St. Louis Art Capsules

Malcolm Gay encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Ongoing
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. Through August 3 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or 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. Through August 3 in Gallery 222 of the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Character Study: Collected Data Building on work she presented last spring during a turn at the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis Front Room series, Courtney Henson brings her brand of performative social anthropology to Maps Contemporary Art Space in Belleville. For this exhibition, Henson, who recently received her MFA from SIU-Edwardsville, will enact several personas with objects and costumes that are specific to each, and transform the two rooms at Maps to better reflect these identities. Heavily influenced by the sculptor/performance artist Matthew Barney, Henson will also present a card catalogue that charts the evolution of her ideas with written documents, manufactured items and/or found objects. Community involvement is integral to Henson's work, and while the artist will don some of these outfits and inhabit these identities, the public will also be invited to participate: augmenting the catalogue, participating in a group knitting night, mingling with the presented personae. Through July 31 at Maps Contemporary Art Space, 225 North Illinois Street, Belleville; 618-334-4347 (www.myspace.com/maps_contemporaryartspace). Hours: noon-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and by appointment.

Currents 102: Sarah Oppenheimer The Saint Louis Art Museum has given over to installation artist Sarah Oppenheimer one of the galleries that houses its modern collection. With an undergraduate degree in semiotics, Oppenheimer explores the notion of "mutable architecture": Rather than viewing a room or a building as a fixed space, she seeks a fluctuating architecture that is socially engaged. Here the artist has constructed plywood tunnels through several of the museum's walls. Each tunnel, smooth and tapered, provides a view to a piece in the museum's modern collection. Some portals use mirrors, others open onto artworks that are several galleries away; each has a vaguely filmic quality that allows the viewer to reframe and re-engage with the museum's collection. Through July 6 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Discerning Palette: Jerry O. Wilkerson Retrospective Like many of his contemporaries in the pop art movement, Jerry Wilkerson, who died of cancer in 2007, took his inspiration from the world of consumer goods. Painting in a neo-pointillist style that was more influenced by the technological world of printing than the ghost of George Seurat, Wilkerson tackled consumer culture in the most literal way. He painted that thing we consume directly: food. Boiled lobsters, hot dogs, potato chips. Wilkerson did not confine himself strictly to painting. He was also a sculptor whose three-dimensional creations tackled similar themes. Like the best pop art, the relationship of Wilkerson's work to the material consumer world is ambiguous: It celebrates the riot of product variety while simultaneously highlighting its disposable nature. Through August 15 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.slu.edu/x16374.xml. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

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