St. Louis Art Caps

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Karin Hodgin Jones: Mimetic Labors This suite of five kinetic sculptures by locally based Hodgin Jones, each entitled Tug, takes as its source material this slight, often imperceptible gesture and magnifies it to produce distinctly stranger resonances. Each piece is a small machine in which a fabric is, yes, tugged at by a system of very thin threads connected to a small motor. Eluding gimmickry, these pieces manage to fixate on the slow landscapes and all-but-disorderly piles that slightly plucked pieces of cloth create. In a wall piece, a length of this semi-translucent material appears to slowly inhale and exhale. On a smaller scale, a tan swath seems to crumple and shakily uncrumple. The whole gallery softly whines with the variously motorized industry of the work, whose exposed engineering and cloth geometries also betray a concern for sly formal abstraction. Through February 13 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.

Peter Pranschke: Commission Release Party A chronicle of the "worst two years" of this St. Louis-based artist's life, this small, tragicomic show of cartoon-like drawings and collages celebrates the end of Pranschke's valiant struggle to complete a commissioned piece of art. The commission would feature the artist's signature Band-Aid figures — literally, figures made of the drugstore staple in all its unnaturally flesh-colored shades — and the exhibit is devoted to pieces that fulfill that long-awaited promise. Resolutely happy humanoids, carefully crafted of Band-Aids, fly heroically above white backdrops populated with the cutout shapes of trees, rifles, squirrels, the Gateway Arch, as though emboldened by their implied wounds. While these pieces compose the majority of the exhibition, a few torn-out sketchbook pages of doodles, haphazardly taped to the gallery's entryway, relay the finished works' anguished back story. They portray the artist — in small, waving pen lines — beset by anxieties, pouring rain, the belittlement of day jobs, fiscal deprivation and the vicissitudes of self-confidence that alternately inspire furious jags of creativity and equally furious nosedives into despair. In their off-hand modesty, these "unfinished" works manage to convey the deepest impact — perhaps by further confounding the often-thankless process of making art. Through February 27 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.

Sean Landers: 1991-1994, Improbable History This survey of relentlessly self-dissecting and blogosphere-portentous paintings, videos, sculptures and photographs by the New York-based conceptual artist Landers makes every attempt to get a hold of that elusive quality known as sincerity. Covering massive canvases, full legal pads and several years' worth of calendar pages with hand-scrawled text, Landers iterates himself as a desperately ambitious but ever-human everyman, a kind of modern-day St. Augustine confessing his trials with art and life in a mode of unedited profusion that traditional social courtesy was established to discourage. There's a sense of rigor in Landers' ability to tolerate himself, which is mirrored by the viewer's tolerance for the work — a rigor that most have perhaps become accustomed to through the sudden ubiquity of social media, modern memoirs and all the other contemporary variations of self-advertisement/acceptable voyeurism now available. In light of this "new normal" (term courtesy of Dick Cheney), Landers comes across as less transgressive than strangely classical — he uses paint and canvas, he's apologetic, and he references Blake, Narcissus and the lyric impulse. But is he sincere? He doesn't even claim to know. Critical to motivating his furious desire to excavate earnestness is Landers' fraught identity as a working-class Irish Catholic, a fact that makes him incapable of escaping the crushing guilt of having committed the ultimate transgression: becoming an artist. Through April 11 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.

Urban Alchemy/Gordon Matta-Clark The late New York-area artist who used entire blighted buildings as his sculptural material could not have found a more apt (temporary) home. The architectural stock Matta-Clark repurposed finds innumerable analogues beyond the Pulitzer's walls; each instance serves as a brief visual lesson in the aesthetics of simple dwelling spaces. Like archaeological strata, the layers of linoleum, plaster, wood beams, shingles, wallpaper and paint attest to the intricacy of the quotidian and the accretive elegance of all things driven by necessity. The message seems to be: Look closely and let nothing be taken for granted. Beyond the diffusions of daylight so scrupulously choreographed by the museum's celebrated architecture, siting this survey in St. Louis does a service to both artist and city. Matta-Clark was an innovator in the synthesis of architecture, activism and art — a catalyst of exactly the sort this town could use. Through June 5 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.-4 p.m. Sat.

Yinka Shonibare: Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play Placing his signature life-size mannequins, clothed in Dutch wax-printed cotton (otherwise known as "African print"), in the period rooms on the museum's lower level, the notable British-Nigerian conceptual artist re-illuminates these fossilized moments of material history with fresh paradoxes. It is not Shonibare's figures — child-size, eerily static...and guillotined — that are the focal curiosities here, but rather the cultural incoherence of the historic rooms they inhabit. You suddenly notice how the quintessential American, English and French living spaces here are in reality odd collections of cultural artifacts: an ancient Greek krater in a British country manor; Qing dynasty vases and a Russian carpet in a South Carolina parlor. Ethnic authenticity is a fallacy, it seems, and social status a mere material import — validated by stuff made or acquired from any place (and time) other than one's own. The installation's multicultural theme may feel tiredly familiar, but the exhibit succeeds in making its point fresh. Household furnishings never appeared more bizarre. Through March 14 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. (open till 9 p.m. Fri.)

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