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Repurposed Signage Showcases St. Louis Streets to Travelers

Posted on March 19, 2019 in Art

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Wayfinding, a new exhibition at St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) by St. Louis artist Cheryl Wassenaar repurposes commercial, real estate, and business signage to indirectly communicate with travelers. By combining fragments of multiple signs from former local businesses, Wassenaar reimagines their original purpose and reclaims their language.

By definition, wayfinding directs individuals to a specific destination and especially in an airport, signage must be clear and direct. Wassenaar disrupts that efficiency by using competing language and contrasting colors that clip words and ideas into visual forms, breaking from common expectations. The exhibition Wayfinding is composed of seven pieces made from found signage: dash, channel II, lock, decibel, parlance, towers of babble VN and AG, and the freestanding Tower of Babble 24. The final piece of the exhibition, You Call It a Cloud: Ascent is a custom-made 22’ long collage of metallic words on wood. Wassenaar has compiled word fragments from the Cloud Series poems by St. Louis poet Stephanie Schlaifer into a light, bright celebration of air – perfect for those about to take off into the clouds.   

Through the use of signage from a bygone era, Wayfinding subtly comments on the chaotic communication of today’s world. Perhaps without realizing it, “the multiple lines of information that continually stream across our eyes and ears – transmission channels, TV channels, airways, even the overlapping sounds of conversations” can affect our perception, according to Wassenaar. The works in Wayfinding act as overlapping texts, like a stream of blending conversations, partially legible words transferred into familiar but broken forms.

Cheryl Wassenaar, an Associate Professor of Art in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, is a visual artist who explores the nature of text in a hybrid practice of painting, sculpture, and design. She works primarily with found commercial signage, repurposing the discarded wood into visual metaphors of communication that borrow from the language of  modernist painting, poetry, and digital technology. Wassenaar earned her BFA from Calvin College, and her MFA from the University of Cincinnati. Her work is exhibited nationally and internationally, and included in prominent corporate collections such as Camden Real Estate Headquarters in Houston, Fidelity Investments in Boston, Steelcase, Inc. in New York and Philadelphia, and Urban Institute of Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI.

Wayfinding is now on display through March 20, 2020 in Terminal 2 between gates E33 and E34 and is part of the Lambert Art & Culture Program’s temporary exhibitions program. The program is supported by the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis.

Cheryl Wassenaar was chosen to exhibit in the Lambert Art & Culture Program through the Airport’s seven-member Airport Art Advisory Committee. Current members are Lisa Cakmak, Associate Curator of Ancient Art at Saint Louis Art Museum; Ellen Gale, Executive Director Clayton Chamber of Commerce; Shelley Hagan; Leslie Markle, Curator of Public Art, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum; Kiku Obata, Founding Principal of Kiku Obata & Co.; Roseann Weiss, consultant with ART+; and design artist and illustrator Carlos Zamora. 

The Lambert Art and Culture Program builds upon the culturally rich legacy of St. Louis Lambert International Airport. Our mission is to elevate the visitor experience and uplift regional pride through the presentation of artwork created by local, national, and international artists. Currently, there are 29 works of art (temporary, permanent or on-loan) on view at the Airport. For more information, visit