I called her Aunt Florence, but she really wasn’t a relative. She and her husband Charlie were friends of my parents. Florence had no children. My Mom had 6 and needed help. In the summer Florence, surrogate mother, would invite me to stay with her for a week or two and she’d show me around St. Louis. She often took me to its Art Museum, so she shaped the adult I was to become by giving me both a thirst for going places and introducing me to the world’s unending attractions. Thanks to recent renovations, the St. Louis Art Museum, now mostly called SLAM, is better than ever.
SLAM was founded in 1879. Plaster casts were displayed. St. Louis hosted a World’s Fair in 1904 and many imposing buildings were constructed, especially in Forest Park, to wow visitors enjoying the Fair and sampling a new invention, the ice cream cone. Only one of those buildings has survived, The Palace of Art. I was in it many times as a child, thanks to Aunt Florence. It now has a new addition, a modern glass and concrete East Building that perches by it like a Tesla next to to a vintage Rolls Royce. I’ve been in it twice. It’s both a great new St. Louis landmark and a 5 Compass kick.
The East building opened in June, 2013, and offers 21 new galleries. Its initial installation of 230 works contained 55 that had not been out for about 20 years. Probably some have already been changed out. East will continue to display the old in a new antiquities gallery. Almost a dozen East rooms are devoted to contemporary art. Among my favorites in both, for no particular reason, were a pair of 2,600 year old terra-cotta sandals once used as perfume bottles and Betty, a Gerhard Richter portrait of his 11-year-old daughter with face unseen. Betty is now 37.
East connects to the historic World’s Fair building in a couple of places. It’s 68 galleries have been refreshed too. Among the 1,450 works now out, almost 1/3 of them have not been seen for 2 decades. Although East increases SLAM’s space by about 30%, it will be a while before visitors get to see everything. Being a major U.S. Museum, it has 33,000 works.
If you get a chance to visit SLAM while in St. Louis, and you should, 3 additions might enhance your experience. Just inside East’s North Entrance is a new restaurant named Panorama. I’ve eaten there twice and recommend it. Second, make an effort to find the Concourse and look through its windows to see Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone Sea. St. Louis likes arches and this Great Britain sculptor used Missouri limestone to create 25 of them. They are crowded into an excavated courtyard. The artist said, “Holes have always been a means to explore what lies beneath the surface.” This will make a bit more sense when you see Stone Sea. Third, the new construction includes a 300 car parking garage. This was sorely needed. There is still free street and lot parking in front near the statue of St. Louis, but good luck finding a place since SLAM is both popular and uphill from the world-renowned St. Louis Zoo. Surprisingly, both the museum, but not its new lot, and the zoo are still free.