Current Shows

Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Arshile Gorky: The Early Years — Drawings and Paintings 1927-1937 This modest show consists mostly of small drawings by enigmatic early Abstract Expressionist Arshile Gorky, an Armenian immigrant who never quite fit into the American heroic-artist mold. Several quasi-cubist and surrealist-inflected drawings wrestle with questions of space and spatial relations; they contain genuine insight into the education of a budding abstract artist, dealing with forebears like Picasso and Miró. Two oil paintings stand out for their rarity: Circus (Composition) from 1936 and Abstraction (Conflicting Emotions) (1936-37) were executed by Gorky and his student Hans Burkhardt as they worked together on strategies for realizing in oil what they had observed and studied in life and art. This is a gem of a show, a nice complement to the other modernist shows on view in St. Louis at the moment. Through March 12 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Fusz Hall, Saint Louis University, 3700 West Pine Boulevard; 314-977-7170 (mocra.slu.edu). Hours: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Leora Laor Israeli artist Leora Laor is working in territory that's being explored by lots of contemporary photographers: the realm of the cinematic, or the quasi-cinematic — i.e., images that look like stills from surveillance video or avant-garde cinema and that sweat ambiguity through their pores. But few do it as well as Laor, whose digital prints portray figures in an ambiguous landscape (the "Image of Light" series) or orthodox women and girls in Jerusalem (the "Wanderland" series) with the blurry, snapshot effect that secures a sense of mystery and odd authenticity. I was unfamiliar with Laor's work before seeing this modest exhibition, which suggests she's an artist to keep an eye on. Through March 30 at the Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1299. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 (www.pulitzerarts.org). Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

James M. Smith: DrawnVisitors to this large exhibition of Smith's drawings may at first wonder what distinguishes them from this local artist's paintings. These works, like his paintings, feature Smith's signature rough-hewn canvases, with strips of fabric sewn or safety-pinned in ragged patterns over their surfaces and raw patches of color added liberally throughout. What distinguishes these works, all produced in 2005, is not so much the medium as the foregrounding of the process of drawing — in all its various forms. Smith draws marks on his canvases, to be sure; but he also draws with the edges of his canvas strips and generates rich lines with the deep shadows and peaks of folded and draped fabric. These works are rich with lines, inscribed and described by marks and layers and applied forms. Four pieces from the "Nickel" series feature conventional drawn masses floating in open canvas fields, while works such as G-November employ and imply lines in a series of smaller canvas frames hung by wire. These works are breathtaking, somehow heartbreaking, and they will forever alter your notions of drawing in art. Through March 11 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 (www.umsl.edu/~gallery). Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Social Commentary in Black and White This modest exhibition of prints by Tom Huck, Bill Fick and Richard Mock delivers a serious punch and a chance to see works by three of the finest, sickest printmakers working today, in one place. The show also features works by University City High School students who worked with Huck during his residency at the school. Printmaking is an immediate, forceful medium of communication. Huck's works are some of the finest prints being made, and he clearly has a talent for communicating with young artists, whose efforts carry jarring imagery and heartfelt messages. Through March 26 at the Center of Creative Arts, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-1834 (www.cocastl.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Alfred StieglitzThis small (eleven prints) stairwell exhibition is a lovely survey of photography's early high period, as well as a telling tribute to an artist who is remembered as much for his editorial and curatorial work as he is for his own photography. Ranging from his late-nineteenth-century work in Germany to his far more abstract images from the 1930s, the works on view here include some of Stieglitz's best- and least-known photographs: the nostalgic November Days (1886) and The Old Mill are soft, glowing platinum prints; The Terminal (1893) is shown in its photogravure printed form in a 1911 issue of Camera Work; the small, moody "Equivalent" cloud images from the 1920s verge on total abstraction; and From the Shelton West (1935), a gelatin silver print of New York skyscrapers, captures the dramatic urban lines and contrasts that fascinated modern artists at the time. Whether you know a little or a lot about Stieglitz, this show is well worth a long pause in the stairwell. Through March 26 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 (www.slam.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

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