St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Featured Review: Cosima von Bonin: Character Appropriation A giant stuffed chick, slumped and vomiting on itself while straddling an enormous rocket; a large stuffed lobster, its heavy claws flopped over what appears to be the base of a chic, modern table; two tires trapped in a custom, wall-hanging white cage: Scale is everything — a means to the humorous and pathetic alike — for German conceptual artist Cosima von Bonin. In this mini-survey of work from the past ten years, certain material themes re-emerge — fabric, most significantly, and music-related electronics — as well as situational ones — the flaccid, the frayed, the privately composed. In von Bonin's world everyone has a theme song, often of a looped and electronic variety, optimally heard through large headphones. Sound works by her collaborator, electronic music producer Moritz von Oswald, accompany nearly every piece. Dense with stuff, the exhibit takes on a new dimension: With its mildly bubbly, mildly hypnotic score, it begins to feel like a high-end boutique, artfully staged and filled with desirable objects. Here's where von Bonin excels: "appropriating" the motifs that are so common to our everyday experience that they're no longer recognizable, and reconfiguring them in odd, endearing and darkly comic ways. And how tired it leaves us — like that big chick, sick and hanging its head. Through August 1 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

Braid, 2011 watercolor and casein on marble dust ground.
Gianna Commito
Braid, 2011 watercolor and casein on marble dust ground.

Ruptures This exhibit of small, intimate abstract pieces by eleven contemporary painters once again raises the question of what, really, should be talked about when trying to talk about contemporary abstract painting. Curator and artist Michael Wille has assembled a sensitive and skilled cast of practitioners whose mediums vary widely — from oil and acrylic, to plaster, glitter, and casein mixed with ground marble dust. The scale of all of the work — which never exceeds hand-holdable dimensions — is distinctly anti-grandiose, mirroring the shared tenor of subtle, rustling abstraction practiced. Both Wille and Philadelphia-based Thomas Vance take cues from architecture, leaving on their pieces the imprint of structural elements (Wille) or re-presenting fragmented aspects of architectural plans (Vance). Chicago-based Zachary Buchner explores a painting's object status by building the surfaces of his pieces with plaster and spraying them with metallic and neon enamel; they hang on the wall like the melted remains of former icons. Sampling is prevalent in a number of the works, in which the artist extracts bits and pieces of the representational world or art-historical canon, suggesting the impossibility of novelty or escape from Modernism's shadow. The two paintings by Knoxville-based Jered Sprecher appear as if they could have been made by two different artists: one by a Hans Hoffmann acolyte and the other by a midcentury silk screener. Their way of quoting and reprising shades of culture has a charm not unlike a mixtape full of new covers of songs by long-gone bands. A true gem is a piece by Kent, Ohio-based Gianna Commito; it bends and refracts with knotted ribbons of stripes in muted, earthy hues that also feel distinctly midcentury, of a kind the Eameses would have favored in their work. Even the piece's surface has an aged quality that resurrects the sense of history as a burden. But the weight here is exquisite — as though beauty holds a vital stake in something, and not merely a distinguished lineage. Through May 28 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 2713 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-960-5322 or Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-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.

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