St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Newly Reviewed
Concurrent: Gina Alvarez, Melody Evans, Damia Smith Reviewed in this issue.

Thomas Struth In a masterfully resonant gesture, two large-format photographs by the notable German photographer Thomas Struth have replaced the collection of old-master drawings in the Pulitzer Foundation's lower gallery. The images, Pantheon, Rome and The Restorers at San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples, immediately predate his seminally elegant "Museum" series (which depicted people viewing canonical works of art in the world's canonical museums), but share that series' concern with the phenomenon of viewership and space. One photograph shows a cluster of minute-seeming tourists gaping skyward at the enormity of the ancient Roman sacred space; the other captures a small group of employees in the museum's rear quarters, gazing directly at the camera while rows of historical paintings lean almost casually against a wall behind them. As a pair, the photographs perform a rich exercise in perception and scale, in which you, the viewer, contemplate other viewers' contemplations of represented space, while simultaneously enacting the same action. Furthering this effect, when ascending the stairs from the lower gallery, the severe modernity of the museum suddenly resonates with Struth's ornate grand halls and coffered rotundas — making the contemporary world, for a miraculous moment, the logical conclusion of history. 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.-4 p.m. Sat.

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 that capitalizes 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.

Bazuco The aftermath of this eponymous arts collective's one-night takeover of the gallery space is a media melee of burst-piñata pieces, band and art-collective paraphernalia, flags, videos and sound equipment at rest. The absence of Bazuco is palpable despite all the leftover promotional media, making the show a lawless display of aura, or the artist a kind of ever-elusive white rabbit, busily manufacturing the art of busyness offstage. The collective, which formed in Colombia in 2005, seeks to dismantle the dual scourges of capitalist consumerism and the futile war on drugs via the empty production of salable propaganda and the flagrant touting of the unabated illegal drug industry. Hence what one sees at the gallery is a video of the opening-night performance of Dead Druglords, a band, and its assorted mock-terrorist high jinks alongside the glorified relics of their commodification. The band — and collective — have long since left the building, and strangely, it's this sense of something one can never grasp that makes for the work's biggest draw. Through September 1 at Boots Contemporary Art Space, 2307 Cherokee Street; 314-773-2281 (www.bootsart.com). Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Sat. and by appointment.

Built: Kranzberg Exhibition Series Six St. Louis-based artists — Mike Behle, Stan Chisholm, Sarah Frost, Craig Norton, Cameron Fuller and Sarah Paulsen — were chosen to transform the small rooms of Laumeier's gallery space into site-specific installations for this annual exhibition that usually focuses on the work of just one local sculptor. The decision to select artists whose work is not predominantly three-dimensional to expand their practices to fit installation art's all-consuming proportions, and thereby exemplify a current trend, is an interesting idea, if something of an assignment. The resulting work feels equal parts challenging and strained — that is, challenging for the artists to execute, no doubt, but an unnatural extension of their native impulses. Chisholm, Norton and Fuller/Paulsen, for instance, translate their distinct two-dimensional aesthetics in a way that comes across as somewhat stiffly set-like. Frost (who won a 2008 RFT MasterMind award) and Behle struggle to make their pieces cohere more naturally and transcend their disparate consumer materials. As a whole the show feels like a curious maze of backdrops to actions — particularly all the trials that go along with navigating, or in this case, building, unfamiliar territory. Through September 6 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 or www.laumeier.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset).

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