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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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.)

 
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