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 terracotta 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 its 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 or www.thesheldon.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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 Bill Viola's contemporary (2008) video installation Visitation, 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.)

Recent Acquisitions I The first in a series of shows featuring art recently acquired through benefactors of the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, this exhibit focuses on prints, collages and other works on paper. Alex Katz's Olympic Swimmer from 1976; Flash Back 3, a 1981 abstract lithograph in neon and metallic inks by John Chamberlain; Donald Sultan's Orange Flowers; and Evan's Twins, a 1982 lithograph by Alice Neel — all appear startlingly fresh in their flat planes of color, contemporary palette and angular formalism. While they mark classic points in the 20th-century canon, these works could also be examples of the most immediate currents in artmaking. Other notable moments include an untitled watercolor by Herta Muller, whose tenuous marks and saturated diffusions have the presence of a sensate tangle of cut threads. A room of small collages from 1978 by Erro, an Icelandic artist, feels similarly intimate and trenchant beyond its scale — where minute cut-outs of militaristic formations, dictatorial gestures, political propaganda and glimpses of modern industry combine to embody something at once intimate and historic. Also showing — Urban Wanderers, a benefit exhibition of art celebrating the lost and reclaimed animal companions of St. Louis' Stray Rescue (through August 29). Through September 26 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.slu.edu/x16374.xml. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

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.

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