The Great Rivers Biennial is back. And bigger.

Three diverse artists make for one tremendous show.

"A lot of these drawings are about place or memories of places and creating a sense of myth or story based on memory and little moments in time," Oosterbaan says. "I'm trying to catch all of them — the big picture, the macro idea — and then the smaller bits inside of that. I'm fascinated by how big events are made out of really small things."

Many of her drawings, punctuated by large "breathing" spaces of pure, unvarnished paper, feature expertly rendered animals — bears, large cats, dogs — that inhabit metamorphic spaces leading to a hint of water, fences, flowers or layers of earth.

Oosterbaan now works in figurative drawing, but her show also includes installed elements: a stenciled chalk-dust carpet Oosterbaan has created on-site and an "environment" she constructed in the Contemporary's windows of overlapping colored wax paper that, she says, is an "attempt to really surround the viewer and have them inhabit a place."

Corey Escoto
Jennifer Silverberg
Corey Escoto
Michelle Oosterbaan
Jennifer Silverberg
Michelle Oosterbaan

Details

Great Rivers Biennial 2008
Opens February 1 and runs through April 20 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 (www.contemporarystl.org).
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.- Wed., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

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Her past as an installation artist is everywhere on display here, even in her choice of large sheets of paper. Though painterly in size, they're then populated with intricately rendered and often minute subjects.

"I have to think: What's worth drawing? Every day we're bombarded with images, and I need to sit down and think: How does it fit into the ecology of the drawing?" says Oosterbaan. "By pulling the spectator closer, that gets them to participate in the story. These drawings have very particular associations for me, and I don't anticipate that people will come away with the same story that I'm presenting. But it's more interesting to me to keep it open-ended."

Juan William Chávez

As the director of Boots Contemporary Art Space, Juan William Chávez helms one of the city's most interesting galleries. With the suite of drawings he presents at this year's biennial, Chávez shows himself to be equally talented as an artist.

Steeped in the tandem cultures of film and fine art, Chávez's work — borrowing from the Italian futurists and the early work of Marcel Duchamp — seeks to portray the dynamism of motion pictures (or live action) in a static, two-dimensional plane. Often Chavez will draw from a television monitor — a soccer game, a piano solo by the experimental jazz pianist Sun Ra — all while filming himself drawing the film.

"It's kind of the cross between the art experience and the artistic experience," says the Peruvian-born, St. Louis-reared artist. "I'm the viewer, and at the same time I'm the artist — that's what draws me to a lot of my subject matter."

For the biennial, Chávez has illustrated two ultraviolent scenes from A Clockwork Orange: the gang fight that interrupts a rape in an abandoned theater, and the droogs' trip to the writer's house, which also includes a rape scene.

Unlike his earlier works, which endeavored to show an entire moving scene in one still image, here Chávez has made good use of his DVD player's pause button, using the TV "kind of like a still life," and assembling 50 or so discrete drawings for each scene. Working quickly and with only those drawing instruments he'd collected around himself — pencils, gouache, pen — Chávez has produced a series of drawings rendered in radically different styles: some gestural, some with stick figures, others that are cartoony, still more that are nuanced.

"I'm drawing really, really fast with a lot of variety of media, so it kind of goes from storyboarding to abstract expressionism," Chávez says. "Some drawings you can get a hint that it's from A Clockwork Orange, but a lot of the drawings you couldn't just walk up to them and say: 'Oh, that's from that movie.'"

Chávez has hung the assembled drawings, which are rendered on smallish sheets of paper and framed, on the outside wall of the Contemporary's multimedia room. Inside, he has digitized the drawings and is projecting them large-scale, in sequence and accompanied by the sounds of the original movie scene.

"It becomes like a whole new thing," says the artist. "I kind of like that back-and-forth, where the viewer sees this small little intimate drawing, and then going into the next room and it becomes this big monster."

Opening Friday, February 1, from 7 to 9 p.m. A panel discussion with the artists is scheduled for the following day at 1 p.m. Free.

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