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Review: 'black cat that isn't there' deserves a close look

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 23, 2009 - There's a bit of a risk in reviewing the new exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, "For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn't there."

Say too much, and it's over-explained, ruining the sense of wonder and bafflement at the heart of the show. Say too little, and it may not entice the skeptics -- the audience that thinks shows at the Contemporary are too caught-up in the insular, inscrutable language of high contemporary art.

Admittedly, "For the blind man..." sounds obscure, and it's full of artists local viewers may never have heard of. But therein lies its beauty: it's all about not knowing.

The artists in this show have created works that explore just how much we don't know, about anything -- about art, about other people, about the universe.

The "not knowing" is what makes us human, and "For the blind man..." allows us to explore that condition.

The Contemporary's Chief Curator Anthony Huberman has selected works by 23 artists who acknowledge that while we may be in the dark, at least we're in good company.

Personal favorites of mine include Marcel Broodthaers’ interview with his cat; Nashashibi and Skaer's 16-mm film flashes of treasures in the Met (the projector clacks away and breaks down frequently, a joyful affront to slicker technologies); and Dave Hullfish Bailey's "To do with...": an unwieldy mobile survival kit that possesses all the poetic paranoia of a Pynchon novel.

Ivy Cooper is a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.