St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based artist Elad Lassry repurposes our collective sense of stock photography to bizarre and uncanny effect, creating still lifes and portraits that straddle popular advertising and surreal conceptualism. With their intimate, domestic scale, the pieces inhabit a snapshot realm even as they swerve away from the familiar. A series of open, pink lipsticks set on small green pedestals are presented against a green background within a green-painted frame. A well-groomed young man with a large white smile appears poised for product placement, but the image is double-exposed, giving him four eyes. The works appear simultaneously static and shaken — or on the verge of some subtle movement — an effect Lassry explores further in a series of sixteen-millimeter films. Also showing —Richard Artschwager: Hair A former furniture maker, Artschwager has employed rubberized horsehair of the type used in upholstery to create works that exist in a realm of inconclusiveness like that of Lassry's photos, where hard lines of exclamation points, thrones, tables and figural silhouettes blur in the frayed surface of their hirsute material. These pieces, made over the past three decades and rarely exhibited, expose a new dimension of this elusive artist's large and varied canon: an effort to soften the cerebral nature of the principal mid-century art movements. Through January 2, 2011, at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Featured Review: Tiny Content "Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It's very tiny — very tiny, content," said Willem de Kooning. Taking its title from the epigraph to Susan Sontag's pivotal essay "Against Interpretation," this small group show, sensitively curated by Bevin Early, explores art's capacity for earnestness and failure. And an essay it is, in the English sense of the word — a small exegesis on a subject — and the French, meaning "an attempt." Recent Washington University M.F.A. graduates John Early and Dan Solberg contribute works that mine the aesthetics of inconclusiveness. Early's Swivel Swing invites viewers to sit, take a pencil and draw a parenthetical arc around themselves on the gallery wall, describing their arms' reach. Solberg displays a series of failed faxes from a colleague, who was attempting to send him the text of a lecture by Michel Foucault. Half-eaten by digital noise, the pages are an apt analogue to the heading from beneath which they were extracted: poststructuralism. Peter Pranschke displays a suite of delicate sculptures wrought in used erasers, meticulously wadded dental floss, cut-up notebooks and the detritus of other "ordinary materials" used to correct or improve upon aspects of daily human well-being. The small pieces are meaningfully laid out on a shiny white tabletop that resembles the blank expanse of a dry-erase board, suggesting a quixotic diagram or an abstract solution to an abstract problem. Mike Schuh inhabits a small alcove of the gallery with pieces of linoleum tile torn out of his studio in Chicago; the rough-edged and worn-out squares reaffirm the artist's absence and the objects' displaced use. Taken as a whole, the collection of spare artworks seems to function as a mumbling chorus of stripped-down materials, most of them commonplace, estranged from their typical purpose and made elegant by their simplicity. Through December 5 at Snowflake, 3156 Cherokee Street or www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Ongoing
Alex Gene Morrison: Black Economy Two small oil paintings by London-based painter Alex Gene Morrison have found a singular venue for intimate scrutiny: a seven-by-seven-by-nine-foot white box in the home of curators Dana Turkovic and Daniel McGrath. In the dining room, to be exact. The experience of the space — a homemade and radically compressed version of a contemporary gallery — is as much of a focal point of the exhibit as the works themselves. An apt analogue for the reductive abstraction depicted in the paintings, the act of considering work in this space is an extreme distillation of what it means to closely observe art: One becomes all too aware of that expectant act of awaiting some kind of revelation or impact. In Alignment a dark pyramidal form rises from the edge of the picture plane, above which a skyline of thick orange paint hangs like a post-nuclear sun; in Slab a brown rectangular hunk sits reticently in shallow space. The two works are, respectively, the ur-forms of the landscape and the still life; protracted inspection reveals their tactile execution — varying brush widths, gradations of gloss, thickness of paint application. The imagery becomes surreal and portentously symbolic, nearing occult signification (a refined version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album cover; a psychedelic Chardin?). But maybe that's too much observation. Whatever the reality, viewing Black Economy in the "gallery kit" succeeds in applauding visual sophistication and, just as succinctly, indicting it. Through November 9 at Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, 5723 Dewey Avenue; 314-660-6295 or www.gallerykit.blogspot.com. Hours: by appointment.

Exposure 13 Concise and spare, this year's annual exhibition of notable local talent focuses on the work of Martin Brief, Joe Chesla and Asma Kazmi. Brief's pencil drawings trace the bare outlines of the entries on dictionary pages revealing empty shapes reminiscent of bar graphs or, perhaps floor plans. Joe Chesla's installation involves a gridwork of small plastic bags filled with water and affixed to a massive, transparent plastic sheet; the sheet is bound at its lower corners with rope, which peels the piece partially from the wall and toward the ceiling, revealing an underlayer of watery light. Asma Kazmi crafted several dozen clay pinch pots — or kashkol, hand-formed ceramic begging bowls — that rest on an unfinished pine table like a collection of autumn leaves or discarded half-shells. Taken together, the three artists amplify one another's interest in absence, resulting in a suite of frames for words, substances or currency that isn't there. Through December 4 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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