St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
A Group of Similar Beings Capturing the built and natural environment, four local photographers — Louis Kelly, Carol Shapiro, Barb Steps and Linda Yust — chronicle their diverse and far-flung travels, as well as the more minute aspects of their daily lives. Kelly surveys the St. Louis environs, from the bridges over the Mississippi to the Missouri Botanical Garden to the streets of downtown, burnishing the city's notable sites to the same degree of luster as vistas in more glamorous locales. Shapiro is attuned to the comic dimensions of even the most readily photogenic subjects, seeing a "bad hair day" in Dale Chihuly's spasms of blown glass or the absurd superabundance of "sophistication" in a house interior outfitted with works by Eames, Kelly, Gehry and Downen in one corner. Steps collects a vivid journal of the saturated color palettes of Japan, Kenya, Uganda, Peru and Rwanda (among others), focusing particularly on exotic wildlife in intimate range. Yust, too, homes in on the animal kingdom, producing detailed portraits of horses, barn owls, bullfrogs, hummingbirds and crows. What emerges from this abundant collection is a sense of exuberance — in the act of taking photographs, in the photographic potential of any given subject — a buoyant reaffirmation of all things bright and blithe. Through June 5 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-6932 or www.art-stl.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Featured Review: Kristin Fleischmann: Absences and Obsessions Using canvas, loose threads and other raw fabrics, Washington University M.F.A. candidate Fleischmann outfits her thesis exhibition, a meditation on compulsion and loss. In Flirt, a impressionistic abstract painting with ghostly imprints of lace and spare brushy color, a stitch line divides the canvas, while three fence posts arranged on the gallery floor extend the work's diffuse purview. Invoking Virginia Woolf's seminal feminist essay, A Silk Worm of One's Own cordons off space with tangled white threads that dangle from the ceiling in mud-smeared clumps or writhe freely in space. A video piece, entitled I Breathe, I Walk, features the artist narrating her interior thoughts while stitching her hand into a chiffon silk glove. Rather than absences and obsessions, the work seems to speak of being either bound or liberated, the array of rough or delicate fabrics alternately beset by imposed weight or set loose on the whims of their lightness. In the final installation, Longing, a series of sleeve-like stitched pieces crop up from or slump onto the gallery floor; filled to varying levels of fullness with plaster, they too wrestle with the burdens of fixed form and formlessness. Through June 5 at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Ongoing
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 www.gallerykit.blogspot.com. Hours: by appointment.

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 www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

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