St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Jay Wolke: Architecture of Resignation While traveling through the southern Italian region of Mezzogiorno, Chicago-based photographer Jay Wolke documented the incongruous encroachment of contemporary architecture (often in decay) on the elegant ruins and natural landscape of this historic countryside. A crumbling terra-cotta brick structure is punched through and re-settled into with a teal mattress and a nest of fast-food paper waste; a cliffside of cascading villas is overlooked by what appears to be a spankin'-new restaurant terrace outfitted with white plastic porch furniture; a lush botanical garden is edged by the garden's offices, the exteriors of which are girded by a hedgerow of electrical power sources, each sporting the company logo. The inelegance of the modern era's material culture (predominantly an American export) is made plain in these images by their harsh juxtaposition with the earthen stock of ancient structures. In a previous series, Wolke juxtaposed the congested Dan Ryan Expressway with its Chicago environs; the current project is a compelling analogue, only with a wider historical gap between its polar elements. Through September 4 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 (www.thesheldon.org). Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Marshall Plan: The Intra European Poster Competition of 1950 This artfully weathered collection of mid-century posters the product of a juried contest held by the Intra-European Cooperation for a Better Standard of Living — displays the winning designs from participating European countries. The spare imagery in flag-bright colors tells multiple stories: of hardened hope in the wake of World War II devastation, of renewed faith in industry and of an almost pragmatic faith in diplomacy and peace, which appear not as far-fetch ideals but necessary solutions. An enormous key drawn in hard lines bears an edge painted in interconnected global flags; barbed wire is cut by similarly globe-regaled shears. Smoke stacks and brick patterns appear as decorative motifs, as elegantly portentous as branches of budding white flowers or firmly clasped, interlocking hands. The collection, on loan from Joe and Vicki Stone of Foristell, Missouri, is a small gem of a certain kind of design, informed as much by the spare aesthetics of the era as the imagery determined by momentous history. Whatever vestige of propaganda is displayed here, it seems not only warranted but far beyond the superficial flourishes, shallow styles and commodity-driven intentions of our current saturation in the glossily virtual and the ideologically anchor-less. Also showing: Regarding Place is a group exhibition of area art juried by Jana Harper, which includes work in a wide range of media that explores the notion of place. Highlights include pencil drawings of daily receipts by Joseph Lupo, charcoal and ink drawings by Mary Lamboly, paintings of domestic interiors by John Sarra, light drawings (photographs) by John Early, and a video of passing traffic, distilled to a wash of colored lights, by Felicia Chen. Through August 20 at the St. Louis Artists' Guild and Galleries, 2 Oak Knoll Park, Clayton; 314-727-6266 or www.stlouisartistsguild.org. Hours: noon-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy Carefully extracted from their otherwise permanent context in the base of the elaborate tomb of the medieval French duke John the Fearless, these 40 alabaster sculptures exude a presence and formidable craft beyond their two-foot scale. Portrayed in a kind of perpetual procession, led by a choirboy, several deacons and a bishop, the series of heavily cloaked monks appear in various states of ritualistic or personal mourning — consulting small, opened scriptural tomes or entirely enshrouded in ceremonial dress. The pieces are modest and elegant but sculpted to such an articulate degree that they withstand being taken each on their own silent terms. And yet the oppressive apparatus of this traveling exhibition, which reiterates at every opportunity the pieces' power and skill in portraying grief, so far overstates the work's merit that one almost feels compelled to deny them it. Shown in tandem with the contemporary (2008) video installation, Visitation, by Bill Viola, the effect feels even more bombastic. In the video, two older women lead one another into and out of a deluge of water and then into the grainy ether of the far distance. It's a haunting and ethereal piece that, nonetheless, feels overly literal when coupled with the equally direct symbolism of the tomb sculptures. Through September 6 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 orwww.sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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