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 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.

Craig Norton: Shot and Killed A reporter, photo-realistically rendered in Bic pen and collaged wallpaper, instructs us that the United States averages 30,000 deaths by gun annually and that 48 percent of the victims are African American. What follows is a series of mural-like depictions of African Americans amid or in the aftermath of firearm-related violence, played out in 2-D dioramas of high tragedy and occasionally punctuated with reportage-like text in a wavering pencil scrawl. How is the viewer to assess this critical but statically breaking news, relayed, most perplexingly, via obsessively crafted and well-composed visuals in a commercial gallery? Norton, a St. Louis native whose biography describes him as a self-taught artist (though he briefly studied art at St. Louis Community College-Meramec), has made a show that unwittingly probes a host of salient dilemmas — notably, the role of topicality and marginality in art, and to what degree aesthetic appeal mitigates overt prosaic concerns, however naively stirred up. The show ultimately seems effective in advocating the solutions born of cold empiricism, and all that goes against slippery, creative permissiveness. Through June 21 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 or www.shearburngallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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.

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.

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.).

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