St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Crossing Paths A swarm of yellow-bellied finches pursues two gray foxes; a hippo is strangled by a python; a herd of deer is beset by predatory orangutans; a flock of black falcons pluck up a pack of warthogs. Brian Depauli executes this suite of large-scale landscape paintings, in which unlikely animal pairings confront one another on an otherwise placid field, with the kind of awkward expertise borne of prolonged intimacy with one's subject. Minute blades of grass and tufts of coarse fur articulate a world that's implausible without being a caricature, and oddly naturalistic without being anthropological. Nor is there any sustained sense of allegory for these strange spates of aggression, though the blue sky and hazy horizon line — steadfastly consistent from scene to scene — suggest that the subjects are secondary to more portentous weather. Coupled with Depauli's paintings is a series of small collages by Bevin Early. Tiny pedestrians, fastidiously cut from '60s and '70s-era National Geographic magazines, appear in mute isolation on single cubes of wood. Cubes dot the wall in a line, staggered like poetic stanzas; some bear images, others are blank. At the end of the line, in a corner alcove, the figures give way to cutouts of dappled light, producing an effect not unlike turning a corner and being struck by blinding sun. Like Depauli's vanishing distances, these works seem to murmur something about an alternative realm where more elemental states of being hold dominion, waxing far larger than their common lot as dismissible minutiae. Also showing — Nicole Stevens: Swelter, an installation in which a block of burnt candy melts on a plinth, keeping pace with the radical summer heat and perspiring passersby. Through October 2 at Snowflake/City Stock, 3156 Cherokee Street; www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.

RBMBKESHKM Design's ubiquity has never been more felt than in this commercially saturated age, wherein the most successful big-box stores (Target) flatter our taste for aesthetics while complimenting our sense of thrift. This front room exhibit curated by artist and designer Bruce Burton has all the charm of a niche boutique. Eponymously titled with the initials of the five participating designers (Roy Brooks, Mikey Burton, Kelly English, Sybille Hagmann and Kindra Murphy), it surveys the work of Middle American firms whose projects range from the client-driven to the personally artful. Exhibition books (of Jasper John's Grey Paintings, for instance), pamphlets (for MFA programs), and posters (for the band Wilco, among others) paper the room in artful density. Sheets displaying typographical proposals have the same smooth and cogent appeal as proposals for new book covers for classic novels. It's a decidedly good-looking world of things that reek of the covetously commodifiable, which is the persistent conundrum of the art of design: It appeals to a semiotic system as complicated and formidable as the alphabet at the same moment that it plays directly to our basest receptors for superficiality. Posters for all of this summer's Front Room exhibits — designed by this show's participants — are available free as takeaways. Through August 29 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Recession Rejuvenations This quintessential summer show, displaying salable selections from the gallery's holdings while frankly forgoing non-mercantile ambitions, nonetheless manages to present an interesting inventory of small works. A wet tangle of a Brice Marden-esque abstract painting by Kelley Johnson appears unaffected and fresh. Sandra Marchewa's watery resin piece is like an illustration for a macabre, not-for-children children's book, in which a girl in a floral print dress and blond braids smiles manically as she gathers chickens' severed legs. A Tatlin tower-like piece by Gary Passanise, made from cut-up chopsticks and sawed-down rulers, is a convincing throwback to Modernist constructions and oddly compelling in itself. Two miniature carnivalesque structures by Christina Shmigel suggest a larger world of similar relics, or a kind of mini-museum in which such pieces would be collected. Through August 28 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m.

Screwed Again This massive, collaborative wall mural — executed in black, white and gray by a lengthy list of local graffiti/street-inspired artists (Christopher Burch, Daniel Burnett, Stan Chisholm, Daniel Jefferson, Kris Mosby, Chris Sabatino, Jason Spencer, Justin Tolentino and Bryan Walsh) — is an unlikely homage to the power of restraint. The work was created on panels of plywood that tile the gallery and obscure its permanently installed stained glass. A bizarre entanglement of a mournful, urban vignettes appears to be eulogized: headstones crop up amid a menacing parade of white-hooded figures; Cheshire smiles float between stenciled dollar signs; cutout drawings of singed paper airplanes fly above mailboxes, bones and tears. A malicious-looking worm burrows its way through the piled, graphic debris. The message relayed is one of pessimistic resignation: "Too late to make history"; "Impending Doom"; and "Kiss the Weeds, the Flowers May Never Return." Bottles are plentiful, suggesting that deranging consumption, in this climate, is advised. But this is no place to look for wisdom. The best point made seems to be about working together — wherein subduing and subsuming distinct identities and approaches clearly benefits a shared whole. Through October 3 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811 or www.art-stl.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Ongoing
Brandon Anschultz: Stick Around for Joy Compulsive exercises in the deconstruction of painting yield new forms of painterly pleasure in this year's Kranzberg exhibition, which features St. Louis-based painter, sculptor and printmaker Brandon Anschultz. Canvas is removed from the stretcher frame and wrapped into amorphous, folded sculptures; wall-hung canvases are flipped, revealing seeped-through imprints of paint; canvas is forgone altogether and replaced with fiberboard or plaster as the painting substrate, which then occasionally takes a sculptural shape; canvas is chewed into or severed in half by saw cuts. In the supreme act of creative desperation, piles of paintings on wood appear in a life-size bag after having been fed through a wood chipper. In challenging every method for taking apart and re-inventing the traditional parameters of painting, Anschultz illustrates both a capricious compendium of the medium's history and the peculiar plight of the artist at odds with his own expertise. An intense desire to unearth something both fundamental and fresh seems to lie at the heart of this exhibition. Whether that desire is fulfilled is not entirely the issue; rather, the rigorous and playful spirit that pervades the exhibit is its most rare discovery — and one made solely on the work's own terms. Through September 26 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 or www.laumeier.com. 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).
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