St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

 Newly Reviewed
Featured Review: Honor Awards 2011 Curated by Marilu Knode, director of Laumeier Sculpture Park, this group exhibition features work by Art St. Louis' ten Award of Excellence recipients from the 2010 season. Rob Millard-Mendez of Evansville, Indiana, displays eclectic assemblages of carved wood, shaped steel and assorted found objects that take the form of dreamlike miniatures of oared ships or networks of stairs and doorways. The work of Khara Koffel of Jacksonville, Illinois, re-envisions common items to imbue them with personal and conceptual worth: 10,000 rose petals handmade from playing cards; Xanax tablets crafted from the artist's to-do lists; a blueprint of the artist's childhood home done in crushed cinnamon. Two series of black-and-white photographs — by Mark A. Fisher of St. Charles and Christine Giancola of Florissant — capture two versions of quintessential Americana: for Fischer, local, rural follies such as a Christian car wash in Sedalia; for Giancola, the streets of New York City, Harlem and the financial district. A significant highlight: the quilts by Sun Smith-Foret of Elsah, Illinois. In large, intricate tapestries, the artist dissects and mythologizes pop-culture touchstones from Oprah Winfrey to the Magnificent 7; the swaths of cloth form a hybrid of affect that's at once abstract, homespun and star-struck. Through May 19 at Art Saint Louis, 555 Washington Avenue, Suite 150; 314-241-4810 or Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon. and Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri.

Jane Birdsall-Lander: The Poetry of Objects This new body of work by St. Louis-based artist, writer and educator continues her inquiry into language's pictographic roots and its relationship to physical form. The undulating wall sculptures that predominantly comprise the show are works of expert craft: Wooden canes, truncated and affixed to other cane parts, form branch-, eye-, or wishbone-like shapes. Where the parts conjoin, they're bound with colored, waxed linen thread wrapped in taut circles. A piece resembling a wavering ladder ends in outstretched wooden hands; another spine-like form spouts fronds made of viola and cello pegs. The objects bear a vague resemblance to primitive instruments or tools, yet all have the linear quality of a handwritten mark, which draws them back to their point of origin: the alphabet. In one large-scale work, a grid of 26 square paintings serves as an index for the exhibit: Each piece represents a letter of the alphabet, its form revealed amid a swarm of other marks that represent the character's historical forebears. Broken down to their constituent parts, the marks begin to resonate with the core forms of the wall sculptures. The work itself appears to formulate a new language, speaking in curves, lines and staccato endpoints. Through June 11 at Duane Reed Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4100 or Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and by appointment.

Alison Jackson: Kate and Wills In grainy resolution, as though through a covert camera, Prince William in his dress military suit is captured heroically lifting Kate Middleton, whose floral gown drapes over him as she smiles and angles his hat on her head. The fresh and strangely banal faces of royalty, whose recent nuptials have debatably enflamed an American craze commensurate with the one on their native isles, could not have a less scandalous private life imagined for them than the one depicted in this orchestrated photograph. British artist Alison Jackson, known for generating ersatz images of celebrities in their off hours — Bill Gates using a Macintosh, Queen Elizabeth using the toilet, Michael Jackson smearing lipstick on his baby, George W. puzzling over a Rubik's Cube — takes an unusual turn in this piece by playing on her subjects' very dullness. The image seems to probe the heart of the relentless curiosity about Kate and Wills: i.e., their lack of fascinating qualities. But as Jackson's larger body of work attests, this is the consistent truth of the hollow idols that comprise the celebrity class. They're mere canvases, reflecting our own pathetic projections. As the author Will Self laments in an essay about Jackson's work, "...poor Prince Wills and Bill Gates, poor hacked-about Michael Jackson, and poor, dumb Dubya. ... Poor all of them — and poor us, for, just as the flowers and the fruit in vanitas paintings were depicted rotting, so we are all in a process of decay, our faces being corroded either by our fame or our obscurity." Through May 28 at Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, 5723 Dewey Avenue; 314-660-6295 or Hours: by appointment.

Jane Birdsall-Lander, Cave Fish, 2011 Wood snaths, parts from vintage shoe factory rack, waxed linen thread, pigment 5' 8" x 1' 3" x 3"
Jane Birdsall-Lander, Cave Fish, 2011 Wood snaths, parts from vintage shoe factory rack, waxed linen thread, pigment 5' 8" x 1' 3" x 3"

Currents 105: Ian Monroe Washington University alum Ian Monroe returns as this year's Freund Fellow, exhibiting a new body of work inspired by Minoru Yamasaki's original 1956 design for Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Using sheets of aluminum, upon which pristinely cut pieces of colored vinyl are applied, these austere, painterly collages depict a nearly obsolete culture of flight populated by immaculate fountains, phone banks, lounges and business-attired travelers. Scenes of the architect and his design team at work, pens in hand and sleeves rolled up, appear as abstract reductions of original archival photographs. Monroe's slick renditions heighten the original utopian ambitions for the terminal. While perhaps it's difficult to recall amid an era of groping security checks and dim anxiety, traveling by air was once a crowning progressive achievement. Monroe's works are rife with nostalgia for this older era's Modernist faith in technology, his attentive craftsmanship and bold, midcentury palette drawing out the timelessness of its design. The exhibit — which includes a large-scale sculptural installation — exudes a material presence that complements the stuff of the airport accoutrements depicted, aligning itself in tactile spirit with this pre-digital culture of architecture and design. Through July 31 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

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