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 Mir". 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.

Joseph Havel: Drinks are boiling. Iced drinks are boiling.Havel's spare installation shares a visual sense of reverie with the John Berryman poem "Dream Song 46," from which it gets its unusual title. Drifting through the rooms of Laumeier's museum building, one encounters Black Curtains (2004), freestanding bronze drapes that look like they've been frozen in the act of falling to the ground. They're answered at the conclusion of the show by a freestanding Bed Sheet (2005), snow white and draping gracefully, as if it were being held up by an invisible set of hands. In between these bookends are two other similar works and a series of wire sculptures, partly wrapped in fabric and spelling out fragmented words and thoughts that float freely and cast shadows all around. This American sculptor has begun to specialize in transforming the most mundane domestic linens into uncanny presences, and this exhibition, with its addition of wire word sculptures, is lovely and strange, like many dreams. Through May 14 at 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 (www.laumeier.com). 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).

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 (www.ellencurleegallery.com). 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.

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