his images digitally. His Great Rivers Biennial project comprises a new series of photographs, shot over several months during late 2011 and early 2012, which depict the spaces that define CAM as an institution. These range from images of the museum’s galleries and offices, to interior views of the homes of various donors and supporters of the museum. The photographs present arresting and oblique perspectives on these spaces while recording the changing relationship between natural and artificial light at various times of day. Despite their representation of extremely specific places, Johnson’s images ask the viewer to pay closer attention to the subtle and unique dynamics of any architecture they occupy every day.

Asma Kazmi works in various media to create connections between people, ideas, and situations, often directly involving socially disenfranchised communities. Her project for the Great Rivers Biennial, titled Between Word and Image, was developed in collaboration with three individuals from an adult literacy program in St. Louis. Kazmi invited these participants to express themselves in the form of wall drawings rendered in Sumi ink and marker on paper. As the title suggests, the resulting drawings exist simultaneously as texts and as visual images. Kazmi’s presentation of these drawings within her own installation at CAM asks challenging questions about authorship, literacy, and meaning. Does the true work comprise the individuals’ drawings, their overall arrangement, or the entire collaborative process? Do the drawings serve as an effective form of communication? What does it mean to be partially literate at a time when social interaction has become so central in our everyday lives? Kazmi’s project, which also features related videos and a live performance, provides a complex, multilayered, and open-ended examination of how art might productively interact with real lives.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Mel Trad employs existing and found materials such as wood, steel, slate, and metal to unpredictable and inventive ends. Her Great Rivers Biennial project features works that provocatively respond to the kind of sculptural approaches that have characterized our understanding of art in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Trad’s reconfigurations of familiar forms demonstrate how cast-off objects and refuse are transformed through their incorporation in works of art. Her practice is similar to that of other artists working today in its emphasis on the process by which sculpture is made, especially how the essential properties of a material can determine the final form that a particular work will take. In addition to freestanding sculptures installed throughout the galleries, Trad presents Untitled (triptych and a half) (2012), a collection of draped banners sourced from discarded industrial fabric, in CAM’s Performance Space.