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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

About Painting; About SculptureThe 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 YachtSure, 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 aluminumalloy 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 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 8Gallery 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.

Fresh!and Daniel Barton: Post-Modern PrimitiveRound out your summer tour of work by underexposed and overachieving artists with a visit to Philip Slein, where you'll see tantalizing new work by K.L. Robinson, Shane Simmons, John Watson, Bryan Reckamp and Cassie Simon. Robinson and Reckamp make richly engaging paintings that play around with opposite ends of the semiotic spectrum: Reckamp employs overdetermined, commercial text and imagery, while Robinson relies on fragmented forms and typographic hieroglyphs. Simon's mixed-media works on paper smuggle in some fairly loaded content beneath their decorative surfaces, and Simmons' acrylic works are strangely joyful, ebullient messes. Watson, the sculptor among the group, contributes clumsy constructions made of too many plywood strips, screwed together obsessively and verging on overkill. Yet they're endearing -- like incompetently built soapbox derby cars. In the back gallery, Barton shows off his ability to paint as if he'd never gone to art school -- sort of the reverse of the toddler who can turn out a Pollock. Good postmodern fun. Through August 6 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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 Hurrell 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.

Savage XMichelle X has reinterpreted tarot card imagery using live models and staged photographic tableaux. The images are dark and vaguely sadomasochistic -- bare breasts, someone licking the barrel of a gun, and the like. You can buy your own custom card set (if you must). Added to this are "new" interpretations of the seven deadly sins and the seven righteous virtues. Strictly for the least discriminating of the Goth set -- and even they will have seen it all before, in the 1990s, via Marilyn Manson and Trent Reznor. Through August 31 at the 3rd Floor Gallery, 1214 Washington Avenue; 314-241-1010. Gallery hours noon-4 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

Christina Shmigel: Chinese Garden for the Delights of Roaming AfarThis third installment in the Kranzberg Exhibition Series brings Shmigel back to St. Louis from Shanghai, where she has spent the past two years. She's been missed, but the change of scenery has done incredible things to her work and her visual sensibility. The exhibition unfolds as the visitor passes through the galleries. Framing elements are a leitmotif: A floating pavilion sets the stage, showing photographs of bamboo scaffolding -- a leitmotif taken from the constant formal flux of Shanghai, a city evidently under permanent reconfiguration. Photos of text messages evoke the city's chaos of communication, but this gives way to calmer, more contemplative and intimate encounters with light, shadow, text and cityscapes. The artist's signature connecting-pipe circuitry pops up here and there, transformed by this new context. Somehow Shmigel manages to make a hundred disparate strains coalesce in a delightful experience of another world, recognizable and yet far from home. Through August 30 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209. Gallery hours 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. -- Ivy Cooper

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