St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
St. Louis Point of View UMSL's Public Policy Research Center Photography Project enlisted local community groups to document neighborhoods in photos, focusing on historic preservation, adult/youth enrichment and community revitalization. Culled from six years' worth of photographs, the resulting exhibit is nothing short of astonishing. Melva Taylor's Untitled (It Looks Like New York) depicts an angular corridor between high-rise housing complexes in JeffVanDerLou. Preshis Mosley turns a dislodged water fountain in a forlorn park off North Skinker Boulevard into No Water at All (What We Don't Like). Tanya Long captures Granite City's neglected downtown reflected in wavering glass. In After Keita and Sidibe: Ralph Tyler, Jenele Brooks poses a youth in the manner of mid-century African studio photography. One unsigned work, a self-portrait, consists of an image of the photographer's sole possession: a corduroy jacket. Again and again the "amateur" eye strips an environment of the usual aesthetic appeals and distills it to crucial essentials and unexpected details. Through August 22 at the Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Boulevard; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (open till 8 p.m. Tue.).

Philadelphia Wireman In the dense core of these tautly wound sculptures of wire and detritus lurk bits of crumpled McDonald's and Tastykake wrappers, nails, bolts, tape, a Christmas ornament, batteries, a single penny, a knot of thread and a charm that spells "star." The small pieces exude a kind of maniacal dedication to their self-authored craft — part-scavenging, part-bundling, fastidiously circled innumerable times with rounds of wire. Displayed upright like petite figures, they appear tribal, fetishistic or like reliquaries to the toss-away stuff of dailiness. Found on trash day in a Philadelphia alley in 1982, these anonymously made pieces — numbering 1,200 in total (20 are exhibited here) — deny all common senses of purpose, pleasure and nameable source. Rather, they're all immediacy and earnestness — the material manifestation of the mysterious compulsion that made them. Through April 31 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 or www.shearburngallery.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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