Monday, June 5, 2017

Laumeier Sculpture Park - 100 Years in the Making

Tour Strategy June, 2017

In 2017, we celebrate 40 years since the beginning of Laumeier Sculpture Park. Four decades are really a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. This place has been influenced by events and circumstances of more than one hundred years. It was one hundred years ago that Roland L. Kahle, department manager of the Rigen Stove Co, built the estate house here in Sunset Hills. Meanwhile, Ernest Hemmingway was about to graduate from High School in a Chicago suburb and he was about to begin his career as a writer in Kansas City. The artist, Ernest Trova wouldn’t be born for ten years. Babe Ruth was playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox. Marcel Duchamp submitted his now famous readymade (a porcelain urinal) as a work of art in New York while Picasso and Braque were laying the foundation for Cubism in France. 100 years influenced movements/styles such as Futurism, Dada, Constructivism, Minimalism and Conceptualism.  Along the way artists and writers shaped the conversations about what is and what is not art. The United States became the center of the post WWII art world as critics like Clement Greenberg described Abstract Expressionism and Jackson Pollock took center stage.

Around 1968, Wayne Kennedy, the Director of St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, convinced the widow Matilda Laumeier to bequeath her property in Sunset Hills. (Kennedy died in 2017 at age 93). Trova’s gift of 40 works of sculpture to the County put the real estate gift on a course to becoming an historic celebration of monumental contemporary art. (Trova died in 2009 at age 82). We’ve come a long way in four decades but we’ve only managed to capture the slightest essence of why we keep coming back. These unassuming 105 park-like acres in the St. Louis Region are home to between 60 – 80 works on view at any given time. There are art camps, tours, art fairs, food trucks, picnics and dogs to walk (they come and go). But as all that is happening, the feeling of stability remains. It is a familiar place in the middle of the U.S. It is a celebration of world class art in our own backyard.   

I have been a docent tour guide at Laumeier for five years. I estimate that I have conducted 100 or more tours of the place. On this Sunday June 4, 2017 I led a tour of 22 people. The group included family groups, young and old art fans, local visitors and out-of-towners. 90 minutes into the tour I was convinced, more than ever, that our sculpture park is a treasure. It is ever changing and evolving. It has something to offer everyone who comes to visit. It rewards me personally over and over again. 

U ME UM by Terry Allen, 1998 (neon light/fiberglass)

Eye by Tony Tasset, 2007 (fiberglass, resin, oil, paint, steel)

Man with a Briefcase by Jonathon Barofsky at #2968443, 1986
(in foreground) and The Way by Alexander Liberman, 1972-1980 (18 salvaged steel oil tanks)