St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Featured Review: Analogue Inverting the equation wherein mass-produced items are considered the antithesis of all things unique and handmade, this succinct group exhibit draws together a collection of artisan-crafted big-box items made by five contemporary artists. St. Louis-based Ryan Thayer's my building has every convenience fills three shopping carts with outsize hollow drywall forms. The tricolor lineup makes the familiar seem strange, the tall white inserts heightening the carts' bright colors, polished steel and elegant geometry. Caleb Larsen's One Person, Three Days — Survival Kit lays out the products suggested for inclusion in FEMA survival kits. Arranged on the gallery floor in descending size, the boxes, bottles and cans begin to express the bold formalism of their design, shape and palette, transforming items that were chosen for their critical usefulness into useless aesthetic objects. Juxtaposed behind them on the gallery wall are two vacuum-formed plastic molds of concrete sidewalk slabs by Ethan Greenbaum. The flattened and dirt-flecked hangings comprise an apt foil to the streamlined products otherwise on view, suggesting in their rough-hewn utilitarianism a rawer brand of abstraction. Helmut Smits fills a Coca-Cola bottle with 0.26 gallons of oil, which appears nearly indistinguishable from the soda. Conversely, Zoe Sheehan Saldana performs the most painstaking illusion in three items selected from her "Ersatz" series. Her lifejacket, for instance, crafted by hand to industry standards, elevates the notion of "machine-made" to a level of life or death, versus the lovely but functionally superfluous art object. Also showing: Terra Firma, an elegant site-specific installation by St. Louis-based artist John Early that points a pinewood bike ramp toward a skylight while the sounds of the Voyager space probe fill the space — suggesting the extremes of human limits and potential. Through July 22 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

partly cloudy with a chance of scattered showers In a series of candy-colored, tapestry-esque digital photographs titled "One Ordinary Day of an Ordinary Town," Mimi Kato portrays a world of petty daily rivalries, casual voyeurism and glossy brand-name consumerism, with herself as the sole actor. Wearing costumes as wildly varied as truant schoolgirl, meddling old neighbor and eerily ferocious giant rabbit, Kato enacts scenarios that draw upon traditional narratives of her native Japan as well as the stockpile of unfortunately universal pessimistic truisms about human behavior. In this pastel-hued, cookie-cutter town, nothing is safe from either minor calamity or corporate branding, be it laundry, the assessment of fresh produce at the market or an afternoon ice-cream break. As the sun rises and sets in this series, another suite of four images depicts the passing seasons, their imagery more spare and, as a result, more surreal. Spring brings cherry blossoms and bizarre drunken picnics; summer seems to lure hooded thieves and the urge to compare fresh cuts of red meat. Gifted with a seemingly limitless ability to assume every age, gender and small-animal species, Kato imbues this otherwise impossibly absurd world with enough shades of truth to keep it both freshly strange and unexpectedly trenchant. Through July 22 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.

Ongoing
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.).

Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art with a Master Class from Goya Taking the late surreally satiric prints by Francisco Goya as a point of departure, guest curator Laura Steward presents six contemporary artists as inheritors of the historic trope of the use of allegory. A tone of febrile foreboding is set from the get-go: At the entrance to the exhibition is a life-size, wild-eyed ape by Folkert de Jong, carved out of foam-core, dripped in oil-black paint and grinning widely, with a sidekick of sorts clinging to his back. In the next gallery, these same apes dance in an enormous ring, their elusive Cheshire gazes mirrored in two paintings by Allison Schulnik, "portraits" of demurely poised apes similarly slathered in inky and skin-like reticulating paint layers. Selections from Goya's "Los Caprichos" and "Los Disparates" frame these works in a tradition of dark satire: the ape appearing again, for instance, in an etching where he's painting the portrait of an ass. In the adjacent gallery, Erika Wanenmacher's truly horrifying human figures — one made of crudely stitched-together coyote coats, another pierced through with glass eyes — propose yet another fatalistic comment on the state of man. Their harrowing presences draw out the darker dimensions of Dana Schutz's oddly comic work — lush paintings of figures devouring or subjecting themselves to assorted forms of self-debasement. Bookending the exhibit are two films: one by Hiraki Sawa featuring a dreamlike interior haunted by the shadows of miniature carnival animals; and one by Javier Tellez in which the ancient allegory of six blind men describing an elephant is reinterpreted in contemporary New York. This closing work by Tellez holds the most optimism: The six New Yorkers approach the enormous animal with an affirming curiosity regarding the unknown — perhaps the most benevolent of human capacities: that of wonder. Through August 14 at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

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