Monday, November 17, 2008

St. Louis American preview of Art Invitational

Here I am, behaving as reporter and critic of last resort for the newspaper I edit. This will appear in Thursday's edition of The St. Louis American.


K. Curtis Lyle does 9/11
Artists respond to a funny poem about a horrible tragedy this Friday

By Chris King
Of the St. Louis American

As historical events go, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 were about as visual as you get. How about planes crashing into the World Trade Towers, which catch on fire, causing desperate people in business suits to jump out of their windows, with their ties flapping in the wind for 80 stories, before both massive towers pancake to the ground?

Horrible and terrifying? Yes. Visual? Also, yes.

So, the subject lends itself well to an exhibition of visual art. And that is what we will see on Friday, Nov. 21 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary (3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood) for one night only, when the local arts group Poetry Scores stages its annual Art Invitational and silent art auction.

The subject is not 9/11 in and of itself – it’s 9/11 as filtered through the consciousness of local poet K. Curtis Lyle in his poem Nailed Seraphim, which the group published last year during Black History Month.

In Nailed Seraphim, Curtis – one of the nation’s greatest working poets, and the culture critic for the American – tells the story of 9/11 through the wild eyes of Mortice Juwan Menifee. Menifee is fictional, but his flagrant and prodigious character is drawn from a long line of African-American heroes and anti-heroes best expressed (this being a black thing) in a description of a very vivid extended family:

Cousins, near cousins, fake cousins
And straight up gangster-pimp cousins
All enshrined in a mythic black heroic pantheon.

Which pantheon now includes an accountant, our hero. Who would have thought to filter the demolition of the defining skyscrapers of American capitalism through the eyes of an accountant with the vibe and legacy of a black bad man? Only K. Curtis Lyle.

The focus on Menifee makes for a parody on the way America tells stories about itself and its own (especially, its African-American own). It just might remind you of the way St. Louis Republican Ed Martin and his colleagues tried to slime Barack Obama for having once known a white guy who belonged to a marginal radical group that botched a demolition job on the Pentagon - when “Barry” Obama was still in elementary school.

Now Poetry Scores has invited more than 25 artists from St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles to interpret this strange and exciting poem visually. The group’s annual Art Invitational has a few simple rules. Artists must respond to the poem that is the subject of the event, and they must title their work after a verbatim quote from the poem. The work is then arranged in the exhibit space based upon where in the flow of the poem the quote chosen as the title appears.

Judging from the 19 finished pieces available for preview, the artists are mostly responding to the profound philosophy, manic energy and sly humor of Curtis’ poem, rather than the horror and terror of the underlying event.

A number of artists have developed the way Curtis plays with visual space in the descent of Menifee down the steps of the collapsing tower, but only one artist – the local Surrealist Andrew Torch – actually worked with the iconic image of the towers burning down. Torch’s twin towers are columns of numbers, so this is a Surrealist’s vision of the rational system of mathematics crumbling as much as a memory of actual buildings collapsing with people in them.

In other words, the Nailed Seraphim Art Invitational is much more a spirited celebration of the wit and imagination of K. Curtis Lyle than a somber tribute to an American tragedy – so don’t let the 9/11 blues keep you away.

Fittingly, Curtis’ fertile imagination will be on display at the opening, as he will perform the poem backed by three of the area’s most talented and versatile musicians: Baba Mike Nelson, David A.N. Jackson and Christopher Y. Voelker (Zimbabwe Nkenya also has been invited).

The Nailed Seraphim Art Invitational is a one-night event, from 6-10 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary (3100 Sutton Blvd. in Maplewood). The event is free. All art work will be on sale in a silent auction setting. For more information, visit or call 314-265-1435.


The image is one of the two pieces created for the show by the poet's sister, Kayren Lyle of Los Angeles. Its title is:

He penetrated some kind of center
Or spiritual vortex
He dialed up some impeccable code
Some blacked out strategic safety valve
That allowed him to evolve, for a moment,
Down some mythic magnetic corridor
Some rear window in a parallel universe
That occupied the same space and time
As the transcendent crime taking place

No comments: