St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

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.

Locusts & Honey: New Work by Jennifer Angus In a kind of alchemical transformation, Wisconsin-based Angus pins locust, grasshopper and other bewilderingly large and intricate insect specimens in floral geometrical patterns on the walls of Craft Alliance's Grand Center gallery space, to produce delicately beautiful wallpaper patterns. The effect is something aesthetically marvelous of the purely decorative variety — trumping all the more topical curiosities that the bugs, the process of their acquisition and application and the installation's biblical allusions, evoke. With the other domestic-decorative accents of early-twentieth-century dark-wood occasional tables, jewelry drawers and display vitrines punctuating the space, what remains is a work less about fear, plague and/or bounty than about the peculiar mystery that old Americana holds. Or, more simply, how certain rooms in a home seem to have a spirit and life of their own. Through May 17 at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future A traveling exhibition that comprehensively surveys the work of this key midcentury architect, best known — locally, at least — for the Gateway Arch. A Finnish immigrant, Saarinen came from a family of diverse architectural, artistic and decorative talent and imported this totalizing approach to his work, notably diverse in style and scope, which came to ultimately define the forward thrust of the Modernist American ethos. Little more need be said here, as this show is abundantly informative — proliferating with timelines, videos, furniture pieces, models, large-scale photos, architectural models and in-depth textural addenda. It successfully adds up to an advanced education in Saarinen, but also, with timely importance, Modernism — asking important questions of this highly contestable progressive spirit, whose lingering influence has been alternately that of hope disastrously dashed or freshly, if desperately, invoked. Through April 27 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth and 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.).

Gedi Sibony: My Arms Are Tied Behind My Other Arms Reusing discarded carpet, Sheetrock, brown-taped drop cloths, and freighting crates and blankets — the material language of contractors and art installers alike — New York-based Gedi Sibony creates a poetical site-specific installation that dismantles and exposes the intricacies and immediacy of installations. Leaning against walls or draped over partial partitions, his neutral-toned assemblages softly and economically recompose the main gallery space in a way that feels newly austere but fundamentally domestic. Narrow halls lead to larger rooms, which, in turn, are sectioned off into smaller, more intimate quarters. The engineering is basic cause-and-effect — gravity roots a freestanding door to the gallery floor; the conceit is unassumingly modest — two carpet pieces curl up to touch at their far corners like a pair of hands. Art formalism, here, is discussed in the global vernacular of fray, wrinkle and shadow. Underscoring Sibony is Bruce Nauman: Dead Shot Dan, a selection of classic photos and videos from the '60s, '70s and '80s in which Nauman plays an Everyman documenting the self trying to make plain sense of the self — a quixotic quest that amounts to a series of slapstick pratfalls shrugged off then compulsively re-attempted and perhaps summarized best by the image of the artist's arms roped to his back, entitled Bound to Fail. Altogether, a perfect exhibition. Through April 19 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

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.thesheldon.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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