St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Larry Fink: Attraction and Desire — 50 Years in Photography This generous survey of the notable Brooklyn-born artist reaffirms the durable pleasures of black-and-white figural photography. A nimble chronicler of society's more extreme coteries, Fink moved among New York beatniks, Vegas gamblers, mid-century jazz musicians, the young Mike Tyson and other boxing strivers, rural Pennsylvanians and the lacquered elite of fashion, art and Hollywood. His preference for Caravaggio-esque high contrast dramatizes what is essentially an obsession with fugitive detail: the long, alabaster, manicured hands of a man clutching the back of a black-dressed blonde; a silver radiator in an angled swath of daylight; the heavy-lidded eyes of a lone woman in a crowd at the Cedar Bar; drops of rain on the black sedan bearing Coretta Scott King to the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. It would be easy to marvel at the fabled personalities and events chronicled here, but Fink's most anonymous subjects serve as the firmest testament to his peculiar eye — a complex gaze that is at once empathetic, excoriating and salacious. Intimate and disarmingly wearied self-portraits of himself, his wife, his child and dogs reframe a narrative that might otherwise tip completely into an obsession with cultural novelty. In the end, the show functions much like that other beleaguered medium — the novel — telling stories about living, loving and other less conclusive failures. Through August 20 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.

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.

Return of the Outlaw (Printmakers) The beast is back, though with less roar and more, well, skilled craftsmanship. This group exhibit featuring printed work by Phyllis Bramson, Art Chantry, Don Colley, Bill Fick, Peregrine Honig, Tom Huck, John Jacobsmeyer, Michael Krueger, Tom Reed and Frank Stack rekindles a relationship with Philip Slein Gallery formed early in the space's history, with a few updates. A curious highlight: new member Jacobsmeyer's small, peephole-like etchings of pop characters (Star Trek's Mr. Spock; the robot from Metropolis), who spell out a line from James Dickey's poem "The Sheep Child" in sign language. Another striking change is the lack of palpable anarchism. Instead, the work looks lush, meticulous and collectively beautiful (perhaps in spite of itself). Bramson's diptych illustrating a dark, tilting world of glitter-frosted Christmas trees has all the charm of a vintage snow globe; and Stack's snapshot-like etchings of anonymous spots in Columbia, Missouri, recall Edward Hopper at his most starkly existential. In the back room, Tom Reed has crafted a mock mine shaft of a mini-exhibit wherein his jewel-like work resides, drawing you into its world of tree-stump interiors, miniature waterfalls below which sunken cabins pool and wood-bound journals full of pencil-sketched trees. Through April 30 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 or www.philipsleingallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-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 19th-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.

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