St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Roger Ackling Using rescued pieces of driftwood collected during ocean-side walks, British artist Ackling crafts intimate minimalist sculptures whose presence far exceeds their small scale. Softly weathered but sharp in form, the pyramidal, cubic and rectangular wood pieces are etched with meticulous burnt striations, created by training the sun's rays through a magnifying glass. These lines, which cover the diminutive items' full surface area, move steadily over and between the occasional bent and rusted nail. The work speaks as much in its finished form as it does of its means of arriving there: distilling a habitual communion with nature — from ritual walks to the studied harnessing of the sun — the small sculptures are products of the elements as much as they are of the artist's hand. Jewel-like, the ten pieces appear as relics to moments perhaps otherwise quantified as trivial, when nothing was uttered and no greater action occurred than the lapping of waves and the clearance of a cloud layer. Through January 22, 2011, at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-575-2648 or www.schmidtcontemporaryart.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. and by appointment.

Mario Trejo Presenting the trials and errors of a self-imposed quest to execute "at least one million hand-drawn and counted idiosyncratic circles" with pen on enameled panel, local artist Trejo distills this supreme act of enervation into a series of paintings recalling the placid semblance of the night sky. The rendering of the circles varies from piece to piece, per the "idiosyncratic" dictate: Some works appear like a glossy expanse of solid black, while others depict the drawn equivalent of a tangle of gray and black rubber bands. As the artist's statement admits, this is not work with Zen-like ambitions; rather, a calculator was in one hand, noting marks, while the other was at work drawing circles. What seems to be the more likely "moral" of this elected Sisyphean task has something to do with art's love of novelty and heroic expertise: How does one acquire the miracle of creative genius? Given a question that large, an attempt to approximate the cosmos seems as good a place to start as any. Through January 7, 2011, at Metropolitan Gallery, 2936 Locust Street; 314-535-6500 or www.thenu-artseries.org. Hours: 11 a.m.-5p.m. Wed.-Fri., Saturday by appointment.

Ongoing
Ab/Fig Curated by erstwhile Chicago gallerist Wendy Cooper, this group show focuses on work that deliberately straddles abstraction and figuration. With its signature blurring of an otherwise straightforward female nude, a piece by Gerhart Richter feels like the point of origin for this approach. A cursory glance at a print by Ellen Gallagher appears to explore geometric abstraction, while close inspection reveals a pale overall patterning of full, line-drawn lips, her definitive and racially charged motif. Three water colors by painter Barnaby Furnas feature figures shattered by war wounds or excess smoking; the vamping blonde in Girlfriend 1 and Girlfriend 2 has her vanity dismantled by her bad habit, while the stoic soldier in Bits and Pieces is shattered into blood-colored shards. A series of oil paintings by Katherine Bradford depicts swimmers in various states of wavering submergence, their bobbing heads barely discernible beneath thick passes of paint. Whether this show is yet another response to Clement Greenberg's now half-century-old dictates about the supremacy of abstraction (as the title's play on Ab/Ex suggests), it seems certainly to attest to the argument's persistence. Figuration is alive and well, and apparently living in blithe harmony with its non-objective antagonists, producing a new brand of perfectly acceptable if not altogether traditional contemporary art. Through January 15, 2011, at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 or www.shearburngallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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.)

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