St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St Louis arts scene

Newly Reviewed
Christopher Orr & J. Parker Valentine & Rezi Van Lankveld Reviewed in this issue.

Taking a Ride There's nothing wrong with straightforward simplicity. Verdant hills, winding two-lane roads, the occasional uprooted tree, the requisite companion dog — an imagined car ride through the upstate New York countryside appears precisely as one would expect in these modest oil paintings by Peter Charlap. A professor of painting at Vassar College since 1979, Charlap brushes in the bright details of what is clearly a landscape long observed, enough that it can be re-invoked with a sense of specificity even when the narrative taking place in it is a fictional one. The show makes for a kind of Lake Woebegon effect in painting: an approach that was never novel, but that's sometimes overly cloying, waxing, by virtue of time, into a near-deadpan approach to nostalgia and (in Charlap's case) the visual plain sense of things. Through July 5 at Atrium Gallery, 4728 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-1076 or www.atriumgallery.net. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.

Ongoing
Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space An explicit treatment of film as art, this survey of two decades' worth of the Belgian documentarian's work distills the medium to two essential parts: narration and gaze. Projected and screened in truncated swatches in a dark warren of loosely partitioned spaces, Akerman's work appears as a menagerie of endless highways, anonymous passersby and the overlapping cadences of the cigarette-ravaged voiceover of the filmmaker herself. Because two of her films explore canonically familiar American subjects — the culture of the Deep South and the Mexican immigrant experience — the issue of otherness, or how someone else's perspective can transform the well known, becomes saliently relevant. How much, actually, is different when seeing the familiar through another's eyes? Complementing Akerman's work is British artist Carey Young's Speech Acts, a series of pieces capitalizing on the creative potential of call centers, telephone operators and that disembodied voice at the end of a long line that calmly leads you through the nebulous airspace of critical questions and their ostensibly revelatory answers. It's an attractive form that suggests perhaps all of us have a need for the ritual of bureaucratic help — as a kind of general panacea, with nothing actually resulting from its use. Through August 2 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.

Currents 103: Claudia Schmacke Time is rendered physical in this site-specific installation, Time Reel. Schmacke, a Berlin-based artist who was this year's Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund fellow at Washington University's School of Art, has threaded clear plastic tubing in a neat line through the gallery wall. Behind the wall, a pump throbs, pushing green water through the long-looped tubes, which subtly flinch with the water's pressure on the gallery floor. It's an eerie motion, like that of something being resuscitated or still twitching, post-mortem. While the piece, at face value, leans toward mad-scientist spectacle, with an agenda as familiar as a pop song, its dead animism thrusts it somewhere more disconcerting — into the realm of institutional critique. The tubes' fading life throes seem to suggest that all things current, strange and elusive must struggle to retain their spirit amid static and vivisecting overdetermination. Through July 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, One 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.)

Marcel Duchamp: Chess Master This thorough and engaging re-examination of the father of conceptual art's sudden choice to resign from making art to become a full-time chess player sees Duchamp's ostensible career change as yet another brilliant creative maneuver. Duchamp, who was responsible for some of the most formidable innovations in twentieth-century art — most resonant, the idea that choice-making itself is an artistic act — found chess to be not only a universal language but the ultimate distillation of his fundamental interests: winning, losing and fastidious strategy. The exhibition presents ephemera and art related to the artist's late years as a chess champion, chess writer, chess correspondent and chess aesthetician (even the chessboard and pieces held particular interest for Duchamp and his like-minded contemporaries), the sum of which is an elegant argument for the game's expansive and allegorical merits, as well as the boundless intellectual agility of the ever-clever master himself. Through August 16 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.

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.

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