St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

 A Is For... In this playful and affecting group exhibition curated by Gina Alvarez, the relationship between art-making and child-rearing is explored through that fundamental building block of communication: the alphabet. Twenty-six local artists were each assigned one letter as point of departure and, often in collaboration with their offspring and spouse, off they went. John Sarra has crafted a low-lying table with Fs for legs; Lindsey Obermeyer embroiders a swarm of Hs in the manner of old Americana; architect Matthew Jeans contributes a massive K made of engineered Plexiglas of the type used for building models; Jim Ibur crafts a porcelain vase full of eyes (for I). The array of materials and approaches are as diverse as the artists' concisely written reflections on their lives as parents. Tom Huck contributes a linocut tattoo design for one of his fictional characters (a crossed devil's tail that forms an X) and admits to envying his daughter for her imagination. His wife, Anne Teeger Huck, goes the linocut route as well, rendering swirling words that begin with Q — a nod to inquisitiveness that complements her assertion that her kids bring her back to the most basic joy of making art: beginning with a simple line. Eric Repice builds a massive M from handmade paper, explaining that he often borrows art supplies from his daughter. The list goes on, with letter-bearing gems contributed by John Early, Jana Harper, Robert Longyear, Jason Hoeing, Dionna and Daniel Raedeke, Ken Wood, Amy Rosen and more (not to mention a poster by Eric Woods of Firecracker Press). Through August 13 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or www.cocastl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

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.

Dreamscapes This exhibit subtly trains the viewer to navigate the Pulitzer's inimitable space as though it were an exquisite dream recalled. De Chirico's Transformed Dream sets the stage: a train in the painting's high horizon line directing one to unforeseeable locales. Nearby sits a piece by Janet Cardiff: a black rotary phone you pick up to hear the voice of the artist relaying her dreams. A golden, recumbent Brancusi head rests on a plinth, while at the gallery's far end, Magritte's Invisible World hints at a watery vista beyond its French doors and the imposing gray stone that blocks them. Here is where you reach the hinge in this surreal sonnet: Arriving at the Pulitzer's water court, you see Magritte's stone in solid form: Scott Burton's Rock Settee, which overlooks the narrow, placid reflecting pool and a swath of city beyond. Only now do you pause to consider the multitude of portentous cues inhabiting the masterworks curator Francesca Herndon-Consagra has assembled, transforming the museum into a dreamlike tableau vivant. Highlights include Do Ho Suh's diaphanous fabric staircase to nowhere, two late, dark paintings by Philip Guston, an early suite of Max Klinger's "Glove" etchings and the nebulous Wolfgang Tillmans forestscape that marks the dream's end. (A series of programs exploring the exhibition's theme will unfold through the spring and summer, on Saturdays at 1 p.m.) Through August 13 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

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