“Art is a verb,” says Susan Barrett, founder and president of art agency Barrett Barrera Projects. With a major expansion in the Central West End this fall that includes new exhibit, office and guest house spaces, the company is living out its vision of art and solidifying its clout in the local creative scene. “I believe in the St. Louis art community, and our expansion is an investment in the community as a whole,” Barrett says.
Barrett Barrera Projects does most anything you can think of when it comes to the art world: It curates exhibits, creates unique venues for artists to showcase their work, sells art, and helps collectors both acquire new pieces and loan them to museum exhibits. The agency was formed following the massive success of A Queen Within, the exhibit of garments by Alexander McQueen and other contemporary designers it curated for the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2013.
Its new exhibition space, projects+exhibitions, will present museum-quality exhibitions and programs, with a focus on contemporary artists who challenge the traditional definition of art. It officially opens Oct. 5 with Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous, an exhibit that in a way is a sequel to A Queen Within.
The exhibit explores the passionate friendship and collaboration between McQueen and French photographer Ann Ray, who captured his design process and the behind-the-scenes happenings at his runway shows. It features her photos alongside garments McQueen gifted her throughout their friendship, as well as McQueen pieces from Barrett Barrera’s private collection, said to be the largest in the world. “The show is about the tension between McQueen as a real person and the myth that was created around him through his rise to success,” Barrett explains. The exhibit runs through Feb. 15.
Ann Ray will be in attendance on opening day and will present a talk at 11 a.m. Oct. 6 as well. She also will be the first guest of Barrett Barrera Guest House, a new private bed and breakfast and event space on McPherson Avenue that will house visiting artists, exhibitors and curators. Additionally, it will serve as a place for artists and guests to host dinners to celebrate exhibit openings and closings and new friendships formed, Barrett notes.
At projects+exhibitions, Barrett Barrera Projects will debut and curate original exhibits and promote them for travel. “Before, there was no real space in St. Louis to pair contemporary fashion with art to tell a story,” Barrett says. “We now have the ability to bring in exhibits and, more importantly, to create our own and allow museums to experience them within the proper context as opposed to through a booklet or pamphlet.” Essentially, the team is hoping to repeat the success of A Queen Within, which has been traveling around the country, including stops in New Orleans and Seattle, with plans brewing to go international. The exhibit has been updated to provide a more pointed commentary on modern culture; a focus on women and female archetypes has replaced the chess theme.
Barrett Barrera’s new office space at 4739 McPherson Ave. includes additional room for exhibits and programming that will complement the main exhibits at projects+exhibitions. This space debuts Oct. 17 with Saint-Louis to St. Louis: The City on the River Meets River City, an exhibit featuring local contemporary artists alongside those from our sister city of Saint-Louis in Senegal. “This is the first time that contemporary artists from Senegal will show their work here,” Barrett says. “The show will comment on art’s ability to open communication and understanding and help us share culture.”
Barrett Barrera’s expansion marks an exciting time in the company’s history, and perhaps none of it would be possible if St. Louis weren’t home, Barrett says. “It’s important for us to be in St. Louis and expand our footprint in our hometown,” she says. “There is this amazing renaissance happening here in the worlds of art, culture and business, and we want to be a part of that. St. Louis is also a great place because the low cost of living means you can experiment in taking risks that you wouldn’t be able to take in New York or Los Angeles.”
But it’s not just St. Louis the company is tied to—it also is poised to make a big difference in the Central West End neighborhood specifically. “By keeping everything in the same area, we can dive deeper to make an impact,” Barrett says. “That’s why it was important that all of our spaces were near each other. This has been a strong, art-driven neighborhood historically, and we want to maintain that and add to it.”
Barrett Barrera Projects debuts its new exhibition space, projects+exhibitions (4568 Manchester Ave.) Oct. 5 with Ann Ray & Lee McQueen: Rendez-Vous. The show explores the friendship and collaboration between designer Alexander McQueen and French photographer Ann Ray through Ray’s photos and McQueen’s garments. The exhibit runs through Feb. 15; admission is $5. For more information, visit barrettbarrera.com. Pictured on the cover: “Art and Craft,” a 2000 photograph by Ann Ray
Cover design by Julie Streiler | Cover photo by Ann Ray
Pictured at top: Alexander McQueen A/W 2010 Pre-Collection “Heaven and Hell,” courtesy of Barrett Barrera Projects and RKL Consulting; and “Featherweight,” a 2008 photograph by Ann Ray