St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St Louis arts scene

Kit Keith: Present to Past Discarded mattresses, leather-bound books and LP cases, canning jars, a toy steak carved out of wood — this small survey of paintings, drawings and small sculptural objects by St. Louis-based Kit Keith has the instant-treasure-trove character of a yard sale. An attraction to the intimately hand-worn or sullied is clearly evident throughout, as is the clean finesse of an expert sign-painter's graphic depiction. Thus a cool-eyed, sleek-haired Betty Grable type is deemed "effective"; a young, wary-looking African American in cap and gown merits "good"; a pale and leering Mrs. Danvers-esque mistress is decidedly "ice." The all-too-human cartoon portraits, rendered on mattresses and jars alike, form a kind of illustrated guide to life fates. Ultimately the intricate pieces seem to recoil from the sterility of a white-walled gallery, preferring, it would seem, to be viewed in a bedroom space, wherein a pint-size resident leads you through, one by one, her strange collected treasures. Through August 2 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 (www.cocastl.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Memories of Fire Island Anonymous, sun-bronzed male specimens, reduced to the homoerotic semiotics of beefcake torsos and bare limbs, languish in these images like exquisitely overripe perishables. The moment is the late '70s, the place, Fire Island, the flamboyant Hamptons beach community that served as an Edenic gay reprieve to the day's reigning and closeted conservatism. Photographer Tom Bianchi, who covertly captured several thousand Polaroids of this lost summer bacchanal, may not have known what an eye for compositional complexity or radiant color he had. Rather, his aesthetic sophistication in this series comes unwittingly, and only by desire's default. Beyond the saturated blue of pools, sky and tossed-off swim trunks, it's a sense of sincere artlessness — and possibly a perverse glee in being witness to this subculture of unabated pleasure — that makes these photographs resonate. There's so little indication that any of the young men, in their brazen revelry, are aware of their co-authorship of an elegiac archive. Through August 15 at phd gallery, 2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 (www.phdstl.com). Hours: noon-4 p.m. Thu.-Sun.

A New Currency The visual equivalent of "least said, soonest mended" is suggested by this modestly resonant group show which aims to diagnose the current recession's effect on art-making. The three St. Louis-area artists included — Jennifer Wilkey, Bruce Burton and Mike Schuh — enact through their works a kind of expressive triage, taking stock of what's available and making do with remains. Wilkey reimagines a patient's recliner with a finely stitched IV drip. Burton collects carpet swatches, rusted screws, discarded vinyl shapes — among other minute detritus — and re-presents them with elusive integrity. Schuh sees the gesture of a black-painted deck of cards, floor-strewn, as a kind of casual portent. The eclectic, disparate and largely un-manipulated materials in these pieces sparely punctuate the gallery in a way that creates a heightened sense of tactile and articulated space. It's as though space itself, along with all other things radically mundane, deserves a fresh value. Economically curated by Cole Root and Amy Blomme, to great effect. Through July 19 at Snowflake/Citystock, 3156 Cherokee Street; www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. 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.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye In this group show of paintings (and one sculpture), curator Joseph R. Wolin suggests that artists' youthful obsessions outweigh adult, book-learned influences. The youthful obsession, in this case, is Star Wars; the artists are men of an age that permitted George Lucas' vision to form their shared adolescent daydream. Wolin presents the exhibit as a kind of essay wherein each piece is proposed as evidence of an aesthetic contest between intergalactic spectacle and wild, expressionistic abstraction à la Jackson Pollock. Strangely, the influence that prevails is neither of the suggested two, but rather the big, brash '80s-era painting of the Julian Schnabel variety — heavy on tube-pure primaries, large glossy strokes and brute masculinity, and light on conceptual nuance and material delicacy. The one exception is Emilio Perez's a different time of day, a mass of black-lined, pale-hued undulating ribbons painted with flat, matte uniformity; it looks like a comic-book graphic of abstraction and, as such, is the most elegant distillation of Wolin's thesis. Also showing: paintings by St. Louis-based Brandon Anschultz, whose negotiation of science and abstraction is crisply controlled and modestly cerebral — a near-antidote to the main gallery show. Through July 18 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 or www.philipsleingallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. or by appointment.

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