By Kathryn Rickard Hundman
The 22,500 people who visited a 96-acre St. Louis County park 12 miles southwest of downtown last Mother’s Day weekend realized something that many St. Louisans take for granted … that internationally acclaimed Laumeier Sculpture Park is a unique and enjoyable site for an art fair.
Ranked among the top art fairs in the country, the Laumeier Contemporary Art Fair offers the works of 150 juried artists from throughout the country in a setting that displays the beauty of nature interspersed with 75 sculptures by world-renowned artists.
Artists were selected this year from 35 states and many of the Fair’s visitors came from outside of the St. Louis area.
Laumeier Executive Director and Chief Curator Beej Nierengarten-Smith, Ed.D, says the Sculpture Park draws from a wide circle including groups of artists from around the world. Annual Park attendance tops 350,000, with 50,000 participating annually in museum and education programs. A tour of the unwalled natural museum includes works by Alexander Liberman, Vito Acconci, George Rickey, Donald Judd, Michael Heizer, Dennis Oppenheim, and a special woodland area dedicated to work by Ernest Trova. As a forerunner in commissioning sculpture for specific sites, the Park has sponsored large projects by Mary Miss, Beverly Pepper, Jackie Ferrara, Robert Stackhouse, Richard Fleischner, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Dan Graham, with many other artists’ pieces on extended loan for exhibition.
“Laumeier is first in what we do in the world, which is working with living artists,” Nierengarten-Smith says. “The artists who come to us for our arts programs in turn become ambassadors for St. Louis and for Laumeier. When we help them with an exhibit or to publish a catalogue, our name is included with theirs and contemporary art organizations throughout the world disseminate the material.”
Many organizations combine a visit to Laumeier with their annual meeting plans. This could be attributed in part to publicity such as that in a recent “Sophisticated Traveler” section of the New York Times that listed Laumeier Sculpture Park as one of the most unique places to visit in St. Louis.
“This gives St. Louis and St. Louis artists major exposure,” Nierengarten-Smith says. “The American Association of Museums’ conference will bring 4,000 people from around the world here in 2001, which will coincide nicely with Laumeier’s 25th anniversary celebration.” Laumeier is one of only 11 institutions in Missouri accredited by the American Association of Museums.
The 150 artists who participated in Laumeier Sculpture Park’s 12th Annual Contemporary Art Fair in 1999 probably didn’t think about the steps that Laumeier had taken to compete for their attendance as well as that of its visitors.
The art fair is Laumeier’s biggest fund-raiser of the year and this year it earned over $100,000 for Laumeier’s art and education programs. Nierengarten-Smith says that the support of St. Louis corporations has been essential in order for the organization to compete effectively for art fair attendance. She credits the involvement of Emerson Electric Co., partnered with Fox Architects and Musick Construction, Inc., with bringing the fair to a new plateau.
Emerson became primary sponsor of the fair in 1997 when Emerson Senior Vice President Jo Ann Harmon became vice chairman of the Laumeier Board and chairman of the event. Harmon, now Laumeier board chair, brought in Fox Architects to evaluate the physical layout and to recommend ways to improve attendance.
Competition to attract the best artists to a show is fierce, according to Fox Architect Principal John Berendzen.
“Fox Architects became involved three years ago to help Laumeier with the logistics of the fair. We evaluated what was already at the park and found ways to put those strengths to better use. We also suggested moving the fair entrance to bring people into and through Laumeier to experience the setting, the art, the museum and the landscape,” Berendzen adds.