St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

The Language of Objects: New Works by Jane Birdsall-Lander and Jo Stealey In Jane Birdsall-Lander's Bound Alphabet, salvaged wooden canes and scythe handles are bent into smoothly undulating pieces that recall the curves of the body or the bodies of musical instruments; the forms branch out into hands, repurposed from wooden drawing models or join to create, say, an eyelike shape with cello-peg lashes. Each piece in the series was crafted to correspond with a letter and to the physical symbols from which that letter was derived, evoking a primitive communicative sense somewhere between music and poetry. In Jo Stealey's Forest, parched and leafless tree trunks and massive blanched stones cluster in outsize proportions and appear like a dark children's-book illustration made surreally three-dimensional. The work is crafted out of paper pulp, and while it looks leaden, it is in fact nearly weightless. There's something essentially elemental about these works, which repurpose nature in order to plumb nature, and which, simultaneously, reveal themselves as wholes to be comprehensively marveled upon and as collections of meticulous acts and essential elements to be read for intricate meaning. Through January 16, 2010, at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.thesheldon.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Mi-Kyoung Lee: Bound Lines Cotton string, human hair and other basic materials are meticulously knotted into complex and delicate forms in this solo exhibition by Philadelphia-based fiber artist Lee. These supple sculptures and meticulous works on paper, made specifically for this exhibit, explore the theme of interconnectivity — particularly the variety inspired by childbearing. A pile of beeswax-dipped paper towels appears punctured through with tiny needle holes that bloom into a tree-like shape; red pipe cleaners intertwine to create a dangling cellular shape that suggests a womblike cage. The connective potential of materials appears, here, as an allegory for all salutary relationships: They're the product of many small but patient and nurturing acts. Through January 17, 2010, at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Michael Byron: Cosmic Tears Nebulous and atmospheric, Washington University professor Michael Byron's series of paintings meditates on the intricacy and immensity of the cosmos. Half of the exhibit is rendered in watery sky blues, while the other half roils in scarlet, black and other incendiary hues, suggesting the binary nature of the exhibition's larger-than-life focus. Perhaps in an effort to match this conceptual scope, these works on paper and canvas dwell predominantly in the expansive diffusions of abstraction — swirls and painterly textures created by curious procedural experiments — and only occasionally give way to finite depiction. (The latter takes the form of trompe l'oeil water droplets and single golden tears.) Considering the space the show inhabits — a repurposed chapel — the experience of the work seems less about conclusive explanations or climactic revelations than about the contemplative rituals associated with that other profound mystery known as faith. Through December 13 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 or http://mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Tom Huck and the Rebellious Tradition of Printmaking Brandy Baghead is going through major changes in Tom Huck's new triptych, on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum after two years in meticulous production. The printmaker from the self-fabled rural backwaters of Potosi hewed The Transformation of Brandy Baghead as the centerpiece of his third series of woodcuts, "Booger Stew," which vivisects contemporary phenomena such as reality television and self-actualization by way of Barbie doll beauty. Modeled after three-part altarpieces (a form that reached its gruesome apogee in the gnarled crucifixions of the Northern Renaissance), Brandy Baghead is equal parts Matthias Grünewald, Garbage Pail Kids and House of 1,000 Corpses. Once a wholesome beauty queen, Brandy subjects herself to the nails, crowbars, cat intestines and electrical tape of mad surgeons giddy to transform her into their world's prevailing physical ideal: a breast-enhanced ice-skating chicken-oid. They succeed, to the frothing admiration of the populace, who wave signs of such high accolades as "cooz" and "skank" as she skates, proudly cross-eyed and feathered, on black ice. The uncomfortably gorgeous trio of images appears amid a selection of historical prints chosen by Huck to illustrate his influences, each annotated with his plainspoken take on the work. This short history of printed art, which includes Albrecht Dürer, William Hogarth, James Ensor, José Posada and Max Beckmann, depicts a medium hell-bent on disseminating images of bourgeois grotesqueries, rampages of moral vindication and the human herd as a macabre carnival of souls. Huck comes across as not only the real deal but a worthy inheritor of the legacy — thanks to the ambitious and obsessive scale of his work. These prints add up to truly fucked-up stuff of the highest order. (Ian Froeb's profile of Tom Huck, "Evil Ink," was published January 18, 2007, and is available at www.riverfronttimes.com.) Through November 15 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.).

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