Alumni Justin Bailey opens exhibition at Webster University’s Hunt Gallery

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“Traces I was here” was the Hunt Gallery’s first in-person exhibition since the pandemic. THe reception took place on Sept. 17.

On Friday, Sept. 17, Webster students and art enthusiasts gathered at Hunt Gallery for the opening of alumni Justin Bailey’s “Traces I Was Here.” The reception was the first time the Webster community had the opportunity to visit an in-person exhibition at Hunt Gallery since March 2020.

Bailey’s career as a furniture and lighting designer aligns with his career as an artist. He has an interest in the combination of furniture design and studio art practice, inspiring much of his new exhibition.

Students, faculty and alumni gather outside of Cecille R. Hunt Gallery to hear Webster alumni Justin Bailey speak about his new exhibit, “Traces I Was Here,” on the exhibit’s opening night. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

The exhibition’s title, “Justin Bailey: Traces I Was Here,ties into his experiences in life and as a former art, design and art history student. He utilizes furniture and other household objects to inspire viewers to see the functionality and history in these items.

Bailey said he hopes for viewers to find new ways of seeing the same objects they’ve been observing their entire lives. The ways in which these items are meant to be used, according to Bailey, “spark the imagination” and help viewers rethink how they see these objects.

Bailey embraces the “element of engagement and emptiness” in his newest exhibition. He mentioned how these objects are meant to be used with someone, even when no one is present to use them.

“Any time you see a functional object, there is a presence of a person intended to be with it,” he said.

The same logic holds true for his historical presence as a Webster student nearly a decade ago.

Bailey graduated from Webster University in 2012 with a bachelor of fine arts in Sculpture. In 2016, he graduated from the University of Iowa with a master of fine arts in 3D design. Currently, Bailey is a professor of art and design at Indiana University’s Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture and Design.

Bailey cites Webster as a formative part of his career and approach to his art process. He lists several Webster staff members as his mentors, including Jeffrey Hughes, professor of art history & criticism, who invited him back for the opening.

Hughes, who is the director of Hunt Gallery, believes in the uniqueness of Bailey’s artwork and has high hopes for its impact on viewers.

Webster alum Justin Bailey’s exhibit “Traces I Was Here” explores the utility, gesture and design of objects in the everyday home. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

“Justin Bailey’s art and design works will be especially intriguing for viewers to examine the direct confluence art and utilitarian object,” he said.

Hughes said Webster has always had an art department and served as a place for students to view and exhibit artwork. He says Hunt Gallery has been a venue for over 30 years, allowing the St. Louis community to enjoy artwork from rising and renowned artists alike.

With the gallery’s restored ability to host in-person openings, Hughes commented on how he believes the local community will benefit artistically from face-to-face viewing.

“I think everyone benefits intellectually, aesthetically and even spiritually from viewing works of art in person. As interesting as I thought it was to operate the gallery virtually last year, or for that matter to see mediated art on Instagram, etc., there is simply no comparison to standing in front of a work of art and allowing it to speak to you,” Hughes said.

Like Hughes, Bailey embraces the advantages of an in-person art exhibition. He says seeing art in-person helps viewers understand the materials in a way that cannot be understood virtually.

“These works are not meant to be created and nested away in a studio,” Bailey said.

Webster alum Justin Bailey’s exhibit “Traces I Was Here” explores the utility, gesture and design of objects in the everyday home. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

As a believer in exhibitions being as important of an artistic component as creation, Bailey points to the importance of seeing the pieces interact with one another in a gallery.

In the same way that Bailey sees his art pieces speak to one another in a gallery, he sees how his art speaks to other people. He said this communication is only viable through an exhibition, which has been made possible in person by Hunt Gallery.

The exhibition will be available for viewing until Oct. 22, 2021.

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Molly Foust
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