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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

James Brooks: Small Paintings and Works on Paper Brooks was born in St. Louis, so we can proudly call him our own. And while this small retrospective comes to us from its debut at Greenberg Van Doren New York, it's no worse for the wear. As a matter of fact, it nicely complements a handful of other modernist shows on view in St. Louis at the moment and will no doubt spark a wistful longing for the days when arguments about the flatness of the canvas might come to blows, followed by apologetic rounds of "drinks on me." These works date from the 1940s to the 1980s, but like Arthur Osver, Brooks steadily maintained a commitment to modernist color and abstraction, and he remains one of the handful of lesser-known Abstract Expressionists worth pondering. Through March 18 at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, 3540 Washington Boulevard; 314-361-7600 (www.greenbergvandoren.com). Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

The Curious Teapot Every city large enough to support one or two craft centers gets treated to an annual teapot show. It's the craft-center moneymaker, the sure thing that will bring out everyone from the collectors to the curious to the people convinced they don't like "art." St. Louis is no different, and Craft Alliance puts on a teapot show every year, and there's nothing curious about it, except for the fact that it remains perennially popular. The teapots this year are fun, amusing, nonfunctional and functional, "wacky" and "wild" — in other words, just what you'd expect. (As Marge Simpson might exclaim: "A teapot with Scrabble letters stuck to it? Whatever!") The standouts here are the twisted takes on the classic objet d'art, such as Annette Corcoran's faux Fabergé eggs and Rain Harris' absurdly baroque fetish pots. Through March 5 at the Craft Alliance Gallery, 6640 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1177 (www.craftalliance.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Currents 96: Tim EitelThe paintings of German artist Eitel draw on historical and contemporary artworks to generate scenes of extreme enigma. The four large canvases in this show isolate figures in spare environments described only by somber gray and black fields. Helicopter (2005) has the aircraft hovering motionless just above the ground in a seemingly airless environment; Lying Figure transports Edouard Manet's Dead Toreador of 1864 to a similarly empty, vaguely interior setting. The maximum scale of the large works combines with their minimal elements to make for intriguing scenes of surreal isolation. A series of small, square oil-and-egg-tempera works on linen lines the gallery's fourth wall; these scenes are more populated but just as tight-lipped in terms of what they say to the viewer. Eitel's works are simultaneously cold and oddly irresistible. Through March 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park; 314-721-0072 (www.slam.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Great Rivers Biennial 2006This second Biennial is exuberant, owing largely to the scale of the works. It's thrilling to see three emerging St. Louis artists let loose and work BIG. Moses has worked big for some time but rarely had the chance to show big; he's usually represented in group shows by thoughtful, smallish assemblages that yearn to grow larger. Here his walls of turntables and stereo receivers are in their proper milieu, allowing viewers to revel in their sheer size or focus in tightly on their fetishized technology — all those sleek buttons, knobs and dials, shiny like money. The Chevy Blazer outfitted with 300 speakers may be the coolest thing anyone's ever made. While Moses explores hip-hop culture, Jason Wallace Triefenbach camps out in white-trash territory with a multifaceted performance/installation whose devil is in the details: the ATM, Zebra Cakes and beer cans, the vinyl John F. Kennedy album, the framed photograph of a dog and meat. Comparisons to Cady Nolan are too facile; Triefenbach is carving out his own territory — and getting it pitch-perfect. Matthew Strauss' canvases make references to high art only to tear it apart; they're smart but wither slightly in the noisy company of his companions. Be that as it may, this is a very, very good show. Through March 26 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 (www.contemporarystl.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

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.

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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