St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Critical Mass Creative Stimulus 2011 The four local artists who received the Regional Arts Commission's 2010 Critical Mass Creative Stimulus grant — Emily Hemeyer, Sarah Paulsen, Alex Petrowsky and Lyndsey Scott — here display recent work reflective of their practices and their shared commitment to community activism. Hemeyer displays a series of wooden boxes you peek inside to see a retrospective survey of artifacts from her past performances and community interventions, projects that run the gamut from a mobile gallery (in a minivan) to musical ensembles and workshops. Paulsen displays an animated video projected on a toy-town set that is in fact a stripped-down version of Kirkwood's city hall. The imagery references the tragic 2008 city hall shootings, while the soundtrack features the artist's interviews with her mother, who reflects on her Mayberry-esque hopes for the ostensibly idyllic suburban enclave. Petrowsky exhibits two series of masterfully executed prints, one dedicated to a mobile "green" office cubicle — a miniature workspace transportable by bike — and one of incidental lawn ornaments (a Pabst can, a billowing plastic bag reading "Thank You") that betray what the artist terms the "socio-cultural peculiarities of their grounds people." Both series are executed with a quasi-anthropological objectivity and savvy slickness whose retro aesthetic roots them (ironically) in 1950s-era American optimism. Scott's work is the most installation-driven: paintings, notebooks, collages, found artifacts — seemingly anything the artist could feasibly collect and adhere to a gallery wall — blossom in exuberant profusion. Arcing between composite images of stereotypical suburbia and utopian-activist vignettes, the vision is deeply community driven, railing at societal failings and advocating grassroots solutions. The show's cumulative impact follows you right out of the gallery, impelling you to seek active, ameliorative involvement. Through September 4 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811 or Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Featured Review: Sea of Hot Pink Buffalo Local artist Nanette Boileau has created a three-part video installation dedicated to that durable symbol of American westward expansion, the American buffalo — and tinted it pink. On one screen a series of still images renders in close-up detail the familiar narrative of buffalo-as-icon. An adjacent video contains footage from an annual roundup at Custer State Park in South Dakota, where herds of bison are branded, vaccinated and readied for market: a jarring and noisy process in which the enormous animals are funneled down canals and squeeze chutes. In a silent counterpoint to the clanking metal, huffing buffalo and shouting wranglers, a text authored by Boileau hangs on the gallery wall, illuminated by a spotlight. The written piece focuses on a single specimen that seems to embody the "female spirit" of Native American myth. In Boileau's evocative reflection, a more complicated symbolic bison emerges — less driven by the muscular brutishness of Manifest Destiny and imbued instead with maternal beauty and dignity. A bison diva, really, one that's worthy of as much hot pink as she can tolerate. The final, most visually arresting video is a diaphanous pink-hued sea of buffalo grazing on a plain. As the creatures move, the horizon line undulates like waves. It's an odd vision — limned in the natural world but at the same time phosphorescently toxic — and one that successfully re-envisions a familiar trope and invests it with fresh and unexpected consequence. Through August 28 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; Hours: by appointment.

Gabriel Dawe
Gabriel Dawe

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 Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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