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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Space Exploration: Ken Konchel Any city that demolishes a historic building to make room for a parking garage and calls it "progress" probably doesn't deserve Ken Konchel. But just a stone's throw away from the ruins of the Century Building, the Baseline Gallery features several of his graceful, formalist photographic studies of architecture in St. Louis and elsewhere. Konchel's camera selects passages of buildings and transforms them into visual music -- jazzy, staccato rhythms of space, shadow and mass; arcs that crescendo skyward; and bouncing, baroque vaulting abound. Konchel wouldn't be your first choice to document the city's waning architectural treasury; he's more interested in lyrical abstraction than historical comprehension. But his work is another reminder that buildings are much more than disposable boxes. Through April 28 at Baseline Gallery, 1110 Washington Avenue; 314-621-9188. Gallery hours 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Sum and Substance Sculptural works by Mary Sprague are coupled with recent paintings by James Smith in one of the largest RAC shows in recent memory, occupying two large gallery spaces plus the hallway joining them. Sprague, better known for her paintings, shows off her ceramic works, many of which depict fallen horses in porcelain. These are strong, elegiac pieces, suggesting vulnerability and decay. But they lose some of their voice in the presence of Smith's paintings, which are so powerful they wipe out everything in their path. His paintings absolutely kill: raw canvas panels encrusted with paint, attached like bandages to one another with safety pins and big, loose handmade stitches. The works, which possess the sad desperations of Alberto Burri's postwar sewn canvases (Joseph Beuys is lurking somewhere too), make their sadness imperative: They insist upon their humanist message and won't let you forget them anytime soon. Through May 20 at the Regional Arts Commission Gallery, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. -- Ivy Cooper

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