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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Accidental Mysteries: Vernacular Photographs from the Collection of John and Teenuh FosterThis traveling exhibition poses an interesting counterpoint to the splashy color photos currently dominating the gallery circuit. It's no wonder that found collections — old photos, random notes, cast-offs of all kinds — are so popular. They're relatively easy to come by and they've earned their art cred thanks to the hard work of luminaries like Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. (The Web site www.foundmagazine.com features a new "find" every day.) And there's something utterly magical about encountering an orphan object, something that once held meaning for someone somewhere but is now a free-floating non-signifier. This exhibition features dozens of found photographs from the collection of John and Teenuh Foster, who have scoured flea markets and estate sales with an eye for the particularly surreal. None of these images is titled, but some are grouped to suggest odd relationships. Still others are enlarged, which only enhances their mystery. Through January 6, 2006, at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Bruno David Gallery: Inaugural Exhibition Thank goodness Bruno David didn't up and leave St. Louis when Elliot Smith Contemporary Art closed last year. As director of that gallery, David had established himself as a smart curator with a sharp eye, particularly for local talent. Now he's invested his knowledge and talent — not to mention his physical labor and his own money — into transforming a small brick storage building across the street from the Pulitzer and the Contemporary into his own gallery. For this inaugural exhibition, David features works by many of the local artists he'd shown at Elliot Smith: Christina Shmigel (late of Shanghai), Jenna Bauer, Daniel Raedeke, Joan Hall and Jill Downen, among others. So it's a mish-mash of works with no theme in sight (theme was never David's strong point anyway), but the 21 works on view are individually extremely strong, and the selection bodes well for the future of exhibitions here. Through November 13 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 7 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Lawrence Carroll: The Shadow Paintings and Other WorkAustralian-born, LA-based painter Carroll has been producing some of the most beautiful, contemplative art seen anywhere in the last two decades. He's a regular exhibitor in Europe, particularly in Italy, and his recent inclusion in the 50-year retrospective of Germany's Dokumenta Exhibition speaks volumes about his status abroad. Unfortunately, he's underappreciated and underrepresented in this country, which makes this quiet gathering of his recent Shadow Paintings all the more significant for us here in St. Louis. Each of the four modest-size paintings from this series hangs on a separate wall, which allows for the kind of quiet concentration these canvases invite. Their surfaces are patchworks of canvas covered thickly by hues ranging from gray, bone and putty to subtle shades of blue, beige and green. Their thickly scumbled surfaces, as well as their physical depth (they jut four inches out from the wall), generate a calming sense of gravity and density. Carroll's wall works are normally larger in scale; this group proves that canvas size isn't the source of Carroll's power. Also on view is one of Carroll's remarkable Table Paintings from 2003-05 — a painting that literally emerges out of a low table, framed by a complex skeleton of wooden dowels — as well as two bold Color Paintings from 1997-2002. Through November 23 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 503 N. 20th Street; 314-575-2648. Hours: 1-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.

Currents 95: Julie Mehretu Those who saw Mehretu speak at the Saint Louis Art Museum on September 8 can attest to the fact that she had a certain amount of trouble articulating the concepts of her work. Take a look at her four paintings on view there and you'll see why: They are so very complex, deeply layered and astonishingly beautiful that they defy description. Mehretu appropriates remarkable architectural plans, combines them with her own idiosyncratic drawings and overlays all of that with vaguely familiar nationalist symbols and signs, to generate explosive scenes — of war? of sports? of schizophrenia? — that may be the most accurate blueprint ever to have been rendered of psychic experience in the post-industrial, late capitalist Western world. If that sounds like excessive praise, then mission accomplished: Mehretu's works are absolutely brilliant. These paintings act like a buoy, a lifesaver in the sad chaos of the daily news; to think that someone has been able to get it down legibly on a flat surface provides hope that we might just survive this insanity after all. Through November 27 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park; 314-721-0072. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and MasqueradeDon't write this off as a Halloween gimmick; Galembo's Cibachrome photographs of historical Halloween costumes and masks are brilliant objects unto themselves. As a collector, Galembo clearly has an eye for the visual and the historical novelty of these costumes; but as a photographer she possesses uncanny skill and intuition for lighting, composition and color, and her images transport these things into another dimension. The Deluxe Disguise Kit(2001), a relic of the 1950s, looks straight out of a horror movie; the homemade Depression Era Ghost Mask (2000) can't help but evoke a KKK hood; even the cheesy, plastic 1965 Hairy Skeleton mask is unimaginable in the context of 21st-century Halloween costumes. Granted, Halloween costumes are designed to be strange; but in Galembo's hands they appear to have come from another world, or at least the most surreal depths of this one. Through November 19 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634. Hours: Tue.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

DoDo Jin Ming: Land and SeaIt's astonishing to think that this Chinese photographer was Robert Frank's apprentice. Then again, her talent would probably take her to these outer regions regardless of how, or with whom, she studied. Ming is an internationally known artist, and this exhibition features her astonishing powers of photographic interpretation in spare but dramatic form. In series of photographs of roiling seas and barren fields of sunflowers, she somehow sidesteps cliché and captures something of the human condition. The sunflowers, printed in negative tones and with veils over their heads, carry with them an elegiac quality that seems to want to heal the world's wounds. Through December 18 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Fusz Hall, Saint Louis University, 3700 West Pine Boulevard; 314-977-7170. Hours: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Minimalism and Beyond This exhibition is perfect. The stacked and repeated boxes of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin's fluorescent lights and Richard Serra's stacked and leaning works cast new light on the minimalist idiom, which is simultaneously thematically connected to works by more recent artists like Felix Gonzales-Torres, Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread and Robert Gober. OK, these connections have been drawn out before — but not amid Tadao Ando's minimalist architecture. Whiteread's Untitled (Gray) (1996/2003), a cast-concrete bathtub, quietly anchors the exhibition, making sensual reference to the smooth concrete of the building's walls and floor, while nearby Roni Horn's Untitled (Yes), a block of cast black optical glass, looks positively liquid in relation to the Pulitzer's water court, and Gonzales-Torres' pyramidal pile of candy in shiny silver wrappers acts as a foil to the somber character of the small Cube Gallery. The endless, subtle surprises embedded in the exhibition's layout will beckon viewers back again and again. Through April 26, 2006, at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

Gary Passanise: New Paintings The twelve new works on display here see Passanise continuing his explorations in somber abstraction. Several of these paintings feature strong hues (wine, purple, orange) mixed with black and brushed forcefully across the surface, creating fields that are interrupted by spare geometric outlines. Scale is key: The large pieces hold their own, while the smaller canvases struggle under the weight of the ideas. Most impressive are the two largest works, the astonishing No System and the mournful Some Angel, an acrylic work on pieced cotton dyed midnight blue that sets two towering buildings, rendered in white, at opposite ends of the canvas, separated by a dense and powerful storm of black. It's an extraordinarily moving requiem for the World Trade Center — and one of the most breathtaking paintings Passanise has ever produced. Through November 26 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020. Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Public Notice: Painting in Laumeier Sculpture Park It's a brilliant conceit: Exhibit paintings in a sculpture park, and make them billboard-size, inescapable! Whoever came up with the idea deserves a raise, because this show transports Laumeier beyond the territory of contemporary-art coolness it had reached before. The ten billboard artists on view here come from all over the world (we're lucky to claim one of them, Eva Lundsager, as our own). All have the talent to translate their idiosyncratic aesthetics to a massive scale, and each twelve-by-sixteen-foot sign/painting has something unique and engaging to say. But first check out the stunning exhibition of smaller works in the galleries; they lay the groundwork for the big statements. Through January 15, 2006 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209. Hours: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

Cindy Sherman: Working Girland Girls' Night OutKudos to the Contemporary: Rather than simply play host to a great touring photography show (Girls' Night Out), the museum has paired that exhibition with a selection of Cindy Sherman's works. Not the (now overly familiar) Untitled Film Stills, and not her more recent self-portraits-with-prostheses, but some very early works — photobooth things and cut-out images and portraits that retain a weak but recognizable link to her later work. Setting the video and photography of the next generation of "girls" against the backdrop of the most influential female photographer of the twentieth century gently poses questions without making overbearing genealogical claims. After a tour of Sherman's material, the work in Girls' Night Out(by Sarah Jones, Daniela Rossell, Shirana Shahbazi, Katy Grannan, Kelly Nipper, Salla Tykkä, Dorit Cypis, Elina Brotherus, Reneke Dijkstra and Eija Liisa Ahtila) takes on added dimensions of meaning — and pleasure. Through December 31 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Katy Stone/Jeanine Coupe Ryding/Avery Danziger The Atrium Gallery has relocated from Clayton to Elliot Smith's former space in the Central West End, but this inaugural exhibition indicates that it will remain true to form, featuring slick, unchallenging art with commercial appeal. Seattle-based Stone works with acrylic paint on transparent Dura-Lar cutouts, creating wall hangings that look pretty in the gallery's big front window (and that would fit nicely with Target's home-décor line). Ryding's wood-block prints employ layers of imagery but lack emotional depth. "Water Babies," Danziger's series of large, color-saturated photographs, explores the overlooked aesthetic of super-soft art porn, featuring naked sisters frolicking at night in a swimming pool; it could use more art, more porn, or both. Through November 27 at Atrium Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-1076. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.

Kimiko Yoshida: Birth of a Geisha Juxtaposed against the Contemporary's Cindy Sherman show (see above), this exhibition poses some interesting questions. Yoshida's large, laminated C-print bride self-portraits obviously align themselves with the Japanese tradition of ritual dressing of the geisha and the bride. At the same time, it's hard to imagine these photographs would ever have been made without Sherman's precedent. Her role-playing self-portraiture has so profoundly imprinted itself upon contemporary photographic practice, it's tempting to read most of the genre in terms of its relation to Sherman's work. Yet Yoshida's works have plenty to distinguish them: Each of these sixteen images glows in its own saturated color, and her stunning bridal props range from Pokémon masks to feather headdresses to white afro wigs. Yoshida offers herself up as a free-floating cultural signifier — one part of her rooted in the controlled Japanese geisha aesthetic, another exploring cultural practices in Africa, Asia, Brazil and the U.S. And where Sherman's recent works are willfully repulsive, Yoshida's are lovely, if quite strange. Also on view is a video projection piece, Birth of a Geisha. Through November 26 at Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1209. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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