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.

Dan Flavin: Constructed Light Limiting his palette to mass-produced fluorescent tubes of varying lengths and colors, Dan Flavin, who died in 1996, made a career distilling these ubiquitous artifacts of bureaucratic life into their purest form. The result: a body of reserved, minimalist work that at once extracts these relics from their workaday commercial context and reformulates the sites they inhabit with their refulgent glow. As installations, many of Flavin's works are site specific, leaving the stewards of his estate with the thorny question of whether in re-creating his works they are, in effect, creating new works of art. For this show, Tiffany Bell, director of the Dan Flavin catalogue raisonné project, and Steve Morse, who worked as Flavin's chief technician for many years, have chosen several works that rely more on architectural situations than on specific sites. The result is a meditative show that both accentuates and quarrels with the natural grace of their setting. Through October 4 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

Landscape Exhibition Pop. Contemporary. Edgy. Many words come to mind when describing the bill of fare at the Philip Slein Gallery. One term that rarely enters the gallery's lexicon, however, is landscape painting. Until now. This month Philip Slein mounts a landscape exhibition comprising works by ten painters. The artists, who hail from various parts of the Midwest, approach their subjects in a wide range of styles. Some, such as the painterly works of Yinxue Zuo, hew to a strict realism, while others, such as Michael Noland's fantastically psychedelic Blue Glory, give the genre a more narcotic edge. The show includes more straightforward paintings by Frank Stack, Jeff Aeling, Bonnie Murray and Dan Barton, as well as less traditional works by Douglass Freed, Michael Noland, Rosalyn Schwartz, Helene Slavin and Amy Enkleman-Reed. Through July 5 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 (www.philipsleingallery.com). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Take Out Featuring roughly 100 eight-by-ten photographic works, Take Out marks the final show for the Ellen Curlee Gallery. Departure is the theme, and the exhibition addresses the idea on several levels. Curlee commissioned the photographs from a wide variety of artists — painters, videographers and, yes, photographers — asking them to draw inspiration from the notion of decampment. Each of the photos is priced to move at a democratic $100, and if you buy one, you take it down from the wall and walk away with it that very day. The show will dissolve as it progresses, until the gallery's patrons have entirely deconstructed it. 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1299 (www.ellencurleegallery.com). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Things That Matter: Art by Children with Autism The premise: Artistic creation can help children with autism to better express themselves. The disorder, which affects a person's ability to communicate, often includes intense fascinations with things: stoves, Hello Kitty, dinosaurs. Harnessing this fascination, coordinators Bevin Early and Nancy Pierson asked children to make art about their obsessions. So we have a video of a teenager dancing to Willy Wonka's "The Golden Ticket," a collection of found objects from a boy who collects everything he can and repeated self-portraits of a young boy. Also showing: the work of Don Koster and Jen Maigret, the 2007-'08 Cynthia Weese Teaching Fellows at Wash. U.'s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Through September 6 (Koster and Maigret) and September 13 (Autism) at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or 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.

Brett Williams: A Small Dark Place Brett Williams brings his punk-rock vision of installation video art to Pace Framing's PSTL Window Gallery. For A Small Dark Place, Williams has refashioned the tiny gallery using plywood to create (you guessed it) a small dark place. Inside (you must crawl on your hands and knees to view the video playing inside) Williams has crafted a graphic that looks something like a spinning red onion. The piece is accompanied by a jarring soundtrack filled with slamming doors, bagpipes and dropping chains; the onion-like form spins out of control until it crashes to the sound of the falling chain. The entire affair lasts no more than fifteen seconds — just about as long as Williams thinks the average viewer can stand. Through July 18 at PSTL Window Gallery at Pace Framing, 632 North Grand Boulevard; 314-531-4304 (www.paceframing.com). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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