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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.

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.

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