St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St Louis arts scene

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.

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.

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 or 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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