St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Newly Reviewed
Cindy Tower: Riding the Rubble Down This solo show of predominantly large-scale plein air paintings of St. Louis-area industrial ruins, completed between 2005 and 2008 while Tower was a visiting professor at Washington University, gains strength as it attenuates. Compressed by the galleries' narrow halls and low ceiling, the grand canvases and their detailed, putty-hued depictions of massive, decaying interiors, feel further dwarfed by their performative origins, which are prominently broadcasted in the space via video and assorted accompanying text. Not much room is left to consider the paintings on their own terms — which is unfortunate considering their fluid execution and demand for perspective. As though heeding these strictures, the chronologically arranged works decrease in size, subject and taut realism, and conclude on a simple and vulnerable note: a small piece (after which the show is named) depicting an unpopulated playground, its swings and slides half-discernable behind long paint drips and loose painterly strokes. Through May 2 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.

Good Friday Reviewed in this issue.

Ongoing
As I Only Can...Belong In a collection of untitled installations, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale professor Alex Lopez creates intricate miniature landscapes that look like snapshots of childhood as glimpsed in dreams. Changes in scale inform each scene with a diffused sense of menace: In the spare gallery, lit dimly by blue neon lights, a projection of a full moon looms above a thicket of tiny water towers, which in turn loom over an even smaller watchman's double-wide trailer. In another area of the space, a swath of blue sky is projected onto a small square, behind which dangle two small swings. It's an alluring nighttime world of empty high school stadiums, the small distant throb of industrial red lights, two-lane roads and the murmur of insects. A large projected fire blazes occasionally in a far corner of the gallery space, providing a kind of cartoonish allusion to harm. As a strange marker of this work's success, the experience of leaving it is full of all the wistful disorientation of waking. Through March 20 at the Metropolitan Gallery, 2936 Locust Street; 314-535-6500. Hours: 11a.m.-5p.m. Wed.-Fri., and Saturday by appointment.

Claudio Bravo: A Bestiary A sought-after society portraitist living in Madrid in the late '60s, Bravo traded the bourgeois good life for a self-tailored monasticism in Morocco. In Tangiers, where he has resided since 1972, he has devoted his post-portrait years to painting exquisitely crafted, hyper-realist still lifes in the contemplative tradition of Chardin but flamboyantly updated with magentas, turquoises and kitsch artifacts like rumpled blue jeans and hard-pack cigarettes. This new series, traveling from the Marlborough Gallery of New York, consists simply of fine-line-rendered lithographs of native Moroccan animals standing starkly on bright white paper. What makes these radically minimal images compelling is both their sense of life-narrative conclusiveness — their simplicity's a painstakingly honed decision — and their way of evoking a kind of maturated perspective, one that's satisfied taking stock in the close observance of what's at hand and in no hurry to discover anything more. Through March 14 at the Atrium Gallery, 4728 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-1076 or www.atriumgallery.net. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.

Tony Fitzpatrick: The City Etchings 1993-2003 This series of line renderings of imaginary cartoon icons haloed, Virgin of Guadalupe-style, in carnivalesque heaps of urban artifacts has the intimate, serial quality of daily entries in a notebook and the imagistic content of an illuminated manuscript drawn by a dime-store comic-book artist. With its raw emotional breadth, the work, which negotiates the passing of Fitzpatrick's father, defies this Chicago-born artist's tough-guy persona. The specter of Philip Guston looms large here, manifested in a spirit of wryly internalized loss, Piero della Francesca compositions, and the form of tragicomic characters like hooded Klansmen and blank De Chirico-esque faces. Fitzpatrick adds to this surreal cast with representative symbols of a personally fabled Chicagoland — teetering skyscrapers, water towers and tangles of train track — and that region's immigrant, working-class Catholicism and weather-worn survivalism. Hands clasped in prayer and wrapped in barbed wire float above a clip-art goose or a weeping robot against a shallow backdrop of iron bridges and piled brick. Despite the proliferation of imagistic references, the cumulative effect is honorific, nostalgic and ultimately Fitzpatrick's: a small riff-raff world trying to hustle away the irrevocable with the eternal promise of art. Also showing: Bale Creek Allen: Selected Works from Empire, Tumbleweeds and Tire Treads, a complementary exhibition of gritty American detritus cast in bronze or gold and elevated to icon status. Through May 23 and March 21, respectively, at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Ideal (Dis-) Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer This exhibition of canonical canvases of slain martyrs, pious virgins and other grand dilemmas borrowed from two encyclopedic museums and replaced in naturally lit contemporary galleries is a reaffirmation of the human scale. The minimalism of Tadao Ando's building design is diffused by ornate, gilt-framed compositions that date from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, the two historical extremes meeting precisely at the fragile effects of daylight on the predominantly figural pieces. Contemplative and reverent, the show fulfills its premise so well that it seems capable of providing a discretely intimate experience for each and every viewer. Through June 20 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.

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