People walk by the entrance to the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.

Meet the Curator: Dean Daderko of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Tuesday August 8, 2023

By Rachel Huffman

For decades, Dean Daderko has curated art exhibitions across the globe, from Argentina to Lithuania. Daderko called New York City home for years, during which time they ran a gallery out of their living room that focused on experimental artist projects, and from 2010 to 2020, they worked as the curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

Before accepting the role as the new Ferring Foundation Chief Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM) this year, they also co-curated an exhibition at Ballroom Marfa in Texas.

“I’m extremely lucky to have landed in St. Louis,” Daderko says. “Being able to join the team at such an august institution is exciting. I also anticipate having fun with the space, which is so unique.”

Daderko has hit the ground running, visiting local artist studios to better understand the ecology of the St. Louis arts-and-culture scene. “I want to identify local dialogues that I can amplify while seeking new artists and ideas to bring to the region,” they say. “Since I’ve regularly commissioned new artworks, it’s exciting to think about developing projects that will engage with St. Louis and its distinct sociocultural ecosystems.”

CAM aims to create meaningful engagement with today’s most relevant and innovative art, and it should be at the top of any art-lover’s bucket list. Not having a permanent collection allows the museum to adapt and respond to the global art world as well as the local community.

“In my new curatorial position, I hope to keep folks engaged with CAM while attracting new appreciators,” Daderko says. “By raising awareness of CAM’s incredible work, I also want to spotlight the amazing individuals who contribute to and support it.”

Kids hula hoop in front of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
Photo courtesy of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

On Sept. 8, three new exhibitions will open at CAM. Hajra Waheed: A Solo Exhibition will be the first major solo museum exhibition in the U.S. of the Montreal-based artist’s work. Waheed’s multidisciplinary practice explores the legacies of colonial and state violence with a uniquely poetic approach. Although her pieces are rooted in the past, they imagine new possibilities towards a radically collective and borderless future.

Featuring recent and newly commissioned bodies of work, including videos, paintings and works on paper, the exhibition will activate CAM’s main galleries and center on a new iteration of Hum (2020). “The sound installation puts revolutionary songs in conversation with each other,” Daderko explains. “Reflecting on international solidarity movements that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, the hummed verses suggest stories of struggle by the working people, the marginalized and the dispossessed. What’s truly fascinating is that the songs are being resurrected in social movements today.”

People experience Hum, a sound installation by Hajra Waheed.
Hum by Hajra Waheed | Photo courtesy of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Dominic Chambers: Birthplace will be the St. Louis native’s first museum exhibition in his hometown. Chambers creates vibrant paintings that engage historical art models such as color field painting, gestural abstraction and surrealism. Curious about art as a vehicle for reconsidering one’s relationship with the world, the artist sees painting as a critical and an intellectual endeavor as much as an aesthetic one.

“A number of paintings have been made specifically for the exhibition,” Daderko says. “Together, the works address Chambers’ awakening as an artist and how his awakening relates to St. Louis. He’ll reflect on spaces that nurtured his imagination – classrooms, libraries, playgrounds, basketball courts, etc.”

Justin Favela's Ruta Madre features colorful cut paper resembling the surface of a piñata.
Ruta Madre by Justin Favela | Photo courtesy of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Las Vegas-based artist Justin Favela will also present a site-specific installation on the museum’s 60-foot-long Project Wall. “Ruta Madre is a cut-paper installation that resembles the surface of piñatas and other party decorations,” Daderko says. “Favela surveyed St. Louis’ landscape, history and collections to inform the work, so you might also see Route 66 reflected in it.

“Favela’s technique is labor intensive,” Daderko continues, “and his pieces are absolutely compelling – both visually and materially. To celebrate the exhibition, CAM will host a fiesta with Favela, his family and members of the local community on Nov. 3.”

Favela has become known for his large-scale murals and sculptures inspired by his Mexican-Guatemalan upbringing in the U.S. His colorful and often humorous works aim to critique cultural stereotypes and create public dialogue around what it means to be Latinx in this country.

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis shines even at night.
Photo courtesy of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Free for all, CAM is a safe gathering place, where you can reflect on the world around you and connect to the most salient issues of our time. Plan your visit today!