Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art with a Master Class from Goya

Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art with a Master Class from Goya

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, Spanish (1746–1828), “Up and Down (No. 56),” 1799, series: “Los Caprichos.”

July 1, 2011

Summer 2011 Exhibition at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art with a Master Class from Goya
May 20–August 14, 2011

3750 Washington Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108
Facebook: Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Twitter: @contemporarystl


The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition called Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art, with a Master Class from Goya. This exhibition will feature the work of six contemporary artists—Folkert de Jong, Hiraki Sawa, Allison Schulnik, Dana Schutz, Javier Tellez, and Erika Wanenmacher—paired with works by Spanish master Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Organized by CAM and curated by Santa Fe-based independent curator Laura Steward, the exhibition will run from May 20 through August 14, 2011, and be accompanied by a CAM-produced publication and series of diverse public programs.

Cryptic explores the way contemporary artists make use of allegory—a figurative mode of representation conveying meaning other than the literal—in a wide variety of media. The juxtaposition of recent works with examples from two series of prints by Goya, the Caprichos and the Disparates (also known as the Proverbs), is intended to prompt consideration of how artists over the years have “encrypted” difficult, uncomfortable, and often socio-politically loaded meanings within allegory and continue to do so in the present day. Particularly in light of recent global events, this exhibition offers a timely exploration of the role that contemporary artists play as commentators on the world around us.

Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828) created masterpieces in painting in the 18th and 19th centuries, and is recognized today as both the last of the great old masters and the first “modern” artist. He is celebrated variously for work ranging from disturbingly unflinching depictions of the horrors and tragedies of the Napoleonic wars to the wildly imaginative and richly allegorical engravings featured in Cryptic.

Folkert de Jong (Dutch, b. 1972) is best-known for large-scale figurative sculptures rendered in polyurethane foam and paint that offer a biting, yet coded, critique of social mores, war, and religion in a manner not dissimilar to Goya’s work made 200 years prior.

The video works of Hiraki Sawa (Japanese, b. 1977) have the quality of a daydream, infusing everyday scenes with uncanny, magical traces that prompt viewers to consider the numerous poetic meanings of quotidian phenomena. In Trail (2004), for example, silhouettes of exotic animals and even a Ferris wheel infiltrate non-descript domestic interiors such as bathroom sinks and window sills as an allegory for the extraordinary things that might underpin seemingly ordinary situations.

Allison Schulnik‘s (American, b. 1978) strange, agitated paintings reflect her background in animation, but privilege the sculptural aspect of paint through their densely impastoed surfaces. Her gothic, figurative works, such as a bizarre and mesmeric still-life with flowers—a classic symbol of the fleetingness of life—suggest the more sinister and foreboding aspects of contemporary life.

Dana Schutz (American, b. 1976) is one of the leading figurative painters to emerge in the past decade, and is represented in this exhibition with various works, including one of the “Self-Eaters” of the mid-2000s. She has described these works as allegories of self-sufficiency, particularly in painting itself.

Javier Tellez‘s (Venezuelan, b. 1969) video Letter from the Blind for the Use of Those Who See (2007) recalls the ancient Indian allegory of six blind men variously describing an elephant by filming six actual blind New Yorkers as they encounter a live elephant for the first time. Tellez turns the typical reading of the old allegory—that a single point of view is insufficient to understand something—on its head, and reveals instead the value and complexity of an individual experience.

Finally, Erika Wanenmacher (American, b. 1955) makes a sincere use of witchcraft in works across various media. Like many artists throughout history, she uses allegory in a metaphysical sense, prompting consideration of the way art offers an understanding of the world that transcends the logical, the physical, and the material.

Support for the Contemporary’s exhibitions program is provided by Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield; William E. Weiss Foundation; and Nancy Reynolds and Dwyer Brown. General operating support is provided by Whitaker Foundation; Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; Missouri Cultural Trust; Regional Arts Commission; Bank of America Charitable Foundation; Arts and Education Council; The Trio Foundation of St. Louis; Wells Fargo Advisors; and members of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis promotes meaningful engagement with the most relevant and innovative art being made today. Founded as the Forum for Contemporary Art in 1980, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis re-opened in its current location, 3750 Washington Blvd. St. Louis, Missouri 63108, with a new 27,000 square foot building in 2003. As a non-collecting institution, the Contemporary focuses its efforts on featuring local, national and international, well-known and newly established artists from diverse backgrounds, working in all types of media. As St. Louis’ forum for interpreting culture through contemporary visual art, the Contemporary connects visitors to the dynamic art and ideas of our times. As a gathering place for experiencing contemporary art and culture, the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis pushes the boundaries of innovation, creativity, and expression. Visit the Contemporary’s website at

*Image above:
Etching with aquatint and other intaglio media, 1st ed., plate: 7 5/8 x 5 ½ inches (19.4 x 14 cm).
Courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 33-1090. Photo by John Lamberton.

Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art with a Master Class from Goya
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