St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Carmon Colangelo: From Big Bang to Big Melt The best end-of-world theories are compiled and impressionistically realized in this show of repetitively processed, large-format screen prints. Webs, grids, bursts and other universal abstractions undergird more personal imagery — totem animals, favorite art historical samples, salient phrases — all of which appear in the color range of neon viewed by daylight. The riot of topicality-meets-whimsy reaches its apex in the series titled Mondrian Skies; in these roiling two-tone cloudscapes framed in primary-colored ledger lines, the accretive froth of compositional and conceptual excess crests into something weirdly luminous. Also showing: Sandra Marchewa: Work; Kathryn Neale: Recent Paintings; Eleanor Dubinsky: New Videos. Through January 17, 2009, at Bruno David Gallery; 3721 Washington Boulevard; www.brunodavidgallery.com or 314-531-3030. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.

Action/Abstraction A re-examination of the defining mid-20th-century movement that distilled art-making to its raw elements. The show opens with work by Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning and words by their respective critical defenders, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, then follows other artists' consequent paths of influence and argumentation. Unlike abstraction's fundamental inarticulateness, this exhibit is verbosely didactic, deploying the visual work as representative specimens of heavily scripted tendencies, all of which are plotted out in the galleries like the simplest of road maps. While it leaves little room for the purely aesthetic or inventive (as often tumultuously experienced by abstraction's acolytes), the show does offer a capacious portrait of an important historical moment, when popular culture became suddenly smitten with "high art" and dead set on democratizing it. It's this co-incidence of a largely immigrant cast of painters vigorously striving for a new common language in color and composition, and an American plain-speak emerging in wide-reaching media, that unwittingly forms the show's most compelling hypothesis: that maybe it's best for some things to remain quietly misunderstood. Through January 11, 2009, 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.)

Bill Smith: Loop Web In the small corner gallery that houses SLAM's "New Media Series," Belleville artist Smith contributes a video and sculptural installation that defies easy description but rewards the most fundamental instinct for wonderment. Between two projections — one of a simulated millennium-length journey through the universe, the other of apes in their native habitat — dangles a 3-D evocation of a single cell made from "blackberry bush limbs, waste plastic, and soy wax." To the booming sound of Harlem Renaissance writer James Weldon Johnson reciting his oracular poem "The Creation," the hovering sculpture flickers with the saturated colors of the simulated cosmos, the spiked and twisted branches catching the fine beams of the video projection in such a way that they appear miraculously lit from within. The intersection of larger-than-life conceptual agenda and classic trick-of-light effect makes for something undeniably awesome of the ilk of Charlton Heston's Moses parting the Red Sea in DeMille's classic Ten Commandments. Through January 1, 2009, 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.)

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