St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene


Approved A small group show of North American artists inaugurates this newly renovated artist-run space. Mostly of the found-material and assemblage ilk, the work takes the form of every traditional medium, from painting and photography to sculpture and print. A penchant for invention dominates: a small insect is fashioned from watch parts and observable through a makeshift loupe; a set of bird's wings attached to a wall-driven axe slowly grinds in attempted mechanized flight; tiny rocks and tufts of train-miniature greenery settle in the crevices of an empty molded-plastic package to form a micro-diorama. The space also features a billboard gallery on its roof to host art by individual artists on one side and by nonprofit organizations on the other. Through January 3 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Ave; 314-348-4587 or Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., Fri. and Sat. and by appointment.

Jeremy Rabus: Recent Paintings Local painter Rabus produces abstract landscapes of layered, bright color fields and other liquid ways of pushing paint around with a brush. The paintings seem like tally marks recording a succession of mild, inarticulate states of being. They look as if they've been spun around and worked on from every angle, with each drip, blot and over-painted element ogled at as if the effect were something novel. Though it's an exercise in compulsive image-making for image-making's sake, seen as a whole the show forms a composite landscape: a weird subaquatic world of muted chromatic, conceptual and emotional extremes. Also showing: The gallery's Drive-By window display contains an installation of an elegantly skeletal found-wood staircase to nowhere, by Jessica Kiel-Wornson. Through January 4 at Snowflake/Citystock; 3156 Cherokee Street; Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Arshile Gorky, American, 1904–1948; The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb. Part of Action/Abstraction at the Saint Louis Art Museum through January 11.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., Gift of Seymour H. Knox Jr., 1956
Arshile Gorky, American, 1904–1948; The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb. Part of Action/Abstraction at the Saint Louis Art Museum through January 11.

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 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Artistically Incorrect: The Photographs and Sculpture of John Waters Cult film director Waters, whose B-grade "Trash Trilogy" of the late 1970s — Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living — defined him as the auteur of extreme taboo, tones down his act in this show of mass-produced sculptural objects and screen-snapshot assemblages. While imagery of stock social mores abound — puke, Charles Manson, the World Trade Center in flames — it remains safely behind glass and frame, the antagonistic subject matter dissolving in the service of traditional aesthetics. In spite of the exhibition's title, Waters possesses a scrupulous eye for beauty and good design, as evidenced by his obsessive photo-tracking of, say, a white-gloved elbow, Farrah Fawcett's blown-out hair or Sophia Loren's bare neck and shoulders. Each snapshot sequence ultimately betrays the act of someone re-watching a film he has watched innumerable times, using his still camera to capture a new, private film within it — one that is a distillation of an almost voyeuristic fascination. To this end the show is a sympathetic ode to Waters' childlike adoration of cinema — its way of rendering sensuality, gore and everything in between lushly spectacular — and the requisite humiliations that come of loving something for reasons one can't always justify. Through January 11 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

Lutz Bacher and Aïda Ruilova The cultural diagnosis is grim: Ours is an era either endlessly complicated or senseless. The spare alien landscape of Lutz Bacher's large-scale installation Spill makes every effort to defy the sensible and sensual. Darkly lighted on the main gallery's cold slate terrain, the sculptural elements are few and far between: a large, untreadable cul-de-sac leading nowhere; the delicate parts of a smashed black Fender Stratocaster thinly scattered; and, behind a glossy black plastic curtain, several pallets of Budweiser looming with strange formality. What do all of these random pop artifacts add up to? One wall of the installation attempts to explain, in densely checker-tiled Xerox prints of celebrities, atrocities, revolutionaries and choice critical addenda. Perhaps summing it up best is an image of Jane Fonda in her peace-activist prime with a text bubble that reads, "I'm weird. I'm really fucked up." Alternatively, the compulsive guttural utterances of Aïda Ruilova's brief, claustrophobic videos suggest that the solitary life, away from the pop-cultural onslaught, offers no more reprieve than the psychic equivalent of banging one's head against a wall. Through January 4 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

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