St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

For the blind man in the dark room looking for the black cat that isn't there Perception is given close study in this elegant exhibit of work by an international (and historically broad) cast of artists. Positing itself in the Socratic tradition of inquiry limned only by endless discussion, the exhibit proposes that art, at best, is a speculative rather than declarative industry. In an audio piece, Marcel Broodthaers seeks answers to the hard questions of art's worth and purpose from a cat, who responds simply and perhaps wisely: meow. Coffee grounds are divined for larger meaning in a video by Ayse Erkmen (though the deepest wisdom seems to come from the mute chow dog, calmly surveying the chatty humans in his company). The meticulous and obsessive study of objects in themselves, in Giorgio Morandi's inimitable painted still lifes, appear twice and feel like hinge lines in the exhibit's extended villanelle. And the thousand and one drawn charts by Matt Mullican — parsing birth, life and death like a mathematical equation — proliferate with the promise of solutions, albeit eternally elided. Antiquity flashes in a video of the Metropolitan Museum's Greek and Roman wing after dark, and the Renaissance Wunderkammer makes a requisite appearance in the form of an etching — suggesting at once the complementary truths of historical return and non-linearity. One leaves this exhibit — lightly, eruditely and playfully curated by Anthony Huberman — with a fresh faith in art's philosophical capacity and essential mystery. Through January 3, 2010, 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.

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.

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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