St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Newly Reviewed
Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space Reviewed in this issue.

Rirkrit Tiravanija: Chew the Fat Friendship, we're reminded, is as much an art as it is a political act, in this documentary/installation by internationally renowned artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Here, the viewer is invited to take his shoes off, assume a floor-cushion seat and watch a film screened on floor-mounted TV monitors, depicting casual discussions with the artist's well-established artist friends. The artist-on-artist approach is somewhat misleading — the piece feels less about insights into the creative practice than a study of the informal behaviors that signify intimacy. But a sense of removed formality is hard to ignore — no amount of casualness can dissuade a gallerygoer from wanting to judge the mythical inner life of successful artists, and the knowing edits in the film itself do little to suspend this disbelief. Equal parts sit-back-and-relax and rigid self-consciousness, the piece presents the uninnocent conundrum of treating life as art and heeding that familiar wisdom about choosing one's friends carefully. Also showing: 2009 MFA thesis exhibition, featuring work from Washington University School of Art graduate students. Through July 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.).

Ongoing
American Interiors: Photographs by David R. Hanlon These oblique photographs of unpopulated interiors capture the peculiar poetics of immemorial interior spaces occupied by the spirit of waiting rooms during off-hours. Hotel lobbies, hotel rooms, conference quarters and assorted landings — while each space is viewed as though through a peripheral glance, the photographs themselves are pieces of meticulous and exquisite craft. The series forms an observational catalogue of mass-fabricated materials — Roll-A-Tex, doily-patterned bed shams, paisley wallpaper trim and matching wall-to-wall carpet — forlorn in its lack of history. Yet each discrete image suggests vague cinematic potential — as though some daily but resonant drama just occurred or is about to, illuminated by office-grade fluorescence or the sober light of day. Through May 23 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.

Constellate Sarah Paulsen and Eric Repice populate this small gallery space with riotous, inclusive paintings that commemorate and replicate everything from street parades to the constellated stars. Paulsen's bright celebratory crowds migrate beyond the canvas in swatches of cut fabric, braided yarn and piles of glitter; Repice's unstretched, grommet-framed pieces are dark, gridded, sign-riddled and somewhere between guiding banners and grimly illustrated statistical charts. But the work on the walls is only half of the project; the St. Louis-based artists created this show as a backdrop for larger actions — communal and discursive — that, with their direction, literally manifested in a parade (the recent People's Joy Parade on Cherokee Street) and a series of educational sessions held in the space that, like their work, covered everything from community-art practices to space, time and history. For all of its sprawling ambition, the project highlights the activist aspect of artists and artist-run spaces, and their capacity for boundaryless and brazen frontiering. Through May 23 at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, 3151 Cherokee Street; 314-772-3628 or www.fortgondo.com. Hours: by appointment.

Diary of Consequence This modest show of drawings, prints and manipulated books by St. Louis-based abstract painter Gary Passanise presents a backlog of personal ephemera reflecting certain diaristic urges and sketchbook dreams. In the works on paper, line drawings of skeletal structural frameworks reappear — on studio-abused scrap paper, in formal screen-print series — and alternately suggest something delicately private and publicly monumental. In the collaged and repurposed book-based works, a similar tension exists: An old journal is literally nailed shut, while a small sheaf of torn-out vintage text (from a book entitled Life Among the Lowly) is hand-bound with needle and thread. From nails, chains and shards of glass to the small wavering marks of the hand, it's a show of broad-stroke romantic tropes at odds with their antidotes: earnestness, economy and restraint. Through June 6 at Snowflake/City Stock, 3156 Cherokee Street; www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.

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.

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 October 3 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.

Joel Meyerowitz, Vintage/Modern: Color Work 1976-2008 The fields of Tuscany, Cape Cod's seaside and the Gateway Arch appear, here, as you'd expect — postcard picturesque — in this survey of landscape photographs by Brooklyn native Meyerowitz. An ad exec who never returned to the office after leaving one day to photograph life on New York streets, Meyerowitz has a cool, professional eye for casual instances of writ-large profundity. Light, air, water — the fundamental elements — are his ultimate subjects, captured in the form of young redheads' bright swimsuits, the hazy aftermath of luxuriant outdoor lunches and the blue hue of swimming pools. Maybe it's the photographs' matte printing or a darker edge underlying the photographer's temperament (Meyerowitz also has the distinction of having been the only independent photographer admitted to the World Trade Center site immediately following 9/11 to document the damage), but the pieces manage to swerve just shy of excessive, stock sublimity. Rather, they seem to observe grandeur as if through a kitchen window — albeit one in a fabulously located place. Through May 30 at Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, 3540 Washington Boulevard; 314-361-7600 or www.greenbergvandoren.com. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and by appointment.

Arny Nadler This exhibition of sketches and studies for the large-form sculpture series Beacons, which debuted this past fall at Philip Slein Gallery, reveals the material nuance and nearly domestic origins of these otherwise crude and imposing works. In their maquette state, the vessel forms of expertly welded steel resemble closed and unfillable vases, delicately painted a slate shade that appears half metallic and half earthen. The finished works, on the other hand, were larger than life and suggested a desire to endure hard weather, and possibly to serve as staunchly fortified refuges. To see the work in both scales underscores the way it reimagines the classic twentieth-century dichotomy of the industrial behemoth versus the minutiae of the human hand. Through May 24 at the Millstone Gallery at the Center of Creative Arts, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or www.cocastl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. or by appointment.

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 sluma.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

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