St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

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.

migration (empire) — linear version Oil derricks, factories and other industrial sites are glimpsed through the windows of roadside hotel rooms, where lone specimens of American wildlife — a horse, an owl, a buffalo, among others — have been bewilderingly displaced. This non-narrative 2008 film by renowned multimedia artist Doug Aitken depicts a country claimed by humans but populated only by animals, who confront weird televised analogues of themselves and all the unnatural comforts of beds, lamps and running faucets with wide, glossy eyes. Aitken's previous projects have included Electric Earth, a multiscreen video installation that garnered highest honors at the 1999 Venice Biennale, and 2007's Sleepwalkers, a series of film vignettes featuring a host of contemporary celebrities that was projected on the exterior of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His expertise with Hollywood production values and work that communicates on a blockbuster scale makes migration (empire) mesmerizing not merely for its content, but also for its ability to speak to a broad audience. Through September 7 at the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

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.

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