St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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.

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.

Lee Friedlander These eight photographs, taken between 1962 and 2002, capture an America most alive when viewed askance. A main-street parade is a shop-window reflection, the shop's proprietor gazing sternly from the store's depopulated interior; a car's rear window reflects the length of street behind it, a parallel car in turn reflecting, in its tinted window, the height of buildings between which they pass. Pedestrians move unhurriedly past a World War I monument of a soldier crouching with a dead-aimed rifle; only a baby being pushed in a stroller looks over its shoulder, vaguely intimating caution. It's a silent, black-and-white world, documented so consistently over four decades that one wonders if there is, in fact, a distinct and consistent American character. If so, it's a solitary one — not of bombastic icons, but of peripheral uncanniness, available most to the passerby or the otherwise least expectant. Through May 30 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.).

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.

Mark Newport: Self-Made Man Upending familiar caricatures from superpowers, spinsters and Mr. Moms to high and low art, this exhibit of limp, knitted comic-book-hero costumes marks the definitive end of the Bold Man of Action. Superman, Batman — they're all here, hanging like molted skins or discarded fruit rinds. While meticulously handcrafted, this collection of full-body woolens, emptied of form, is less suggestive of self-sufficiency than gentle dependency — that precious, humble concession necessary for maintaining family structure. Newport, then — seen in a video knitting (and wearing knitted suit) — could be super-normal, at ultimate peace with his domesticated role. The work speaks more to the truer root of the comic-book mythos, which was not about brawny power but the condition of being a misfit — socially dispossessed, precocious but alienated, scarred by trauma and hell-bent on being needed. In the loose musculature, flaccid ears and drooping emblems of Newport's pieces, comic-book luminaries are perhaps laid bare; having finally found human acceptance, they can be as vulnerable as they please. Through May 9 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278 or www.laumeier.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

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.
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