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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

 Airstream! An Architectural History of a Land Yacht Sure, everyone recognizes an Airstream when they see it: that shiny, bullet-shape "land yacht," the American Dream on wheels. But the Airstream trailer is more than just midcentury kitsch. This modest exhibition traces the history of the Airstream from its 1931 Art Deco design to its state-of-the-art aluminum alloy construction to the life of its colorful founder Wally Byam all the way up to contemporary designers Christopher Deam and Nic Bailey, who have proposed contemporary reworkings of the interior. "Building Dreams Is Our Business," a short company film, plays alongside photos of Airstreams on classic family vacations -- to the lake and the forest, to Moscow, Egypt and beyond. What a trip! Through August 20 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.

Brancusi and Serra in Dialogue The Pulitzer is getting a lot of mileage out of Richard Serra, particularly a few large-scale pieces (Joplin and Standpoint in particular) that have graced the main gallery since the Serra solo show opened two years ago. (They're really heavy; I wouldn't move them either.) Now Serra's sculptures and drawings are paired with sculptures and photographs by Constantin Brancusi, whose interests intersect with Serra's in some fascinating ways. Their approaches to materials couldn't be more different -- Brancusi hacked away at wood and polished stone and bronze to a high, classical finish -- but all kinds of intriguing observations emerge out of this "dialogue," including the ways in which both artists treat (or dispense with) the pedestal, their interest in stacking pieces and relating individual parts to the sculptural whole. The small Cube Gallery now features an intense confrontation between Serra's Pacific Judson Murphy (1978), a black paint-stick piece that spans two walls; and Brancusi's Agnes E. Meyer (1929), a stately, totemic polished work of black marble. It's an inspired pairing, equaled by the strong juxtapositions throughout the show. Through July 23 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850. Museum hours noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

The Conceptual View: Stan Strembicki, Robin Assner, Alison Slein Works by these three artists aren’t necessarily more conceptual than others of their kind, but they are far better -- in fact, they’re some of the best works you’ll likely to see all summer. Local artist Assner and Buffalo’s Slein haunt the main space with large-scale photographic grotesques. Slein fashions little sculptures, silhouettes them against vast panoramas of sky and captures scenes right out of dreams and myths. They’re reminiscent of Kara Walker’s work -- charming at first glance, wrenching upon scrutiny. Assner covers faces and bodies in marshmallow crčme, oatmeal, frosting and pie filling, then focuses the camera in tight; viewing them, you’re caught between horror and delight. Strembicki’s works are set apart formally and physically, which is probably a good thing. His contemplative and subtle “Body, Soul, Science” digital prints would be eaten alive if they were any closer to the other artists’ works. Through June 18 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

It's punky, it's funky, it's three bold shows at the 
Contemporary. Dzine is above.
It's punky, it's funky, it's three bold shows at the Contemporary. Dzine is above.

Currents 94: Matthew Buckingham Like so much of St. Louis, the Mill Creek Valley neighborhood just west of downtown was wiped out in the early 1960s in the name of urban renewal. Buckingham has organized a slowed-down sequence of projected images showing us the view from an early-'60s automobile as it drives along Pine Street, once Mill Creek Valley's main artery. The shifting view shows the contemporary cityscape, the featureless office parks and Highway 40, which have replaced the houses where thousands (mostly African Americans) once lived. Accompanying this dreamlike "drive" drones a voice, reporting local headlines and top stories from 1964. Far from dewy-eyed nostalgia, Buckingham's juxtaposition of past and present is calculated to sharpen your critical faculties. The past is speaking here; if we listen, perhaps we won't be doomed to repeat it. Through June 12 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072. Museum hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (open Fri. till 9 p.m.)

Dzine: Punk Funk and Ruby Osorio: Story of a Girl(Who Awakes Far, Far Away) and Alexander Ross: Survey Three shows perfectly suited to one another and to the bright, airy spaces of the Contemporary. Chicago-based Dzine's psychedelic mural-size paintings look good enough to eat. They sound great too, accompanied as they are by music from the Parisian DJ Cam. In the next gallery, Alexander Ross' paintings are more calmly cerebral, but no less fun, suggesting fantastic cell structures, fungi and plants inhabiting cool-colored backgrounds. But it's Ruby Osorio's works that will hold your attention the longest. In her first solo museum exhibition, the LA-based Osorio covers the gallery walls with elfin girl characters in fantastical, flowery habitats. Osorio pins paper elements directly to the wall, or cuts and folds back paper segments of her works, producing brilliant effects that make the works come alive. Also not to be missed are the fabulous paintings by Katherine Kuharic, the latest in the Contemporary Project Series. Through June 12 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660. Museum hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (open Thu. till 7 p.m. and Sun. till 4 p.m.).

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 caos 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.

Ray Charles White: Recent Work This New York artist possesses the prodigious technical prowess that comes from having worked with Ansel Adams, but his images offer an inviting warmth that will transport you beyond their cold precision. White photographs water and plants in reflecting pools, then prints the pictures on anodized aluminum panels. Illusion abounds: What is above the water? below it? reflected? refracted? He also captures a delicate sense of nostalgia by employing inks in colors associated with old photogravure processes -- mossy green, aubergine, and cyanotype. This is White’s first St. Louis show -- here’s hoping it’s not his last. Through June 18 at William Shearburn Gallery 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat. -- Ivy Cooper

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