St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
The Art of the Book: Journals Then and Now In the third installment of this bi-annual, traveling series, organizer Marian Amies assembles a collection of historic and contemporary journals, ranging from notations of expenses by Michelangelo to handmade books by University of Missouri students. An elegantly brittle-paged 1865 scrapbook documenting the first events (Emerson speaking on "Success") and ephemera generated by the earliest iteration of the St. Louis Public Library system, reveals the adolescent trials and idealistic "self-culture" ethos that motivated the formidable institution. A Taverner Bible from 1539 is juxtaposed with a Louisiana Purchase Exposition souvenir book from 1904, while turn-of-the-century travel sketchbooks appear next to a collection of book-based pieces from the ongoing Urban Book Project at Washington University. Travel, mapping, ecology, decay, personal memoir — even the smallest subjects receive bound treatment, creating an expansive range of approaches to and thinking about the journalistic urge. Through May 8 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umstl.edu/~gallery. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Nothin' But the Blues: Art and Writing by Area Students A latticework of blue and rainbow-hued stripes rendered in wavering crayon lines; pencil sketches of Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry and Tina Turner in wild pencil lines; a blue steamboat on a sea of lips, eyes and blue trains — this collection of grade schoolers' artworks inspired by blues music is an oddly sophisticated and emotionally honest display. The Airport Elementary School students' homages are interspersed with their own blues lyrics, plainly and repeatedly lamenting "I cried and cried" or triumphantly asserting "Don't let nobody drag your spirit down" and "I am confident in myself." The simple-seeming sentiments ring of unaffected truth — wisdom, even — in equal measure to the awkward sincerity of the drawings and paintings, all of which appear to be excavated from bold inner sources of maturity. Viewed another way, though, such moments of poetic and visual invention are perhaps unattainable with the poise, self-consciousness and the wearied finesse of age. Through August 14 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.

Ongoing
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.).

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