St. Louis Art Capsules

Malcolm Gay encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Opening
John Armleder and Olivier Mosset Making good on its new curatorial team's promise to present more artist-centered exhibitions, the Contemporary has handed over its main gallery space to two European heavyweights. Though their styles are wildly different, for this show, custom made for the Contemporary, John Armleder and Olivier Mosset have adopted the notion of art as obstacle and obstacle as art. The Swiss-born Armleder, who splits his time between Geneva and New York, has created a 45-foot wall painting as well as several new paintings and an installation of Mylar Christmas trees piled together pell-mell. Mosset, also Swiss born but now living in Tucson, presents a series of his 60s-era "circle paintings" along with an enormous installation of Toblerones, large cardboard sculptures that recall the anti-tank structures used by the Swiss army. Though both are better known in Europe circles than America, they remain two of the most influential artists working today. May 9 (reception 7-9 p.m.) through August 3 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.

Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks What more can be said about the work of famed African-American photographer Gordon Parks? Well, this collection of photographs, hand-selected by Parks before his death in 2006, represents some of the iconic photographer's finest work. The show includes many of Parks' best-known compositions, such as American Gothic, a portrait of a black cleaning woman standing before an American flag with a mop in one hand and a broom in the other that was viewed as a forceful indictment of race relations in America. Parks, who worked as a staff photographer for Life magazine from 1948 to 1972, selected other iconic works, such as his haunting profile of an aged black woman titled Mrs. Jefferson, but also several that are less familiar, such as a portrait of a young Muhammad Ali and a stunning portrait of Ingrid Bergman being warily regarded by a klatch of Italian grandmothers. May 9 through August 3 in Gallery 222 of 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.)

Hello Masterpiece Like some garden gnome swiped from Ladue and taken on a whirlwind European tour, Hello Kitty seems to be everywhere in this exhibit of postcard-size paintings by Leslie Holt. But unlike a gnome-napper whose abductees turn up in snapshots beside the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, Holt interpolates Hello Kitty into miniature reproductions of some of the most iconic images in the history of Western art. Here Kitty nabs Heraclitus' seat in Raphael's School of Athens. There she's standing en pointe in Degas' Dance Class. It's a clever little show that's a mash-up of highbrow and popular culture and that directs our attention, yet again, toward the idea of art as a commodity. The operative word here, though, is little: At four by six inches apiece, Holt's paintings refuse to take themselves too seriously. May 10 (reception 7-10 p.m.) through June 21 at phd Gallery, 2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 (www.phdstl.com). Hours: noon-4 p.m. Thu.-Sun.

Journeys Traveling in the United States, Europe and North Africa, for most of his life St. Louisian Peter Shank has been interpreting his journeys in oil paint. The title, then, of his current exhibition, which draws on more than four decades of painting experience, is fitting. Spanning from his days as a student at Yale to a stint in Paris and the Arab-dominated regions of North Africa, Shank's paintings show a remarkable consistency of technique. Consistency, however, does not translate into uniformity. Many of the paintings are reminiscent of the pre-surrealist painter Georgio de Chirico, incorporating such disparate images as a fish over a house topped by a mountain range. Many incorporate collage, while still others present simplified landscapes or nude portraits. Shank's range as an artist is hardly surprising. As the son of modernist architect Isadore Shank and famed illustrator Ilse Shank, he's one of three brothers, all of whom are artists. What is surprising is the scope of the show (more than 40 works) and the unmistakable impression it gives that an artist's vision, no matter the time and place, can remain intact while, simultaneously, it matures. May 9 (artist talk and reception 5:30-8 p.m.) through June 20 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 (www.cocastl.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Ongoing
Deborah Aschheim: Reconsider In earlier projects Los Angeles-area sculptor Deborah Aschheim has explored the relationship between the cyborg and the surveillance state, most notably in her critically acclaimed multi-part installment Neural Architecture. More recently the artist has been exploring the nature of memory. Alzheimer's disease runs in Aschheim's family, and initially the artist embarked on her current project as a defense against forgetting. She submitted a list of her 25 favorite words to Bay Area musician Lisa Mezzacappa, who (along with other musicians) created songs for each word. Aschheim, in turn, created sculptures designed to play the songs. The idea: Our linguistic and auditory memories use separate neural pathways. By creating new sensory associations for these words, Aschheim might be able to protect them from the ravages of memory loss. The result is a series of boldly colored hanging sculptures — made of plastic tubing, LEDs, monitors and funnels — that resemble the circuitry of the human nervous system. Through May 11 at Laumeier Sculpture Park Museum Galleries, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 (www.laumeiersculpturepark.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

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