St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Ongoing
Brutal Truths Printmaker Tom Huck plumbs the dark night of America's soul via his back-roads hometown of Potosi. Filtered through Huck's pitiless gaze, pregnant strippers hustle, marauding hillbillies heedlessly brutalize, elderly couples curl contentedly into bed with the bones of several generations of pet dogs and spiritual and moral bankruptcy resound as the implied favorite T-shirt slogan. This survey of 40-odd prints from the virtuosic woodcutter's major series remind us how low our friends and neighbors can go. And how persistent Huck's skills are: Nobody does vomit, cows' brains, monstrous lawn ornaments and the grotesqueries of the unbridled democratic appetite better. Through April 17 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.slu.edu/x16374.xml. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Ghost: Elizabeth Peyton Like one of her closest forebears, Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Peyton made a name for herself as a noted barometer of ultra-contemporary culture painting diaphanous, unapologetically sentimental portraits of (in her case) '90s-era pop figures, from artists to musicians to gallerists and friends. Now Peyton serves as a marker of how rapidly trends age and of the unforeseeable patina they acquire in the process. In this first museum survey of the artist's print-based work, Ghost casts Peyton in a slightly new light as an inheritor of the deeply historical tradition of portraiture. While depictions of Eminem and Julian Casablancas, to name two, locate the work in the timeline of hype, those of Robert Mapplethorpe and Georgia O'Keefe widen and deepen the range of Peyton's amorous gaze. The technique of printmaking seems to complement her craft, drawing out the delicacy of her brushwork while, thanks to the medium's inherent reproductive element, underscoring the more conceptual aspect of her practice as a meditation on fame. Mass-produced icons can be intimately reclaimed alongside personal heroes and dear friends. This may not be entirely new "news," but in the sky-blue galleries it inhabits, Peyton's work appears dreamily revelatory, a timeless reflection on the past and the ghostlike traces culture leaves upon us. Through April 18 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & 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.).

Grab grassy this moment your I's It is difficult to create a sense of cohesive inevitability from a music stand, fluorescent light, electrical cord and a metal can and to make these materials convey sculptural and painterly sophistication. But such are the materials and their miraculous, galvanizing effect in artist Jessica Stockholder's pioneering craft, once again made startlingly apparent in this exhibit of recent work. Presaging the contemporary "unmonumental" aesthetic of repurposing disparate consumer materials to poetic ends, Stockholder has been mining this space between conceptual and traditional practices since the onset of her career, finding her forebears in Rauschenberg, Picasso and Judd. Each assemblage here creates a giddy, self-sufficient landscape complete with its own lighting scheme, its parameters dictated by the familiar living-room logic of a rug. While the elements included are discrete and stark (an orange extension cord that powers a neon light fixture dangles down and snakes into a wall socket), they combine to create an intractable whole at once sculptural and painterly in which a raw stroke of paint will move from the rug to an end table to the bulb of a lamp. It's a maniacally determined world of high-end formalism colliding with blue-light specials that, amid its cacophony of plastic, neon hues and shag, manages to communicate a clear, intuitive utterance not unlike the Dylan Thomas-like directive of the exhibition's title. Through May 29 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278 or www.laumeier.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun. (outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

Featured Review: Poems by Bobby Thiel In this elegant suite of collaborative works on paper by local artists Gina Alvarez and Jana Harper, a too-often-lost sense of innocent wonderment is harnessed and safe-kept in line, color and texture. Inspired by a child's notebook made in the 1940s by one of Alvarez's distant relatives, the artists used the titles of Thiel's poems to generate new imagery, combining their own photographs with found images, along with shapes and hues drawn from Japanese prints and Indian miniatures. Beginning with digital prints, they applied printmaking techniques and handwork to each unique piece, drawing, stitching and collaging elements into to the imagery. An aerial image of plotted land, as one would see from an airplane window, is punctuated by inset rhinestones, washing those squares of fields in emerald and yellow. The blurred impression of a figure behind a shower curtain turns spectral, with the dappled mist punched through with multicolored dots. A rain cloud hovering over a cityscape swirls with minute circular gestures, emitting a dotted-line rainfall, as a child would render it. Memory, here, is embodied in the impressionistic mark, amassing a gestural journal of days defined by changes of light, shifts in weather and all-but-ephemeral glimpses of the modestly sublime. Through June 4 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.

Richard Aldrich and the 19th Century French Painting The uniform 84-by-58-inch white-primed canvases that compose New York-based painter Richard Aldrich's exhibition appear, in their close-hung repetition, like pages in a notebook. Upon each page paper clippings, splints of wood or the erratic trace of a brush's single gesture are collected, producing the effect of a most intimate journal, perhaps written by a cloud. The gestural focus is underscored by what is presented as Aldrich's historical forebears, a select four paintings, drawn from the Saint Louis Art Museum's collection, by French intimist painters Vuillard and Bonnard (with one Irishman's self-portrait added, for discontinuity's sake). These nineteenth-century footnotes, describing in obsessional detail daily artifacts such as fruit, the domestic space and the more immemorial varieties of light, place Aldrich's contemporary fixations (Syd Barrett, slide film, BAM Cinema ticket stubs) firmly in an elegant tradition. Granted, these "newer" artifacts are throwbacks in themselves, suggesting a more complex relationship to the daily in which the present, and our most banal and intimate moments, are no longer a safe source for nonderivative authenticity but yet another space to compose the myth of oneself. Our masterpiece is, indeed, the private life. Through May 1 at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.camstl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 on Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Ryan Thayer: Timemachines In this exhibit of photograms, local artist Ryan Thayer suggests that temporal distinctions of the past, present and future collapse in the tiny frames of portable devices with LCD screens. When you're holding an archival image in the palm of your hand as it's displayed on, say, an iPod, the future is essentially now. Thayer exposes cell phones, laptops, iPads, all those gadgets that have come to define how we now experience daily life to traditional photo processing, rendering something akin to an x-ray trace. These ghostly archeological imprints of planned obsolescence, in their characteristic black-and-white severity, simultaneously recall turn-of-the-century avant-garde techniques and ultra-contemporary technology making something wistful and timeless out of tomorrow's recyclables. Through March 25 at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Thea Djordjadze & George Maciunas For this Front Room exhibition, co-curators Mel Trad and Mari Dumett couple George Maciunas, one of the founders of the mid-century art movement Fluxus, with Berlin-based contemporary artist Thea Djordjadze. Maciunas, who was primarily a graphic designer, is represented via artifacts posters and postage stamps, business cards and brief, atmospheric films tracing the lineage of a conceptual medium that blithely elided any false promise of providing logical meaning. Djordjadze, who constructed her piece during a brief residency in St. Louis, takes her title, His Vanity Requires No Response, from T.S. Eliot, a dual homage to the birthplace of the poet and to the poetic in general. Gathering salvaged fragments swaths of carpet, a bent screen, a terra-cotta shard she arranges the discarded materials on the floor to form an assemblage that draws attention to the simple consequences of overlapping, proximity and the movement of the hand. Above the piece hangs a series of printed instructions Maciunas designed for installations by fellow Fluxus pioneer George Brecht. A kind of dialogue, like that between gravity and rain, emerges and proliferates here, yet manages never to conclude in a tidy summary rendering this exhibit an elegant testimony to the durable tradition of visual mystery. Through March 20 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.camstl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

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