St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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.).

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.

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.

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.

Yinka Shonibare: Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play Placing his signature life-size mannequins, clothed in Dutch wax-printed cotton (otherwise known as "African print"), in the period rooms on the museum's lower level, the notable British-Nigerian conceptual artist re-illuminates these fossilized moments of material history with fresh paradoxes. It is not Shonibare's figures — child-size, eerily static...and guillotined — that are the focal curiosities here, but rather the cultural incoherence of the historic rooms they inhabit. You suddenly notice how the quintessential American, English and French living spaces here are in reality odd collections of cultural artifacts: an ancient Greek krater in a British country manor; Qing dynasty vases and a Russian carpet in a South Carolina parlor. Ethnic authenticity is a fallacy, it seems, and social status a mere material import — validated by stuff made or acquired from any place (and time) other than one's own. The installation's multicultural theme may feel tiredly familiar, but the exhibit succeeds in making its point fresh. Household furnishings never appeared more bizarre. Through July 5 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. (open till 9 p.m. Fri.)

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