Despite the title of his exhibition, “Western Venom,” Yowshien Kuo’s pieces at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in that municipality’s Covenant Blu-Grand Center neighborhood look anything but venomous.
In an enclosed black-walled space tempered by lo-fi music, Kuo’s gorgeous paintings contrast strikingly with the room’s sensory happenings, allowing the exhibition to tell the story of his experiences of being an Asian American.
The exhibition was selected by CAM’s Teen Museum Studies program, a summer offering that allows metro area teenagers to learn about museum careers and to experience what goes into museum curation. Although the program took place totally online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, participating students still selected an artist and fully designed an exhibition.
Program participant Kelly Woodyard notes that the complexity of Kuo’s work immediately attracted her attention as she looked through artist proposals. “There was obviously a meaning he was trying to convey to his audience,” she says. “The first thing that caught my eye with his work was the amount of detail he was able to include while still having a 2D or cartoonish feel.”
The St. Louis-based multimedia artist describes the inspiration behind his exhibition as rooted in American culture. “‘Western Venom’ is a response to the shifting sociocultural landscape in America while looking at the historical implications of colonialism globally,” Kuo states.
The exhibition’s title reflects the notion of the colonial imagination of Asian Americans. “[It] takes time to sink in before the effects lead to paralysis or even death,” the artist continues.
Kuo hopes “Western Venom” inspires conversations about the merger of cultural ideas and a sense of identity. “Many of us, including myself, find ourselves between worlds and are faced with a reality that sees our existence as benign,” he explains. “I’d like to think that the exhibition is an act of nonviolent transgression for viewers to come to terms with their own identities and, at the same time, provides those caught in between worlds a temporary relief from systemic melancholia.”
Kuo’s exhibition, which opened on Sept. 11, runs till Feb. 21.
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, 314-535-4660, camstl.org