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White Flag Projects’ Ten-Year Anniversary

Though St. Louis, Missouri, has no shortage of notable art institutions, the city is still largely considered flyover country between the art-making epicenters of New York and Los Angeles. Despite that reigning sentiment of national indifference to what’s happening away from either coast, for the past decade St. Louis has been home to a relatively small but stubbornly inventive gallery, one easily on par with any other city’s scene.

Since its opening show in September of 2006, White Flag Projects has gradually developed into one of the premier art spaces of its size in the region, if not the country, with programming more likely to champion the purely experimental and genuinely transgressive than that of its nearby peers. When White Flag began ten years ago,the early emphasis skewed more toward local artists. Over time, though, the gallery has expanded its reach to include a veritable who’s who of contemporary artists alongside lesser-known works by key figures of the past.

With an emphasis on early- and mid-career artists, White Flag founder and director Matthew Strauss, who splits his time between St. Louis and New York, has been committed to showcasing artists who might be gaining traction elsewhere but are often unknown in this somewhat culturally isolated city.

In an interview with St. Louis Magazine in 2011, the question was asked, “What should people get excited about seeing soon at White Flag?” Strauss replied, “Honestly, I’m not aware of anyone around here getting too excited about seeing the kinds of exhibitions White Flag produces.” Yet this potentially complacent local environment has given the gallery free reign to experiment with its curatorial vision in exciting ways.

Since the beginning, White Flag provided space for emerging artists to exhibit — Ajay Kurian, Carlos Reyes and Israel Lund have had solo shows there in the past year — and has produced a number of wildly divergent group shows — the current “Ill See Ill Said” contains work from Lutz Bacher, Robert Morris, John Giorno, Banks Violette and Carlo Scarpa, among others. Over the past few years, a tiny auxiliary exhibition space has been created in the library above the main gallery, and White Flag inaugurated an outdoors summer screening series in which different artists — like Cindy Sherman, Martine Syms and Dan Graham — handpick a film whose title is neither promoted beforehand or disclosed afterward. A retrospective book documenting the gallery’s trajectory thus far is due in January of next year.

by Matthew Erickson