Since its inception in 2002, Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, a nonprofit that includes the adjacent gallery Beverly, has been outside the mainstream. Before the neighborhood to its east exploded with bars and retail spots, the compound occupied this space quite literally: West of Jefferson almost to Gravois, the storefronts at the intersection of Cherokee and Compton were an obscure destination. And even as Cherokee Street has become a cultural hub, for many St. Louis artists, Gondo remains a special place; the bathroom has a soap dispenser shaped like an orange, a throwback to when you could rent out the compound for the night and hang your work, no questions asked.
Those days may be gone, but the message hasn't changed. Funded in part by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts, the compound's exhibition and programming lineup remains decidedly committed to alternative infrastructure, delivering engaging exhibitions, publications and poetry readings with the same fervor that compelled Nicki Minaj to ask 10;Miley, "What's good?" Jessica Baran (formerly RFT's art critic) directs the spaces, curating a mix of local and national artists. If you thought Gondo had gone under, think again.
- From Ken Wood's Each to Other
Each to Other, an exhibition of prints by artist Ken Wood, is currently on view at Beverly, and Watch Out: This Might Hurt, drawings by Peter Pranschke, is at Fort Gondo. Both artists reside in St. Louis, but the similarity stops there.
Step into Beverly to view the meditative coolness of Wood's compositions, a collaboration with Pele Prints. Carefully framed and composed, the pieces combine the painterly vocabulary of abstract expression with the poetic sensibility of process-based artists. Richard Tuttle comes to mind — the resulting work is elusive yet specific, a mirage with political inklings.
Next door, Pranschke's diaristic work is hung tremulously with bobby pins, the pages all different shapes and sizes. The work is simultaneously vulnerable and razor sharp: A story line from a hospital visit alongside detailed portraits rendered in the style of old-school comics. There is nothing twee or mannered about Pranschke; he is a maker through and through, and the show is a joy to behold. "I just want a certain level of detail," the artist said in a recent interview with Baran. "I almost can't resist."
The feeling is mutual. In an art world that feels, at times, to be concerned solely with its own noise and power, Fort Gondo embodies the bottom-up model, upending hierarchy and going with the gut. At the 2011 Hand in Glove Conference in Chicago, writer and activist Nato Thompson advised in the keynote lecture: "Don't be a cow on parade." He was warning the audience against the downfalls of mainstream art, and specifically the cow sculptures that occupy so many public spaces in urban areas.
Take note of that. Gondo has been doing so for years.