St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
The Michael Jackson Series Cut-out portraits of fresh-faced, Jackson Five-era Michael Jackson hover amid painted patterns of stars and stripes in this homage to the recently deceased King of Pop. The work, by St. Louis-based artist David Langley, lines the display window walls of Gallery Proper, the street-side exhibition space of All Along Press' impressive new headquarters on Cherokee Street. Jackson's portrait, repetitively presented in eternal adolescence, is bitten away by small cuts that variously devour the image. Flanking this series are two other pop-star portraits — of Sid Vicious, haloed, razor-lacerated and downcast; and of Twiggy, her mournful, large-eyed face looming over a slender torso that is half popsicle stick, half paper doll's tabbed attire. The storefront display of rock-star martyrdom sets a ruminative tone for local passersby, functioning like a visual anthem to lost youth. Through April 3 at Gallery Proper, 2712 Cherokee Street; 314-827-6185 or www.allalongpress.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.

The Pangaea Project In this series of predominantly oil-on-panel abstractions, St. Louis-based Jeremy Rabus deepens his distinct call-and-response approach, crafting a suite of images that catalogue the nuances of pure gesture and color. While vaguely evocative of landscapes (the titles are amalgams that call to mind fictional place names), the work is most successful when it trades in its most elusive elements: the ridges of brushstrokes, a bold sweep of red down the canvas' center, sanded-flat layers of indistinct but confidently fluid marks. More illustrative moments — wavy, pastel-hued lines that resemble plankton or water — feel too deliberately overworked. But all in all the exhibit marks a step forward in the artist's craft — with deeper color, more refined surfaces and a bolder painterly facility that permits itself to take uncalculated risks. Through March 27 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 2713 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-960-5322 or www.hoffmanlachancefineart.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat and by appointment.

What Pictures Want Local artist and Webster University professor Daniel McGrath offers an ironic response to art theorist W.J.T. Mitchell's question "What Do Pictures Want?" McGrath has assembled a miniature salon-style exhibition of text-based paintings that spoof the haute-elite culture of the art world. Precisely lettered in Helvetica and other museum-grade fonts, the white-on-black texts read: "Attracted to me? You probably possess all the properties of the upper class minus one: money"; "Don't read books, read magazines. You learn more from them anyway"; or (in French and English) "It's dangerous to wear Prada in here. You might get caught in the same outfit as one of the staff." A lumpily sculpted iPod and contact lens sit on a museum bench next to a bottle labeled "Really Cold Water." These awkwardly handmade objects are telling: The story being narrated here is not simply about high theory, the stereotypical fashion-conscious cosmopolitan upper crust and the nuances of auction-house repartee. Rather, the work seems to expose the handcrafted-ness of us-and-them tensions, how our distillations of others are distinctly thumbprinted with our own perceptions and desires. Through April 24 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.

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 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

BIRDHOUSEINCATTREE During his recent winter residency at Boots Contemporary Art Space, German artist Wilhelm Neußer painted this suite of images, which explores the peculiarity of birdhouses, cat condos and other human dwelling spaces miniaturized for animals. The project furthers his interest in domestic architecture and its way of subtly dictating our interaction with the world — setting limits (walls), framing perspective (windows), organizing movement (the layout of interiors, the segregation of activities to discrete rooms). The tension between a firm sense of place and dreamlike disorientation — where one's trust in space is always on the brink of being subverted — recalls de Chirico but with less illustrative symbolism. Rather, the logic of these images is purely painterly, portraying an abstraction of life, and an orderly strain in animal impulses. Through March 31, at Boots Contemporary Art Space, 2307 Cherokee Street; 314-773-2281 or www.bootsart.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Sat. and by appointment.

Interface This survey of projects created at Amanda Verbeck's shop, Pele Prints, explores the dialogue between an artist's approach to printmaking and his or her studio practice, with an emphasis on the importance of collaboration in the process. A selection of studio work from each participant is juxtaposed next to pieces they produced at Pele; a text accompanies each suite and reflects on the experience they had with Verbeck and the connections they draw between their solitary and collaborative processes. Beyond the dialogic aspects, the exhibition presents an impressively rich body of work by artists who complement one another's aesthetics: The dense strata of Lora Fosberg's intricately introspective word-based work speaks to Gina Alvarez's intricate collection of marks, material nuances and fibrous effusions; Laura Berman's spectrum of organically shaped saturated hues speaks to Brandon Anschultz's formal abstractions, equally saturated with dense chromatic fields. And an impulse toward patterns emerges between Alicia LaChance and Grant W. Miller, whose works indebt themselves to the flatness of print-generated image making. Through April 25 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or www.cocastl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

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