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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 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.

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. Vredeveld's and Green's works in particular pose parallel questions about the body, its traces and memories. Vredeveld 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. Katon 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.

John Barrymore is just one of Hurrell's Men. See him at the Sheldon.
John Barrymore is just one of Hurrell's Men. See him at the Sheldon.

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.

Nature and the Nation: Hudson River School Landscape Painting from the Wadsworth Atheneum Anyone who has looked at enough of them knows that landscapes are never innocent mirrors of the land. The landscape is perhaps the most loaded of all painting genres, as it reveals not only the aesthetic practices of its age but also the ideological investment a nation has in its land. This exhibition of about 50 canvases reveals some of what the land meant for Americans in the mid-nineteenth century. The land symbolized promise, certainly, and its beauty and wealth were taken as visual revelations of Manifest Destiny. But the land was also the site of conflict, both philosophical and physical. Here are some of the most beautiful, and most revealing, landscapes ever produced in this country, from Asher B. Durand's romantic views of the Hudson Valley to Frederic Church's dramatic grand visions to Thomas Cole's subtle philosophical convictions about how people could and should live in a balance with nature. The exhibition contains vital historical lessons about this nation's complex relationship to land, and all that it represents. Through September 11 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.)

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