Current Shows

Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Image and Identity: Portraits by Philip Kwame Apagya, Samuel Fosso, Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibe The theme of identity in postcolonial Africa continues to be all the rage at art venues across the nation; this photography exhibition provides a fresh look at some lesser-known African artists. Viewers may be familiar with Keita's small, black-and-white images from the 1950s, but they look altogether new in the context of Apagya's large-scale, staged color scenes, such as After the Funeral (1998) and So What? (1996). Fosso's self-portraits as karate expert, businessman and pirate are disarming; Sidibe's snapshots from the 1960s and 1970s possess a fascinating, unscripted realism. Through January 8, 2005, at the Sheldon Art Galleries (Gallery of Photography), 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Gallery hours noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Chris Kahler: Recent Work Kahler's paintings have been popping up around town recently, but this is his first major exhibition since joining Elliot Smith earlier this year. This large concentration of his works affords a brilliant glimpse into the variety and the consistency of Kahler's visual language. The works examine dazzling fictional organic systems: floating tumors, cellular colonies and tendons that strain to connect them all. These magical forms bleed fluids that are tangerine, magenta, gray and lime-green in color; they appear to float in some primeval soup borrowed from the fantasies of Joan Miró. A stunning show. Also on view: Elaine Blatt's "Gay Pride Parade Series," fabulous photographs taken in Paris and London. Through November 27 at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4800. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Oil Man: Paintings by Jesse Thomas In his first solo exhibition, Thomas positively shines. His works careen through the history of painting, simultaneously referencing and confounding stolid modernist formalism as he synthesizes his own brand of critical humor. The "High Fashion Cubism" series (2004) unleashes that style's pop-art potential (Picasso and Braque only managed to hint at it). Thomas is a deft aesthetic ventriloquist in the vein of Michael Byron -- and you'd better be good at it if you're going to take on the modernist masters. "Thomas's Geneology of North American Bushes and Shrubs," a collection of black-and-white portraits of celebrity right-wingers painted on book covers, delves into political humor. Two large oils, Golden Helmet of Mambrino and The Art of Painting, are beatnik pastiches on the romance of painting. Having recently completed his MFA at Washington U., this Fort Gondo vet has a bright future ahead of him indeed. Through November 29 at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, 3151 Cherokee Street; 314-772-3628. Gallery hours daily, by appointment.

Showcase 3: St. Louis Photography and Video Invitational The last of a yearlong series of exhibitions to spotlight local artists is an uneven affair, with some odd juxtapositions and scattershot themes. Eric Shultis' Small Thoughts and Memories (2004) plants tiny male nude images under magnifying glasses and in daguerreotype frames in a haunting, surreal wall arrangement. It's a strong work, inviting quiet contemplation. But two frenetic video loops share its space: Nanette Boileau's "Arcade" and Van McElwee's "Modular Meander" (both 2004). Boileau's piece employs a video montage that corresponds nicely to Carol Crouppen's large Polaroids of mixed-media collages. Works by Nanette Hegamin, Susan Pittman, Jennifer Colten Schmidt and Eric Post are somewhat bland by comparison; they may as well belong to another exhibition altogether. Through February 12, 2005, at the Sheldon Art Galleries (Gallery of Photography), 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Gallery hours noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Wind Drawings: Chance Readings in Ink and Mixed Media Floyd Kenneth Stein maintains his Atelier ISLY in St. Louis and Copenhagen and exhibits his peculiar brand of art all over the world. His "Wind Drawings" are just that -- marks made by the wind as it moves a wooden drawing "arm" attached to a tree branch. The scratchy, jagged marks possess a surprising amount of calligraphic lyricism; taken as a whole, the effort recalls the Surrealist, "automatic" drawings of André Masson, or even John Cage's use of the I Ching to generate compositions. Stein's show contains original drawings on paper and vellum, as well as digital reprints on acrylic panes, which are numbered, signed and noted as to place of production. Through November 28 at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Avenue; 314-367-6731. Store hours 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. -- Ivy Cooper

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