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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Hurrell's Men As chief photographer at MGM Studios in the 1930s, and as owner of his own studio after that, George Hurrell (1904-1992) developed a signature style that epitomized glamour, grace and the glory of old Hollywood. Though he photographed dozens of women throughout his career, this exhibition concentrates on his gorgeous, bronze-toned portraits of actors. Hurrell's subjects -- like Clark Gable, Johnny Weissmuller, Tyrone Power and Ramon Navarro -- are posed and in character, yet they appear intimate and genuine at the same time. Anyone who can make David Soul look sexy has got to be a genius! Don't miss the text panel on Pancho Barns, the flamboyant aviatrix who befriended Hurell in the 1920s and collected all these photos. Through August 13 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 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.

Junko Chodos: The Breath of Consciousness This California-based artist enjoys her first Midwest showing with this exhibition, curated by museum director Terrence Dempsey. It's a beautiful survey of three decades of work engaging heady questions of spirituality and the intersection between living beings and machines. Junko, who grew up in Japan during World War II, has plenty of visual and visceral experiences from which to draw inspiration for her wildly expressive prints, paintings and drawings. The "Concerning Art and Religion" series (2003) plots photographs of engines amid a roiling chaos of inky waves and drips -- it's nigh apocalyptic, and quite effective in the context of the museum's ecclesiastical design. "Compact Universe" features smaller versions of earlier abstract paintings and collages enclosed in CD jewel cases -- the ultimate in portable art. Most intriguing of all are the elegiac paintings in the "Requiem for an Executed Bird" series, and the collection of collages that layer minuscule cutout images into dense, frenzied fields. Through July 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Fusz Hall, Saint Louis University, 3700 West Pine Boulevard; 314-977-7170. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-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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