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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Garry Noland: Unorganized Territory Noland's messy, dystopic paintings and assemblages are apt metaphors for the state of current American foreign relations. In one series the artist binds National Geographic magazines in colored tape and arranges the pieces to spell out messages in Morse Code. Elsewhere Noland gouges maps into impossibly thick impasto paint. Best of all his works are the TV assemblages: stacks of dusty, pre-cable TV sets adorned with various effluvia and broadcasting mostly snow, punctuated by recognizable imagery. The works read like desperate attempts at post-apocalyptic communication. It's witty and disturbing — and a perfect complement to Return, Afghanistan, an exhibition of photographs by Zalmai, an Afghan-born photojournalist who depicts the plight of refugees and seemingly perpetual state of collapse that characterizes that nation. (Return, Afghanistan closes December 10.) Also on view is a video work by Chris Coleman and flower photographs by Gene Moehring. Through January 21, 2006, at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-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.
Ivy Cooper

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