St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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, in which it means "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 Banff, Alberta; 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.

Uncommon Objects/Personal Views: The Collections of Rick Ege and John Foster Canvas carnival "punks"; a galvanized steel bucket riddled with rusty nails; a massive cross crafted in sharp-faceted bits of scrap metal; a miniature steam boat scrupulously assembled from old linoleum tiles, painted wood pieces and swaths of window screen: This exhibit of folk art and anonymously crafted or found oddities is a study in looking closely at the world, with an eye for incidental splendor. The two local collectors featured — Rick Ege, a noted antiques dealer, and John Foster, a graphic designer at TOKY — have together amassed a peculiar museum of regional wonders, from geodes that resemble intricately weathered marble busts to assorted hands, roughly wrought in steel or elegantly detached from turn-of-the-century haberdasher's models. A painting of Hell's layered firmaments by Howard Finster and a stacked assemblage of yellowed napkins detailing plane crashes by savant George Widener, among other pieces of notable American outsider art, suggest alliances between meticulous, if unwitting, aesthetic brilliance and what might otherwise be overlooked as bizarre detritus. But detritus this is not: The objects here are not merely uncommon. Their wondrous beauty equals or exceeds that of more deliberate, schooled and cerebrated "art." A rare gem of an exhibition, beseeching you to behave like the artists exhibited: lean in, get lost in details and overlook nothing. Through January 8, 2011, 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.

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