St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Jim Schmidt Presents: Abstraction Former gallery owner Jim Schmidt applies his singularly discerning eye for all modes of abstraction in this guest-curated group exhibition of paintings, works on paper and a select few sculptures. Drawing from an impressive range of well-established to niche and up-and-coming artists, the exhibit presents a thorough excavation of the nebulous term "abstract," examining its every iteration, from procedural and calculating to immediate and expressionistic. The human form is clearly evident in Tendon Block by Jill Downen, a truncated piece of undulating white gypsum in her signature, suggestive style. The spirit of nature, in the sense of landscapes or unmitigated forces, informs Eva Lundsager's exuberant watercolor — saturated with lush, incendiary hues, a horizon line vaguely discernible from which a volcanic profusion cathartically spews. Several of Erik Spehn's meticulous and austere paintings punctuate the show, serving as tempered counter-arguments in their white-on-white restraint. Sue Eisler's elegant geometric sculpture, wrought expertly from bronze-oxidized wire, draws vantage points through which other works can be viewed. Among many highlights are a black-and-white graphite and crayon drawing by Terry Winters, Max Cole's painting of darkly studied linearity, two pink-saturated drawings of perfectly chaotic scribbles by Carroll Dunham and a near toss-away of a sketch by Jonathan Lasker in which looping ballpoint-pen marks crown looping Sharpie marks. Through July 30 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 or www.philipsleingallery.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

The Lonely Rainbow Few artists have as distinct and unswerving a gift for recorded sincerity as St. Louis-based Peter Pranschke. He's easily identified by his draftsmanship: drawings influenced by classic comic books in which he portrays himself in seemingly infinite configurations of all-too-human compromise. But Pranschke's not limited to drawings; he has produced pieces out of spliced Bible pages, found erasers, dental floss, tree branches, Band Aids and, in this case, sleeping bags and old books — all of which manage to embody the sensitivity and personality of the artist. As the exhibit's title suggests, an air of semisweet melancholy pervades. First comes a comic strip in which Pranschke recounts his initial ambition to have every piece in the show match the dark-green hue of the Sheldon gallery's carpet, his failure to have done so and his and apologetic caveat that these works are a departure from his usual self-portraits — these, he states, are fragmentary narratives drawn from life but shattered so as to become unrecognizable. The disarming intro likewise detonates any straightforward approach to "reading" the exhibit. Thereafter unfolds a half-blindly optimistic, half-doomed series of scenes rendered on green grid paper in colored pencil. A workday lunch break, the checkout lane in an art-supply store, an office cubicle, a sidewalk gathering of smokers outside a gallery opening — all banal on the surface but truncated in key areas to suggest that, sadly, everything is not quite right. Interspersed between the drawings are needle-point images stitched into swaths of old dishtowels or napkins and simply titled Sleeping Bag. An enormous green sleeping bag with smoke rings stitched in bisects the exhibit like a hinge — or perhaps the big sleep made wryly manifest. Through September 10 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.

Ongoing
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.
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