St. Louis Art Caps

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis arts 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.

Roberley Bell: Inside Out Bell takes the surplus toy stock that crowds today's craft-store shelves — chartreuse, hot pink and electric blue foam blobs, flocked plastic birds, bright inflated inner tubes, and enlarged Gerber daisies — and piles it into tenuous heaps. The teetering sculptures resemble 3-D versions of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki's lurid fantasyscapes, but they might just as well be compared to the recreation-grade woods and wildlife in Laumeier's non-virtual park, observable through the gallery windows. Whether the art transports the viewer somewhere bright, light and entertaining may depend on one's taste for guilty pleasures. And perhaps that's the point: Pitting nature against its candy-colored counterpart, the exhibit seems to discourage the impulse to easy complicity. Through January 10, 2010, 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 a half-hour past sunset.)

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