White Flag Projects, an alternative space that opened in St. Louis in 2006, announced today that it is shutting its doors, following a vote by its board. Its programming will conclude on October 29, it said in an email, when its current exhibition, “Ill Seen Ill Said,” which includes artists Lutz Bacher, Robert Morris, and Banks Violette, ends its run.
In a letter addressed to “Friends and colleagues,” Matthew Strauss, the nonprofit’s founder and director, said, “After years of diminishing attendance and a marked decline in our ability to connect with local patrons, it became apparent that we could not establish an adequate audience for the art and artists we exhibited on the terms they were being offered.” He continued, “An institution, regardless of its support elsewhere, cannot be sustained without the interest of the community in which it finds itself, although I’m hopeful that the discourse we introduced here will prove to have had some effect.”
Over the course of more than 10 years in operation, White Flag did one-person shows with artists including Ned Vena, B. Wurtz, Ajay Kurian, Gaylen Gerber, Lena Henke, N. Dash, and many more. By its count, it presented 86 exhibitions with 375 artists. As a writer based in New York, it was often thrilling to see White Flag tap artists who had not yet received widespread—or any—institutional support, and its exhibition history is dotted with instances of artists having their first solo show outside of a commercial gallery.
Alongside its main exhibition program, White Flag hosted a series of smaller exhibitions in its library, which were overseen by assistant directors Sam Korman and Marie Heilich, and organized a curious film screening program called “A Film to be Determined,” which invited a wide variety of artists, from Dan Graham and Cindy Sherman to Martine Syms and Anicka Yi, to pick a film to screen. While the name of the picking artist was always listed, the “titles of the films are not announced at any time prior to or following the event, and are known only to the artist and those in attendance,” as the institution put it.
Strauss’s full letter follows below.
Friends and colleagues,
This past Monday White Flag Projects’ Board of Directors voted to close the institution at the conclusion of our current exhibitions. After years of diminishing attendance and a marked decline in our ability to connect with local patrons, it became apparent that we could not establish an adequate audience for the art and artists we exhibited on the terms they were being offered. An institution, regardless of its support elsewhere, cannot be sustained without the interest of the community in which it finds itself, although I’m hopeful that the discourse we introduced here will prove to have had some effect.
For the past ten years White Flag Projects has worked to provide context and opportunities to artists at pivotal junctures in their careers, and give St. Louisans a space to engage with these exhibitions in the most direct way possible. While it proved to be a poor fit for this locale, we’re proud of the uncompromised program we produced.
I’m perpetually grateful to all of the artists that made our efforts here meaningful. I want to thank our collaborators, our regular visitors, the handful of patrons that have maintained us over recent years, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and our interns and support staff that have helped make these exhibitions and programs possible. I’m especially grateful to our Assistant Directors Jessica Baran (2008–2012), Sam Korman (2012–2014), and Marie Heilich (2014–2016) for their contributions to White Flag’s growth.
White Flag Projects’ final day will be Saturday, October 29.
Matthew Strauss Founder & Director