St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Bruce Burton: Observation and Formulation St. Louis-based Bruce Burton transforms this small gallery into a contemporary Cabinet of Wonders, re-articulating the space with an eye equally attuned to contemporary materials and design as to natural oddities — an eye that, in turn, trains the viewer's eye to see subtle, unlikely relationships. Like the Renaissance Wunderkammer, Burton curates an environment where correlations between collected objects are unexpected and evocative rather than predictably serial: a square piece of copper echoes with a square piece of mirror; a pile of moldering orange peels wears a patina similar to a single rusted screw. While the space can be experienced as a whole installation, its scrupulously plotted elements function dually as individual art pieces, with respective names. This movement in and out of closely viewable detail makes for an experience of endless play and infinite and irreducible curiosity — the residue of which follows one out of the gallery and into the world, made suddenly rife with peculiar nuance. Through September 4 at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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.

Four Fired: Ceramics with an Edge Four women — Cynthia Consentino, Misty Gamble, Beverly Mayeri and Tip Toland — conjure alternately horrible and humorous visions of feminine grotesquery that surreally spoof tired assumptions about the feminine gender. A prim toddler neatly dressed in a pink floral-patterned dress grimaces as she expels (or perhaps devours?) pristine tiger lilies. A series of a dozen tan hands, each sporting an enormous diamond ring and long lacquered nails, gesticulates in every familiar way that conspicuous jewelry is flaunted. A sallow, pigeon-toed waif in a yellow bathing suit clutches herself while incongruously thrusting forward enormous, glossy red lips and long blond hair. Outsize and unsettling, the pottery pieces are as meticulously crafted as antique collectibles yet resistant to any sense of traditional, decorative quaintness. Also showing: Nancy Newman Rice's Dark Reflections, a pointillist painting series that functions like a short narrative of intimate inner life explored. Through July 31 at Duane Reed Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4100 (www.duanereedgallery.com). Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and by appointment.

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.

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.

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