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Robert Duffy encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Jerald Ieans: New PaintingsNothing could be finer than to have Jim Schmidt open his handsome new gallery in Grand Center with a brilliant exhibition of the work of his protégé, the talented St. Louis painter Jerald Ieans. For years, Schmidt has soldiered on valiantly as a dealer and an evangelist of modernism, encouraging young talent such as Ieans and showing work that perches perilously on the point of the advance guard's javelin. Now, one hopes, he is getting what he has long deserved: a bright new gallery, properly outfitted, with spaces designed to accommodate large works of art as well as intimately scaled paintings and sculptures. Schmidt gives Grand Center's leadership full credit for its support of his establishment, and indeed, the all-over-the-place street party Vince Schoemehl and his colleagues tossed last Friday was not only fun but also had the effect of restoring faith in the Grand scheme of things. But let's not lose our focus. Ieans — since the first show of his work at Schmidt's gallery on Washington almost fourteen years ago — has gone from strength to strength as a painter, and this new, fleshly group of paintings spells further advancement. Arpian shapes ebb and flow, advance and recede, in this radiant world, flexing and relaxing, meandering insouciantly, while some muscle vigorously against the pictures' frames. Dealer and artist commit acts of aesthetic heroism on Grand Boulevard. The evolving arts district and the region are better for their being there. Through November 4 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-575-2648. noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. (RD)

Leslie Laskey: LiliumAnother thing about the work of Leslie Laskey, whose floral retrospective is reviewed above: Although paintings, prints and drawings have been particularly important media for expressions of his ideas, he enthusiastically embraces other media (such as photography), should they serve his purposes. Ellen Curlee has brought together a garden of photographs of lilies of various descriptions and in various conditions (including shattered). These are digital prints; the eye is drawn to the exquisite grain on the paper as well as the central images. All are bold, luscious, exotic, saturated with color and sexuality. Through October 21 at the Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1299 (www.ellencurlee.com). Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (RD)

Of Spirit and Form: The Monuments of France in Photographs by Édouard Baldus and Médéric Mieusement Photography was born in France, in the first half of the 19th century; its first image was architecture. In 1851 Édouard-Denis Baldus became one of 40 founding members of the Société Héliographique. That same year France established the Commission des Monuments Historiques to document the noble heritage of architecture on French soil. Yet the work produced for the commission regularly transcended documentation and comes down to us as art. Why? Photographs of structures in their context, produced by men and women of deep visual sensitivity, convey more than documentary evidence; they allow viewers to respond to buildings as vessels of personal, universal and universal memory. More than 80 individual images and portfolios in this show at the Sheldon Galleries represent Baldus and Séraphin Médéric Mieusement, who revived the work of the commission in the 1870s. To say it is arresting and beautiful is to praise it only lamely: Of all the photography exhibitions of the past three decades in St. Louis, this stands as one of the most indelible. David Hanlon, art department chair at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, who'll talk at the Sheldon at 11 a.m. on October 21, organized it. The photographs, culled from the Russell Sturgis Collection at Washington University, are up through January 27, 2007, at the Sheldon, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 (www.sheldonconcerthall.org). Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Bill Smith: Structures and Systems One's tempted to say words fail him, but we're not here to demonstrate creative uses of white space, no matter how tempting that may be. Still, the unfailingly rewarding and confounding energy of Bill Smith's wizardly constructions and their ethereal beauty challenge a writer to bear witness properly. Smith was trained as a scientist first, then as an artist, then as a diesel mechanic. Juggling all of those capabilities, he makes art that draws inspiration from everyone from Leonardo to Jean Tinguely to Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell. He assembles — no, involves, makes marriages of — skulls and artificial flowers, light, magnets, sounds (including the voice of Carl Sandburg), maple-tree helicopter seeds, mathematics, and yards and yards of wire. Like a spider's web, the intricacy of the construction and the glitter of shiny stuff draw you in first. Once seduced, you are transfixed, trapped and sentenced to sit or stand and attend carefully to Smith's visual music. Whirring, moving, constantly in motion, surprising, at once fragile and structurally vigorous, Smith' s art speaks credibly and hypnotically of genius. His sculptures are installed to great effect, with room to breathe and to operate, in Matthew Strauss' noble venture in the Grove. Through October 21 at White Flag Projects, 4568 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-3442 (www.whiteflagprojects.org). Hours: noon-7 p.m. Wed, noon-5 p.m. Sat. and by appointment. (RD)

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