St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Decadense The alternately lauded and disparaged work of Cindy Tower is the result of a practice divided between traditional mimetic painting and the anti-institutional contemporary ephemera that is performance art. This new exhibit of large-format oil paintings, which captures the grandeur and decrepitude of abandoned St. Louis-area industrial buildings, continues her defiant and often dangerous plein-air practice. The question is: Must the work be of two minds? The performative aspect of Tower's work seems compromised by its painterly traditionalism; the painterly aspect seems compromised by the restrictions the performative elements impose. Yet the ruddy, white-based palette and thick application simultaneously recall Impressionist land- and cityscapes and the corpulent portraits of Ivan Albright and Lucian Freud. The latter reference adds a compelling dimension to Tower's work: Her paintings begin to tell a story of the body in space, the body in decay, the architecture of the body and the analogue between the manual labor of painting and the lost functionality of defunct factories. In this light, a deeper, more personal narrative emerges, eschewing the generalizations of punditry and opting for the intimate, small and wholly singular. Through May 8 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

A Tiger's Tale Chicago-based Michael Hernandez de Luna exposes the moral misconduct of popularly perceived moral authorities, from Tiger Woods to Bill Clinton, in this series of digitally manipulated stamps. Yes, stamps: The work is part conceptual, the residue of an unwitting collaboration with the postal service in which Hernandez de Luna would send self-addressed stamped envelopes to friends, who'd mail them back. The twist: The artist had drastically altered the return-mail stamps, transforming them into a graphic critique of societal trends, including body enhancement, gross infidelity and appalling public stunts and/or stumbles. The stamps themselves now constitute the exhibition. Bear in mind that as crass, overt and inelegant as it is, the work displayed here is the residue of an otherwise nearly anonymous venture, wherein found envelopes (from People magazine, the Mallory Hotel, the American Philatelic Society, etc.) were affixed with images of, say, Tiger flanked by naked blondes and swarms of corporate logos, and all but silently passed from mailbox to mailbox, the brazen images perhaps eliciting a brief flash of reconsideration of what would otherwise be taken as rote and banal. Also showing: Cheonae Kim, whose paintings are assembled like brightly colored toy blocks, wherein the stacked-together pieces create small, geometric abstractions; and Michael Byron's collages from India: small, intimate works that piece together subtly patterned and partly figural swatches of delicate Indian periodicals, creating atmospheric abstractions of hybrid beasts and imaginary ethers. Through April 24 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 or www.philipsleingallery.com. Hours: 10 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 and 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.).

Barry Leibman: Mahler Suite This exhibit of collaged paintings by artist and former Left Bank Books co-owner Barry Leibman uses Mahler's final Ninth Symphony as its point of reflection. The musical piece, which straddled Romanticism and the atonality of the burgeoning modern movement, is a study of a spirit divided. Similarly, Leibman's work seems at once to memorialize life's discarded ephemera — from swatches of floral fabric, prayer shawls, color samples and x-rays — and to underscore its temporality and potential to be lost. The work, in its piled, geometric textures, enacts this continual pendulum swing, mirroring the emotive arcs of Mahler's mercurial work in artwork distilled to its black-and-white essence. Through May 29 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Bring Me a Lion: An Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art Visual vibrancy, a palpable sense of political and spiritual volatility and a staunch cultural identity at odds with a post-colonial, global visual vocabulary all work in concert in this concise survey of contemporary Indian art. In Tushar Joag's Looking for Flora (a video and photographic series), a replication of a neo-gothic Mumbai monument is surreptitiously and rapidly assembled and disassembled in characteristically unmonumental Indian environments. Chitra Ganesh creates digital collages of popular Indian cartoons, surreal landscapes of half-grotesque, half-seductive figures. In Jitish Kallat's Onomatopoeia (Scar Park), an elegant photographic gridwork focuses on the nearly abstract details of automotive dents, misalignments and other accident-induced marks, creating a kind of taxonomy of inert but vivid abuse. The work, like many others in the show, speaks to an entrenched cultural idiom while utilizing familiarly international art materials and formats. And while words prevail in the majority of the work, they provide more questions than succinct summaries, to great effect. As co-curator (with Dana Turkovic) Jeffrey Hughes states in the exhibit's catalogue: This is a show summarized by the spirit of the lion, which is both grand and fraught with contradictions. Through April 17 at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery, 8342 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-968-7171 or www.webster.edu/depts/finearts/art. Hours: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and by appointment.

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