St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

 Newly Reviewed
Ansel Adams in Yosemite Reviewed in this issue.

Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond The singularly beautiful quilts from Gee's Bend, a small African American community in Alabama, has traveled to major museums across the United States for the past several years, garnering accolades as well as controversy regarding the possible exploitation of the self-taught artists it features. Politics and media aside, it's a show worth viewing on the merits of the work included. The quilts made by the women of Gee's Bend, in nearly unwavering tradition for over a century, are pieces of honest beauty and startling modernity — resembling hard-edged abstract paintings or midcentury design. Whether it's legitimate to liken the work to canonical twentieth-century art is too heady a question for the quilts' elemental appeal. From blocky, patched-together swatches of used corduroy and denim, eccentric compositions of vivid colors emerge, creating bold tableaus. The exhibit also includes prints made from the quilted patterns and sculptures by two notable "outsider" artists from the region, Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley, who were introduced to the quilters and created artworks that celebrated their dialogue and shared cultural history. Through September 13 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (open till 8 p.m. Tue.).

Ongoing
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 or 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.

Home from Work to Find Your Spaniel Turned Into a Wolf St. Louis-area artist Alison Ouellette-Kirby presents seven variations on the theme of the small green house from the game Monopoly. Home, chance, the ideal dream and desperate horror of domesticity — all of these ideas come into play as the perfectly simple form of the game piece variously manifests itself out of collected dog and cat hair, the sterling silver of a ring crowned by an enormous piece of cubic zirconia and doghouse-size sheets of Plexiglas on which a projection of a ferocious-looking spaniel mutely barks. In Longest Way Round, Shortest Way Home, three weighty cast-iron houses roll on a large seesaw-like track; they tend to collect heavily on one end unless the viewer uses the handle and exerts a little muscle to get them balanced in the center. All of the work is executed with such pristine craftsmanship that the ideas and sentiments behind it are communicated with inevitable clarity. Through August 29 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.

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