Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury The easy abstractions and sunny utopianism that quantified "cool" in the West Coast of the 1950s are presented here in dense stock of contextual artifacts ranging from furniture to film to photos. Chet Baker's jazz, Saul Bass' graphic title sequences and the industrial design of Charles and Ray Eames appear not only as key stylistic originals but as familiar contemporaries. But while the exhibit labors to clarify its rationale for connecting its constituent parts, it fails to recognize that this is the ur-text material for Ikea, Target and Starbucks — for better or worse, the '50s brand of "cool" has long since been devoured by American material culture. With close inspection, the exhibit does resurrect the fact that once upon a time, style was a means of broadly conveying social agendas (as well as other information of uncommodifiable substance). Through January 5 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum; Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).
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 at Bruno David Gallery; 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y., Gift of Seymour H. Knox Jr., 1956
Arshile Gorky, American, 19041948; The Liver Is the Cocks Comb. Part of Action/Abstraction at the Saint Louis Art Museum through January 11.
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 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.)