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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Greg Edmondson: Simple and Ron Laboray: Keeping Score If you think you know Edmondson's works, think again. Here's a galleryful of whimsical bug sculptures and amoebalike forms that are unlike anything else the local artist has ever done. Also new are the drawings — large works on paper that could be DNA charts of aliens, and small gouache paintings on antique wallpaper that insist on their own seriousness in spite of their obvious sweetness. It's a completely disarming show, marvelous, funny and weird all at once. That description applies just as well to local painter Laboray's works in Philip Slein's back gallery. Laboray charts American pop-cultural hegemony with a paranoia-tinged humor that remains unparalleled among artists I've seen. He's a great cultural leveler, documenting moon missions and multiple-Marge Simpson invasions of Georgia with the same urgency and visual panache. This is tour-de-force work by two incredibly bright local artists. Through March 31 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 (www.philipsleingallery.com). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-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.

David Hammons: Phat Free Hammons has long been a subtle provocateur, focusing his work on cultural paradigms we build around racial relations. And while this latest in the Saint Louis Art Museum's new-media series is not new — it dates from 1995 — it demonstrates that Hammons' treatment of the volatile subject wears well. The video is dark for several minutes; a noisy, percussive sound fills the viewing space, seeming at times to be scripted musically, at other times like random, grating street noise. When the visual jumps to life, the source of the sound is revealed: Hammons himself, kicking a metal bucket down a busy city sidewalk. Passersby tend to look away and ignore him as he negotiates crosswalks in traffic, kicking the bucket all the way. Finally he lifts the bucket with his toe, catches it in one hand — and the video concludes. Hammons knows how to be a nuisance and make a spectacle of things we'd rather let fade into the background. For the viewer of Phat Free, there's no escaping the raw, scraping sound of metal on asphalt. The question is whether to really listen or act like you don't hear it. Through May 31 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.)

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).

Impressionist Camera: Pictorial Photography in Europe 1888-1918 Guest curator Phillip Prodger has organized a special arrangement of this traveling exhibition for St. Louis, and it's a gem: not overly large, but inclusive of every example of artist and technique associated with this rich period in photographic history. "Pictorialism" is often treated in photographic history books with a few soft-focus landscapes and dreamy nudes holding glass bubbles. This exhibition is to be commended for revealing the astonishing range of work pictorial photographers produced during the short two decades the style was in vogue. Not that there's any shortage of romantic landscapes here, but they're used to great effect, demonstrating the tricks and techniques photographers such as the Frenchman Robert Demachy, the Austrian Heinrich Kuehn and the American Frank Eugene employed to satisfy pictorialism's aesthetic demands. Remarkable too is the section on the Lumière brothers' Autochrome color process and the genealogy of the various influential camera clubs that formed throughout Europe. It's a lesson in photographic history that's remarkably easy on the eyes. Through May 14 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.)

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.

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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