St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

St. Louis Art Capsules
 Newly Reviewed
Overpaper This selection of works on paper features both local and national artists, including Carmon Colangelo, Jill Downen, Ann Hamilton, Judy Pfaff and Buzz Spector. Hamilton's Carriage is a handcrafted version of the pleated seventeenth-century collar known as a ruff; in this version the frills are the product of fanned-out paperback pages, which have been diced into thin strands and rebound at the neckline. Knowledge, it's suggested, is an awkward freight, or a conspicuously outdated adornment. Jill Downen has translated her white-on-white plaster installations into elegant two-dimensional forms, where bright white paper subtly ripples with an undulating (and fleshlike) surface texture of white gypsum. Judy Pfaff's piece is "paper art" at its most opulent extreme: In a large wall-mounted shadow-box, silk flowers, paper boats, scraps of newspaper and other seeming detritus cluster to assemble a kind of faux terrarium, where the most unnatural elements play the role of nature at its most wild. Also showing: Leslie Laskey's Portraits: Artists and Friends, which reimagines the gallery's entry space as a lamp-lit reading room, in which drawn and painted portraits of the artist's favored forebears hang in gilt frames or lean in piled decorative arrangements. The effect is unapologetically nostalgic and, as such, charming — endorsing full throttle the romantic myth of the golden age of avant-garde "genius," from Picasso to Giacometti to Stein. Through January 15, 2011, at the 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. on the first Sun. of every month and by appointment.

Featured Review: Remembering Teddy An intimate reflection on an important friendship, this collection of photographs, needlepoint, cards and assorted other artifacts fondly exchanged and saved between two people is not merely a homage to Carla "Teddy" Trova, who died in 2008, but to the creative dimension of gift-giving. Assembled by local gallerist Jim Schmidt, the work included pays tribute to the wife of the late artist Ernest Trova, whom Schmidt befriended in the late 1960s, when he was employed as the sculptor's assistant. Teddy (as she was known as) taught Schmidt the art of needlepoint, along with, it seems, the other arts of living — cooking, greeting-card making and unconditional encouragement. What emerges is a portrait of two previously unsung talents: Teddy, it is clear, was a gifted collagist, deploying film stock from her casual practice as a photographer as a core material; and Schmidt reveals himself to be an inspired needlepoint maker whose work is both abstract and illustrative (enlarging panels of Buster Brown comics, which he collected). One of the most moving elements of the exhibit is a room dedicated to Schmidt's black-and-white photographs, which he developed, affixed to matte board and assembled in a box as a gift for Teddy. The imagery is largely composed of portraits of his former high school students (Schmidt, a native East St. Louisan, was an English teacher there for five years) and is accompanied by song lyrics by Bob Dylan, Jim Croce and other '60s-era singer-songwriters. The radiance of these portraits is almost shocking — the young people shine with a modest joy for life that can only be captured unself-consciously, by a friend or peer. Their fundamental artlessness encapsulates the tenor of this unique and moving exhibition of all that is impossible to commodify. Through January 8, 2011, at PSTL Gallery, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Ongoing
A Day Like Any Other This mid-career survey by 42-year-old Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander features a suite of works that function like trenchantly clever pop refrains. The media are wildly diverse — installations, video, drawing, painting — but the constant is a core engine of simple play. In Rain Rains, silver buckets filled with water hang from the ceiling, dripping into buckets placed below. Holes punched from the text of 1001 Arabian Nights are scattered on black pages of paper, creating constellations made to mark every day of the exhibition. A soap bubble is filmed as it eludes bare light bulbs, hallway corners and kitchen cabinets in an empty urban apartment, in a poetical homage to Roman Polanski's paranoiac 1976 film The Tenant. Viewers are invited to make an appointment with a police sketch artist to whom they can describe their first love and have that love rendered, in a piece after Samuel Beckett's early novella First Love. And in Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts), the twisted tin labels and paper straw wrappers wadded in the hands of nervous bar goers are displayed in white vitrines. Time, perception and the bare inevitability of gravity, weather and idle hands are the operable mechanics, here, creating an elegantly blithe portrait of the weighty elements that encumber us. Through January 10, 2011, at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

Ahmet Ogut: Underestimated Zones Amsterdam-based Turkish artist Ahmet Ogut stages a number of interventions that blend political activism with Buster Keaton-esque slapstick, highlighting the too-fine distinction between absurdity and moral efficacy. In one series of photographs, the artist has hung a sign, guerrilla-style, in undisclosed but distinctly urban St. Louis locations. The sign reads: "Under 23 Hour Surveillance," the Orwellian aura of ubiquitous intrusion undermined by the potential for a random hour of unsupervised chaos. Elsewhere, a dual slide projection transforms two unsuspecting commuter cars into a taxi and a police vehicle, via awkward paper appliqués the artist affixes surreptitiously. In spliced-together videos, Ogut reconfigures a sign that says "Amsterdam" so that it reads "Dreams," "Desert" and "Damned"; human figures slither through the life-size letters in a manner that suggests animals, or pestilence. And in a notable real-time infiltration, Ogut has paved one of Laumeier's galleries in fresh asphalt. The resurfaced space is as succinct in effect as it is multivalent: appearing like an urban spoof of Walter De Maria's "Earth Rooms," the black granulated material glimmers like spilled precious stones and exudes a distinctly pungent scent that, to the modern senses, is as redolent as seasonal flowers. Also showing: Things We Count, a short dream-like film that pans through a boneyard of defunct WWII aircraft in the Arizona desert: The abandoned fighter planes look harrowingly gorgeous, like a collection of ominous antiques. Through January 9, 2011, at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278 or www.laumeier .org. Fall-winter hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset.)

Ann Hamilton
Ann Hamilton

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.

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.

James Rosen: The Artist and the Capable Observer With pieces selected from the artist's six-decade career, this exhibition of oil paintings and ink-on-paper sketches is a double homage: to the art-historical references Rosen draws from, and to the rarefied art of the figure. Focusing on liturgical masterworks of the Italian and Northern Renaissance (altarpieces by Giotto, Grunewald and Duccio, among others), Rosen paints diaphanous canvases that re-present the original compositions — literally — through the gauzy lens of memory. Rosen's modus operandi is a distinct one: He layers each canvas in nearly 60 "veils" of oil paint and wax, in successively less intense gradations of pigment, resulting in a ghostlike image of almost watery depth, where the more extreme hues surface and hint at the otherwise submerged imagery. The result is a work that straddles abstraction and realism: Given patient scrutiny, the nearly opaque gray surface reticently conveys a fully realized figural work. Several collections of works on paper accompany the paintings, illustrating Rosen's dedication to drawing as a means of homing in on his subjects. In their linear delicacy, these small studies may equal the impact of the completed works; here the dynamic of the paintings is reversed, as Rosen reveals himself to be a near supplicant to the faces, bodies, landscapes and shadowy details of the things he trains his eyes on. Through December 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 or http://mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Smarter/Faster/Higher A clutch of wire-woven human forms crawl, run and gaze at their own images displayed on video screens in Elizabeth Keithline's site-specific installation. Wire-formed trees sprout from the hexagonal white tiles that carpet the areas on which the figural armatures pose. It's a skeletal world of reductive shapes and symbolic forms, suggesting a kind of Darwinian attrition from wildlife and infancy to the technocratic and ostensibly "adult." In this case maturity equals self-reflection, which is either an act of heightened consciousness or narcissism. Either way, whatever these characters discern in themselves must be yet one more reduction of humanity, like the hollow and de-gendered objects they are, despite their finely knotted nuance. Which is to say that this is one direly cynical diorama, lovingly handcrafted. Through January 16, 2011, at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

stylus Ann Hamilton's poetic and site-specific installation addresses the history and scope of modes of communication. Upon entering one is invited to choose a record drawn from the St. Louis Public Library that plays in concert with the otherworldy soundtrack (composed by Shahrokh Yadegari) that otherwise consumes the installation. Mumblings of words, some of them discernible, echo through the wide gallery corridors, many of them recited by Hamilton (a printed transcription is available) and integrating words from William James' Varieties of Religious Experience and phrases from contemporary news RSS feeds. The liturgical and the political (or the spiritual and the pragmatic) could be described as the conscience of this exhibition, which envelops you with sound, implicates you with participatory choices and confronts you with engrossing but temporal imagery. In short, Hamilton has created a kind of weather, one whose stormy ruptures and angelic calms are both within viewers' reach to affect, and, simultaneously, to be subjected to. A table covered in jumping beans resides in what becomes the Pulitzer's choir loft, the sound of the beans amplified by microphones that hover above them. Their wordless chatter feels as elemental as the soaring crescendos of a classical soprano voice, which occasionally intervenes in the soundscape. As the signal and noise of today's news streams past, verbally and in visual projection, the viewer is moved to reflect on all that can't be said. Through January 22, 2011, at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

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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