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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

 About Painting; About Sculpture The gallery becomes an aesthetic carnival of spatial illusions and formal play, as Jim Schmidt once again proves to be one of the most cerebral curators around. This spare exhibition contains eleven artists' stunning works that contemplate the dialectical relationship between painting and sculpture (and surface and mass; two- and three-dimensionality; spatial illusion and real space; etc.). Paint moves beyond the task of representation to objecthood in works by Michael Toengas, Peter Tollens and Stephan Gritsch, not to mention the utterly strange #3 (2000) by Donald Moffet, in which oil paint grows into furry tentacles. Dennis Hollingsworth's The Madhouse (1996) is wonderfully perverse, with paint morphing into spiky anemones among a riot of nauseating colors. Jerald Ieans' two-part painted Relief juts out from the wall, casting sculptural shadows, while Charles Long's papier mâché-on-metal sculpture sports a scumbly surface rivaling the blue paintings of Yves Klein. Through August 12 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 503 North 20th Street; 314-575-2648. Gallery hours 1-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment (by appointment only during August).

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.

Animated Earth: The Many Permutations of Clay Curators Matt Wilt and Paul Dresang selected works by sixteen artists who incorporate animal (and human) imagery into functional and sculptural clay objects. The show sidesteps New Age-y explorations of earth spirits and animal avatars in favor of smart, strong works with an awareness of history. Kurt Weiser turns in Caucasia, a lidded urn with finely detailed fantasy figures. Beth Cavener Stichter's J'ai Une Ame Solitaire is an enormous prehistoric beast on a rude wooden cart, looking quite lonely indeed. Maryann Webster's Mesoamerican-style doll figures are chilling fetish figures containing "magical" objects. There's no shortage of wonderful, engaging work here; what's lacking is information about the various techniques and media used to produce each piece. [Editor's note: The curators are colleagues of RFT art writer Ivy Cooper at SIU Edwardsville.] Through July 24 at Craft Alliance, 6640 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1177. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Cassie Simon’s monoprint 96 Tears, on view at 
the Philip Slein Gallery through August 6
Cassie Simon
Cassie Simon’s monoprint 96 Tears, on view at the Philip Slein Gallery through August 6

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 September 24 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.

Exposure 8 Gallery 210 director Terry Suhre has coordinated another fine installment in this long-running series featuring four area artists. Suhre's selection of Sarah Colby, Andrea Green, Deborah Katon and Linda Vredeveld seems particularly inspired, as the works complement one another while maintaining their autonomy on separate walls in the spacious gallery. Katon's and Green's works in particular pose parallel questions about the body, its traces and memories. Katon combines outlined drawn forms and thin paint, suggesting bodily fluids and tissues. Green's startling combinations of beeswax, hair, lace and latex on vellum are ghostly plays on presence and absence. Vredeveld fills a wall with tiny, variegated blown-glass vials. And Colby exhibits an uncanny skill for evoking adolescent angst with inanimate objects. A re-creation of a young girl's bedroom, Colby's extravagant Let It Be Me involves crocheted knickknacks, store-bought tchotchkes, quilts, toys, pillows and pencils; together they embody the singular pain of pubescent love and longing. Through August 27 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, UM-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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