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).

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.

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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