St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Crimson and Clover Xeroxing and clipping up the staged poses of models in haute couture glossies, artist Tory Wright reconfigures the fashion industry's too-familiar tropes in half-surreal, half-anarchistic collages. In a sequence of repeated, re-envisioned portraits, the Charlottesville-based artist covers Good Citizen Gallery's rooftop billboard in a piece that serves as the generative base for her exhibition. Wright then re-Xeroxes the rooftop work and distorts it further, crafting another large-scale tableau on the interior gallery's wall. The work's mainstay is the thrust-back head of model Kate Moss, that millennial-era blank slate whose confounding blend of appalling thinness and elegant vapidity seems to elicit the same fascination as Yorick's skull. And a skull she becomes, in the work's visions and revisions, the face degeneratively marred to the point of extinction. Adopting the same radically reductive approach, a suite of adjacent pieces takes fashion poster-ads and cuts them into diaphanous paper lace in what appears to be an art nouveau pattern. Closer inspection reveals that the pattern is not composed of the organic lines of plants but of phalluses; a different kind of nature, here, is taking root. In their analogue, non-Photoshopped tactility, these collages possess an emotive rawness that renders social commentary in texture, tenor and sheer bizarreness rather than moralizing punditry. You might call it Freudian — if Freud ever had a punk phase. Through August 20 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.

Featured Review: Plexus no. 8 Using lengths of fine, brightly dyed thread, Mexico City-born artist Gabriel Dawe creates a large-scale, site-specific installation that absorbs, bends and refracts light to spectacular and spectral effect. To say the work is "woven" is imprecise, though the thin strands that compose the piece are laced through floor and ceiling eyehooks, their discrete rows blending in the viewer's eye to create an ethereal whole. And as a direct deconstruction of weaving itself — a craft identified with Dawe's native country — it re-envisions both cottage industry and cultural signifier, resulting in a piece that speaks to more transcendent qualities, even the notion of transcendence itself. That the tall, twisting piece is contextualized in a former chapel and lit by a row of luminous clerestory windows pushes this point, underscoring its other-worldly effect as well as its sheer and illusory nature. This is the handicraft version of Op Art, creating all the optical buzzing and retinal dissonance of a full-color Bridget Riley. Whether appreciated for its conceptual motivation or simply for the "holy smokes, that's really cool" factor, the work doesn't fail to gratify. Through August 27 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

Ongoing
Larry Fink: Attraction and Desire — 50 Years in Photography This generous survey of the notable Brooklyn-born artist reaffirms the durable pleasures of black-and-white figural photography. A nimble chronicler of society's more extreme coteries, Fink moved among New York beatniks, Vegas gamblers, mid-century jazz musicians, the young Mike Tyson and other boxing strivers, rural Pennsylvanians and the lacquered elite of fashion, art and Hollywood. His preference for Caravaggio-esque high contrast dramatizes what is essentially an obsession with fugitive detail: the long, alabaster, manicured hands of a man clutching the back of a black-dressed blonde; a silver radiator in an angled swath of daylight; the heavy-lidded eyes of a lone woman in a crowd at the Cedar Bar; drops of rain on the black sedan bearing Coretta Scott King to the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. It would be easy to marvel at the fabled personalities and events chronicled here, but Fink's most anonymous subjects serve as the firmest testament to his peculiar eye — a complex gaze that is at once empathetic, excoriating and salacious. Intimate and disarmingly wearied self-portraits of himself, his wife, his child and dogs reframe a narrative that might otherwise tip completely into an obsession with cultural novelty. In the end, the show functions much like that other beleaguered medium — the novel — telling stories about living, loving and other less conclusive failures. Through August 20 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.

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.

Gabriel Dawe
Gabriel Dawe

Take 4 Drawing together otherwise radically disparate practices, this minimalist, elegant show highlights the elemental restraint and conceptual confidence shared in the work of local artists Juan William Chavez, Greg Edmondson, Jamie Kreher and Brett Williams. Chavez uses promotional shots from the dystopic 1980s sci-fi flick Blade Runner as his substrate and obscures the imagery in black charcoal dust and intuitive, iridescent brush marks; the effect is like a counterclockwise historical loop, moving the items from their futuristic source back to the primeval theater of the cave. Edmondson's work has a raw simplicity that complements Chavez's appropriations, contributing delicate, abstract pencil renderings that alternately recall the patterns of nature or suburban sprawl; etched in small, fine lines, their arterial branches waver between cool precision and an apparent hand at work. Kreher has enlarged one of her signature portraits of architectural banality, focusing on a set of glass entrance/exit doors. Stacked and repeated on an enormous sheet of vinyl, the image takes on a more ominous dimension, suggesting ubiquitous surveillance or the overwhelming excess of similar nowhere zones in America. A colorful foil to all the rest, Williams' two videos (Blur 1 and Blur 2) feature bright-hued haloed lights that throb and flicker to an ambient soundscape. One is viewable on a flat video screen, while the other is projected from the gallery floor beneath an air duct grate. Both are evocative of memory's impressionistic focus — more sensory than specific — and lend an elegiac air to the exhibit, which seems, as a whole, bound by various forms of absence and attendant nostalgia. Currently showing at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Triumph of the Wild Chronicling America's history of violence from the Revolution to the War on Terror, indie animator Martha Colburn compresses this durable urge into a ten-minute phantasmagoric onslaught in the most recent installment of Saint Louis Art Museum's New Media Series. Aligning hunters with soldiers, Colburn sketches a parallel between bloodlust in the natural world (where man seeks game) and the technology of war (where man seeks man). Using swatches of old magazines, discarded portions of advertisements, bright cartoon drawings and tiny jigsaw puzzle pieces, Colburn is a scavenger herself, mining vernacular cultural detritus to illustrate her grand theme and, in the process, creating yet another analogy: between war and waste. The self-trained New York-based artist, whose prolific career has involved many musical collaborators — from Jad Fair and Serj Tankian to the band Deerhoof — here chooses a frenetic piano score written by Thollem McDonas, lending the brief film a retro-patina. Bombs explode, fires ravage forests and platoons and animals plot against one another in a jagged, sped-up pace that recalls Buster Keaton slapstick. What initially appears to be a twee montage of colorful cartoons and coupon-book clip-outs proves to be nothing of the kind. Limbs fly, corpses disintegrate and Jesus blooms from the clouds to carry a soldier to darker fates, all in a swift, relentless sequence that complicates whatever awkward beauty gilds the film's surface. Through September 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

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