St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Allison Smith: Needlework Hand-sewn replicas of gas masks and other forms of head coverings worn in military, terrorist or personal crisis are photographed in disconcertingly straightforward and unsentimental images. The rough fabric textures and imprecise stitchwork — misaligned eyeholes, rendering mouths and head shapes amorphous — create a tension between the intimately handmade and brutally subjugating. Parachutes, printed with the images of masks, hover throughout the gallery with cloudlike buoyancy. They offset the stifling effect of the photographed objects and create yet another elegant disjunction — as though conflict can be lighter than air. Through April 19 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 (www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu). Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

Mark Newport: Self-Made Man Upending familiar caricatures from superpowers, spinsters and Mr. Moms to high and low art, this exhibit of limp, knitted comic-book-hero costumes marks the definitive end of the Bold Man of Action. Superman, Batman — they're all here, hanging like molted skins or discarded fruit rinds. While meticulously handcrafted, this collection of full-body woolens, emptied of form, is less suggestive of self-sufficiency than gentle dependency — that precious, humble concession necessary for maintaining family structure. Newport, then — seen in a video knitting (and wearing knitted suit) — could be super-normal, at ultimate peace with his domesticated role. The work speaks more to the truer root of the comic-book mythos, which was not about brawny power but the condition of being a misfit — socially dispossessed, precocious but alienated, scarred by trauma and hell-bent on being needed. In the loose musculature, flaccid ears and drooping emblems of Newport's pieces, comic-book luminaries are perhaps laid bare; having finally found human acceptance, they can be as vulnerable as they please. Through May 9 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 (www.laumeier.com). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break This suite of large-scale photographs and two film installations is a sustained meditation on the ecology of the industrial working class. The product of a year spent at General Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine, Lockhart's exhibition catalogues a world of intimate ritual and discretely elegant detail. Lunch boxes stand in as portraits of the assorted workers, the well-worn items bearing emblems of their owners, their photographic presentation having all of the poise and saturated symbolism of Dutch still lifes. The films extend that observational attunement; Lunch Break follows the main artery of the factory at a pace slower than breathing, the immersive effect of which renders the space nearly abstract. Equally atmospheric, Exit follows the workers daily leave-taking on five consecutive days — a world punctuated by lunch pails, swinging in primary hues from obscured hands as they march beneath the ironwork of an underpass, the mass but unhurried movement suggesting exodus and elegy alike. Through April 19 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 (www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu). Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

Ongoing
Buzz Spector: Shelf Life This select survey of eleven years' work by notable conceptual artist, writer and educator Buzz Spector is an abridged chronicle of a lifelong obsession with books and their elusive promise of conferring, to any willing reader, the dream of encyclopedic knowledge. Piles of books from the artist's capacious library are photographed in curated and sculpted groups: In Poiesis, the thin volumes that comprise poetry are stacked, with their spines obscured, into the loose shape of a chapel. Piles of canonical novels, pushed forward or receding out-of-focus according to preference, are stacked before Spector himself, suggesting his inclusion amid the tradition of grand personal narratives. In other works on paper, quotes by French theorists Roland Barthes or Guy Debord appear stitched in yarn in the kind of cursive or lowercase scrawl learned in elementary school. Does "high literature" need to be spelled out in the simplest of terms, and if so, to whom? Whether this work translates as playfully generous and illuminating or generalizing and self-reflexive may very well depend on the viewer. Through March 6 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. on the first Sun. of every month and by appointment.

Critical Mass Creative Stimulus St. Louis nonprofit Critical Mass awarded "creative stimulus" grants to local artists Asma Kazmi, Robert Goetz and two recent Great Rivers Biennial winners, Martin Brief and Cameron Fuller (Fuller is an RFT Mastermind Award winner). This exhibit of new work made within the year since the grant's receipt provides a salient diagnosis of the area's current visual temperament. Goetz's scattered wasteland of guitar parts is the product of an opening-night performance in which several local musicians (himself included) dismantled — with axes, drills, mallets and other tools — several electric guitars, plugged in to amplify the elegantly ambient murmur of willful obsolescence. Fuller displays an expertly handcrafted vitrine containing a diorama in which taxidermied dead howl in mute eternity beneath a blue-hued geometric pattern of stars. Kazmi resurrects another form of marginalized life — the hijra class in India, composed of hermaphrodites, eunuchs, cross-dressers and the transgendered — and films them in celebratory high fashion: bejeweled, clothed in opulent blue fabrics and striking poses that apparently translate globally as model-grade resplendent. In Brief's minimalist drawings, Jenny Holzer's noted Truisms undergo another kind of translation, wherein each of her words is replaced by its full definition and handwritten in minute print on white paper. The effect is as essentializing as it is estranging and embodies the all-but-overt anti-institutional sentiment that unifies the exhibition: that art is not intended to yield practical (read: commodifiable) sense, but to give voice to all that otherwise couldn't be uttered. Through February 28 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811 or www.art-stl.com. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. , noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

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