St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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artist's six-decade career, this exhibition of oil paintings and ink-on-paper sketches is a double homage: to the art-historical references Rosen draws from, and to the rarefied art of the figure.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.

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.

Tiny Content 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. 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, cut-up notebooks and the detritus of other "ordinary materials" used to correct or improve upon aspects of daily human well-being. The 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. 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.

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