Mallarie Zimmer takes Venus Envy art show to new heights, new cities
Mallarie Zimmer knows how to throw a party. As founder of Venus Envy, an all-female art exhibition established in 1999, Zimmer has watched her art bonanza grow from an audience of 500 people in its first year to a crowd of nearly 5,000 in 2002. Next week, Zimmer expects even more people to attend the annual show at the City Museum at 701 N. 15th St. in St. Louis.
But more than just the host with the most, Zimmer also has become one of St. Louis’ greatest arts promoters. With the 48 artists in last year’s Venus Envy selling more than $20,000 in original works in one night, few art exhibitions can match the economic stimuli Venus Envy provides local artists.
Based on its success in St. Louis, Zimmer is now intent on taking Venus Envy across the United States, and eventually the world.
“I think artists in cities like St. Louis suffer from a lower self-esteem than their counterparts in cities such as New York or L.A. that get more attention for their arts,” says the 28-year-old Zimmer, who moved here from Arkansas in 1997. “I got the idea for Venus Envy from all the talented women artists I met here who weren’t getting the exposure I thought they deserved.”
Last year, Zimmer established a Venus Envy exhibition in Memphis, Tenn., on the same evening as the St. Louis show, which falls on the last Saturday of March. This year, Venus Envy will expand to three cities, with Memphis again participating, as well as Baton Rouge, La.
Zimmer, who when not working on Venus Envy serves as communications manager for Craft Alliance in University City, says she hopes to take the concept north to cities such as Minneapolis or Chicago next year. Meanwhile, Venus Envy may soon go international. Zimmer is in discussions with groups in London, Belgium and Argentina who want to organize their own all-women shows there. And while the concept of Venus Envy is all women, Zimmer said the event is not designed to spite men.
“We’re very tongue-in-cheek in everything from our name to our unofficial mascot, the Venus of Willendorf, one of the oldest pieces of art and a sign of fertility that’s an exaggeration of the female form,” Zimmer says.
While men at the show continue to be outnumbered by the women, Zimmer said the goal is to offer something for everyone. A self-confessed product of the MTV generation, Zimmer said she tries to design the show as “multi-sensory” experiences. So in addition to the artists’ works, Venus Envy also incorporates more than 30 live performances of music, poetry and dance that take place on two stages during the evening. For those with little appreciation for the arts, Zimmer says there are always the refreshments. Several local restaurants and eateries donate to the event, and Pabst Brewing Co. also has signed on as a sponsor providing free beer.
Roseann Weiss, program and education director for Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, says few arts events in St. Louis compare to Venus Envy for sheer energy.
“When we (Contemporary Art Museum) have openings and get 350 people we’re happy, but Venus Envy is a real event, with crowds in the thousands and so many things going on at once,” Weiss says. “One of the things I think is so wonderful about Venus Envy is that it’s completely self-generated. All of us in the art community are working to make art happen here, and these women just came up and created this themselves.”