St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Fuzzy Logic A plush log fire, a patched-together picnic (ground, plaid blanket and foodstuffs all made of cloth), fuzzy Prozac pills, a cross-stitched portrait of a character from Freaks and Geeks — all of this and more make up this select survey of handicraft as fine art. Breaking down gender roles and other traditional associations with craft, curator Audrey Mast collected work by national artists that exploits the contradictions elicited when, say, a painterly gesture is woven or a sculpture is stuffed. Claes Oldenburg's '60s-era soft sculptures come to mind — not merely in their fabric-based dilapidation but also in their way of re-creating everyday items in new scales, materials and material behaviors. Here Oldenburg's playfully perverse way of reframing pop-cultural stock is freshened with contemporary referents and a closer focus on process. But the project remains essentially the same: making one wonder what a contemporary revival of craft and pop-art impulses means. Through March 13 at the Des Lee Gallery, 1627 Washington Avenue (University Lofts Building); 314-621-8735 or www.deslee gallery.com. Hours: 1-6 p.m. Wed., Fri.-Sat.

Tim Curtis: See How My Mind Works Small handmade chalkboards bearing chalk-written personal proclamations wallpaper the gallery space and accost the viewer with the artist's internal monologue. The elementary-school visual vernacular, combined with the puerile effusions of the unedited mind, make for a vexing experience. Maybe it's the myriad generalizations working in concert to craft a voice of plainspoken authenticity — from the schoolhouse aesthetic to the cynical wit of bumper-sticker clichés — but the show manages to engender a sense of disgust for all things popularly deemed "common." If the raw truth is that we Americans are petty, porn-loving, sexist, self-pitying, materialistic, superficial, depressed, addicted and fundamentally uncourageous — well, then, perhaps we deserve to perpetuate such anti-heroics by chuckling at our "humanness" and applauding ourselves for our tough but cute honesty. Through April 18 at the Craft Alliance (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.

Ongoing
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.).

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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