St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Clint Baclawski/Caleb Taylor: Recent Works This luminous two-person exhibit of Santo Foundation grant winners, curated by Ashley Kopp, distills the forms, colors and motifs of advertising into an abstract language. Taylor's gouaches on paper obscure bright swaths of yellow, red and blue that resemble tangled flags hidden beneath the white of overcast skies. Baclawski's large-scale photographic light boxes are staggered on the gallery floor in a staccato maze of handsomely slick obstructions; the double-sided, mirrored scenes they portray are whitewashed by fluorescent light that gleams within, dimming and then intensifying the cold tones depicted: ski slope, urban winter, antiseptic gymnasium. Each locale is punctuated with consumerism — bag-toting crowds, national or corporate flags, the ubiquitous print of a corporate logo — the bold, primary palette of which finds an elegant analogue in Taylor's painterly works. At night the exhibit throbs with the after-hours glow of a commercial storefront, promising something unquantifiable to passers-by. Also showing: Neither Night and Day; Gabriel Slavitt's installation — prismatic painted pyramids, ceramic dishware, a chart of local birds, a video of daily commuting — sees a kind of ceremonial rite in the movement and signs of the everyday. Through June 6 at Snowflake/Citystock, 3156 Cherokee Street; www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.

Focus on Photography: Recent Acquisitions This exhibit of new additions to the Kemper's collection concisely and powerfully charts the development of photography from its early, documentary-inflected use to its transformation into a contemporary expressionistic medium. The sepia-toned historic portraits in Edward Curtis' North American Indian series presage the medium's impressionistic capacity, its subjects appearing less objectively culturally situated as romantically (and exotically) framed with a foreboding sense of nostalgia. A collection of 1970s and '80s-era Polaroids by Andy Warhol functions somewhat similarly: Lesser-known luminaries can be seen as instantaneously vulnerable and self-consciously postured. Christian Jankowski, who in 2005 photographed Washington University students at the annual campus poster sale, doubles this sense of photography's capacity to capture its own late-capitalist commodification as an image-making device. Artwork appears as both a witless and poised subject in Louise Lawler's Not Yet Titled (2004), wherein Gordon Matta-Clark's raw building fragment, Bingo, is institutionalized in the renovated galleries of New York's Museum of Modern Art. Finally, the photograph becomes an abstraction in itself in Wolfgang Tilman's Silver 71 (2008), ushering in an era in which photography is an artistic medium, nothing more and nothing less. Also showing: 2010 MFA Thesis Exhibition; this year's survey of graduate work includes notable pieces by John Early, Ryan Fabel, Joel Fullerton, Dani Kantrowitz and Mamie Korpela. Through July 26 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & 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.)

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.

Cause + Time Minimalist in design, maximalist in content, this group exhibition explores the intersection of art and technology through work that records, transforms or reacts to the onslaught of the information age. Eric Souther's Digital Mandala is a stark black-and-white projection of densely intersecting lines; their ultimate, circular shape and accretive tangle are the result of informational excess, which elicits each projected mark as well as the buzzing din of half-mechanized sounds that permeate the exhibition space. Arnold Wedemeyer's two video "still lifes" — glacially slow time-lapse depictions of nearly mundane space — eerily capture the most subtle and suggestively digital changes in real objects over time. Andrew Cozzens' "growth" sculptures include a kind of canvas sling, through the bottom of which a ridge of wheatgrass sprouts; the grass will eventually turn toward the gallery's minimal light source — and, ultimately, die from lack of light. A work by David Bowen tracks the growth of an onion plant through a mechanized rendering device usually used for collecting scientific data. Another Souther work creates an abstracted visual space via search-engine data for the word "chair." Both nature and computer-driven science are marveled at here for their capacity to manipulate or be manipulated — a kind of aesthetic being found in the function of data collection or, even more simply, the mere compulsion to collect it. Through June 26 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

Currents 104: Bruce Yonemoto Recent Washington University Freund Fellow and notable LA-based multimedia and conceptual artist Bruce Yonemoto presents a new video piece and two suites of photographs that repossess history on behalf of the oppressed, villainized or deliberately omitted. The video, Before I Close My Eyes, re-creates a pivotal sequence in Igmar Bergman's 1966 film Persona, replacing the female protagonist with three different Southeast Asian males. In a stark room, the new protagonists confront a television screen that broadcasts iconic 1963 footage from Saigon, wherein a Buddhist monk self-immolates. In its mute contemplativeness, the brief looped sequence heightens the immediacy of the nearly 50-year-old scene. In one photographic series, Yonemoto re-imagines nineteenth-century carte de visites (an early form of popular portraiture) in full color, again with Southeast Asian men replacing American Civil War soldiers. And in the other photo set, Asian actors play lead roles in re-creations of portraits by Caravaggio. As it asserts the truth of alternative histories, the exhibition challenges and underscores the complicated subjectivity and visual rhetoric that belies "objective" documentary history. Through July 11 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.)

Eden Harris: Out of the Woods This delicate suite of works on paper focuses on the intricacy of leaf and floral growth and the natural geometry of the hornet's nest. Pieces of white paper are cut into porous, repetitive patterns and dangle on pins an inch from the wall, allowing the hand-tailored scrims to lightly shiver at the viewer's passing and cast a duplicate pattern in shadows on a blank sheet behind it. Other pieces are cut into hivelike shards, the removed hexagonal shapes smeared with a webbing of paper pulp and hung like a flat constellation of semi-abstract shapes; an enormous (and dormant) hornet's nest sits menacingly on a pedestal beneath them. The work vacillates between rawly tactile and severely pristine — a tension that reflects back on its natural source, which is as wild as it is algorithmic. A Theodore Roethke poem, "The Manifestation," prefaces the show; one line reads like a declaration of purpose for the elegantly simple work: "What does what it should do needs nothing more." Through June 5 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.

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.).

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.

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.).

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.

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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