St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Newly Reviewed
Relics of a Glorious Past: Imperial Russian Artifacts from the Collection of Dr. James F. Cooper This assemblage of orthodox icons and the daily stuff of royalty forms a two-part essay on lost cultural splendor and the bygone transcendent art object. Framed in gilt halos, pounded metal and semiprecious stones, the small tempera-on-wood devotional paintings exemplify an anonymous milieu in which studied replication was prized over innovation and communion with the immaterial was the subject matter of choice. Similarly, the gold-rimmed teaspoons, military regalia and assorted decorative pieces from the show's secular portion involve such an engaged level of tactile detail that they could be considered devotionally crafted. The exhibit as a whole serves as a useful reference point for contemporary art's renewed interest in gold, which seems to signify a nostalgia for creative acts deemed sacred and authentic. Through December 20 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.sluma.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Paul Shank: Paintings and Works on Paper: 1964-2008 Reviewed in this issue.

Ongoing
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 riffraff world trying to hustle away the irrevocable with the eternal promise of art. Through May 23 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Damon Freed: Calm, Cool, Coherent This series of hard-edged abstract paintings draws its color, texture and tenor from the Missouri landscape. The single-hued, puzzle-piece-like forms that nearly consume each canvas seem to lie against their glossy white backgrounds in the same way that Richard Tuttle's post-minimal octagonal cloths lie against white gallery walls. Unlike Tuttle, Freed's forms are unconventional, their jagged geometries inspired by state lines, their fields of color rendered in an agitated strata of brushwork. Direct allusions aside, the work is most successful when speaking the mute and elusive language of fastidious marks, chromatic gradations, and other procedural and painterly abstractions. Through April 4 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. on the first Sun. of every month and by appointment.

Funhouse Inaugurating PSTL's new location is this show of point-and-shoot digital snapshots by local writer (and former RFT calendar editor) Byron Kerman. Focusing less on aesthetics than the camera's quick ability to compose, the images extract the comic and ironic from the otherwise mundane by framing instances of the material world inelegantly confronting its natural counterpart, and vice versa. It's ultimately a one-line perspective that would benefit from the immersive suggestion of its title: a gallery-turned-funhouse through the compulsive generation of hundreds of these images, whose yield is, then, a less precious and more complex world-view. Through April 4 at PSTL Window Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Good Friday The second of two group exhibitions celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Saint Louis University's Museum of Contemporary Religious Art features work from the permanent collection that explores "the meaning of suffering, death, compassion, and unconditional love" through direct references to Jesus' last day. The show's explicit focus on the Christian tradition challenges the ecumenical spirit of the institution's identity as an interfaith repository, but one can also take the show as a point of departure for broader expression. It's a fine balance — the blend of faith-based inquiry and the secular standards of contemporary art. The show's strongest works mine this unusual context by being visually evocative, spiritually direct and singularly personal: Michael Tracy's monumental Triptych, 11, 12, 13, for instance, and Adrian Kellard's Lovers and Prayer of the Faithful in Ordinary Time. The latter, who died from AIDS in 1991, explores being a "gay man loved by god" in two eccentrically and emotionally wrought painted woodcarvings that move between the traditionally liturgical and explicitly kitsch in a delicate manner that only this space can entirely honor. Through April 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Mall Boulevard (on the campus of Saint Louis University); 314-977-7170 or mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

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