SLUMA offers eclectic art

Imagine a merging of East and West, of dark and light, of simplicity and sophistication. Imagine an assorted collection of art ranging from the bizarre to the sublime.

OK, call it eccentric or eclectic.

O’Donnell Hall on Lindell Blvd., one time the Graduate School and another time the School of Public Health, has undergone a complete restoration for the new Saint Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA).

The beautiful, four-story French revival mansion has a detailed exterior, elegant conference rooms, lots of open space and bright lights.

Most of its original woodwork survived a fire and has been kept intact since, according to Nanette E. Boileau, the museum’s director. “We wanted it to be reminiscent of what it used to be,” she said.

Aided by generous donations and loans from various SLU alumni, friends and other benefactors, the museum holds thousands of paintings, sculptures and artifacts.

Now it also serves as home to several permanent galleries, such as The Thomas Huck Collection, The MacLennan Collection of Asian Art and The Cartier Collection, to name a few.

Italian Jesuit priest Renato Laffranchi’s bright and colorful panels dominate the revolving exhibition on the first floor. In a series of his most arresting pieces, Laffranchi whips up a satirical reversal for each of the Beatitudes.

A beatitude that portrays, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God,” shows a white dove (the symbol of peace) crushed under a nasty-looking woman’s bloody hands.

His other works, such as the imposing “The City on the Mountain,” are notable as well. Laffranchi’s collection will be on display until Aug. 31.

On the Contemporary Project Gallery (CPG) is local artist Moira Lewis’ “The Sea of Maximilian,” a tribute to Maximilian Kolbe, a prisoner who offered his life in exchange for another man’s, during World War II. In one corner of the small room is a 10-foot translucent human figure diving into waves of heat-spun Plexiglas, which represents the “possibility of transcendence through human intervention.” Dangling from the ceiling are hundreds of test tubes with slips of paper inside, which hold names of those whose acts of humanity have been small but ultimately significant.

Local artist Thomas Huck stands out with his dizzyingly complex yet intriguing woodcut print series “2 Weeks in August: 14 Rural Absurdities.”

Aside from featuring local and international talent, a SLU community gallery has also made a niche for itself, where people within the University can exhibit their artistic flair.

The museum holds many little nooks-intimate collections of wooden santos, rare books dating back to the 15th Century, fleur-de-lis ornaments and even a Billiken collection, which displays the school mascot in all its different, impish forms.

Dale Chihuly’s lovely blown-glass set from the Cobalt Blue Series with Red Lip Wrap is something you can’t miss on the second floor.

Just around the corner lies a hodge-podge of figures in the sculpture gallery, some of which may already look familiar to you (you’ve probably seen them around campus).

SLUMA features slices of eclectic European and American modern art on one floor, and delicately carved Asian artifacts on another.

Though some works are evidently noteworthy (depending on your taste, of course), some look rather displaced and less conspicuous than others. Although many of them are infused with religious themes, not everything here is a religious discourse.

The museum is one massive patchwork of art-it’s got the subdued and otherworldly, the bright and earthly, the traditional and modern.

Walking through SLUMA is like trying to find a diamond in the rough.

Amidst the flurry of fine lines, rough panels and furious strokes, you’ll discover something truly remarkable.

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