St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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

Solberg/Cruzen Recent Washington University MFA grads Dan Solberg and Jake Cruzen inaugurate their new gallery space with new work that strives to deny all traditional forms of aesthetic gratification. Cruzen's bleach-on-raw-linen triptychs and diptychs erase what would have been the picture plane for mimetic rendering, forcing the viewer to focus on the ravaged materiality of the non-paintings and their eroded and stained surfaces. Solberg's large-format digital photos position you as a kind of fastidious voyeur of banality: a red-painted French door looks out onto porch-lit potted ferns, the pictures cut out at the edges to resemble the lunette shape of binocular lenses. The repeated imagery of both artists' work — for all of its denial of literal content, figure, depth of field and aesthetic pleasure — evokes a kind of narrative (for Solberg, suburban entrapment; for Cruzen, economy and expressionism) but also accretes to a material and aesthetic lushness of its own. The linen fibers become tactile, the bleach stains abstract and emotive; and the windows onto nothingness, repetitively, read almost like a Robbe-Grillet novel, as if they're the site of a nearly imperceptible crime. Through March 20 at Craig Elmer Modern, 3194 South Grand Boulevard; 314-517-6150 or 636-368-7069. Hours: noon-4 Sat. and by appointment.

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 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.

Trailways St. Louis-based photographer Barclay Hughes presents a two-part exhibit of old and new work that re-enacts the classic existential tale of isolated travelers contemplatively aware of their situational entrapment. In one half of the exhibition (the artist's 1999 master's thesis), commuting New Yorkers are caught in mid-stride; the images are taken at close range with an obtrusive traditional camera, but the subjects betray no indication they notice. In the second series, a truck stop serves as the setting for a mute nighttime narrative that calls to mind the 1940 Bogart noir They Drive by Night, updated for the 21st century. In its cinematic quality and method of digital composition, the recent work owes a significant debt to Gregory Crewdson, Hughes' mentor at Yale. There's a twist, though: A weathered and forlorn diner waitress is in fact a psychoanalyst; an equally timeworn truck driver is a lawyer. The undisclosed overlapping of these seemingly incommensurate worlds — the generalized and the private, the blue- and white-collar — adds a necessary friction to work that could otherwise disappear in its cool, facile referentiality. Through March 20 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-575-2648 or www.schmidtcontemporaryart.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

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.

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