St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Tomás Saraceno, 32SW Iridescent/Flying Garden/Airport City, 2007. Air pillows, elastic rope, webbing, iridescent foil and pump system, 67” diameter.
Courtesy of the artist, Andersen's Contemporary, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery and Pinksummer Contemporary Art.
Tomás Saraceno, 32SW Iridescent/Flying Garden/Airport City, 2007. Air pillows, elastic rope, webbing, iridescent foil and pump system, 67” diameter.

Newly Reviewed
Featured Review: Reflections of the Buddha Drawing on the Zen Buddhist principles that informed Tadao Ando's design for the Pulitzer Foundation headquarters in which it is housed, this exhibition (which marks the foundation's tenth anniversary) places 22 Buddhist art objects in the Pulitzer's serene galleries to revelatory effect. An assortment of art from several major Buddhist traditions — some dating as far back as the second century CE — the exhibit reaffirms the subtle distinctions between the various spaces in the museum while surveying the exquisite and subtle nuances of this historically and philosophically profound genre. One needn't be versed in Buddhist culture to appreciate this show: The works communicate with the viewer on an intuitive level and in dialogue with the space; simply taking them in incites a sense of elemental pleasure. Those familiar with Buddhist art history won't fail to note the sheer quality of the artworks presented, on loan from several major museums. The handful of contemporary works that punctuate the exhibit — a photographic diptych by Takashi Murakami, a lilting video by Oscar Munoz and Ellsworth Kelly's Blue Black — serve as artful ties to the aesthetic and temporal present while underscoring the focus on reflection and ephemerality. Yet a sense of the present is most vividly evoked by the vicissitudes of the natural light that is such an integral element of Ando's design. Reflecting off sculpted folds of cloth, highlighted in gold, and dimly glimmering in jeweled insets, the Pulitzer's choreographed light imbues these pieces with a placid sense of enlightened interiority that places the viewer firmly in the moment and, simultaneously of a piece with something calmly unknowable. Through March 10, 2012, at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

Jillian Conrad: On Tenterhooks This solo exhibition by Houston-based artist Jillian Conrad, thoughtfully curated by recent Webster University alum Marie Heilich, is a site-specific meditation on tenuousness, both physical and metaphorical. The exhibit comprises a series of collections of common materials — cloth, cement, metal bars, quilt hoops — arranged so as to precariously support one another. Coined in the fourteenth century, the title phrase refers to a weaving technique that involves pinning stretched wool onto a frame (the tenter). The term has since come to connote apprehension, and a sense of unease informs these diaphanous pieces — their structural delicacy expresses a palpable vulnerability that makes each fold and artfully placed piece of tape an unlikely stakeholder in the work's frail existence. Yet a sense of bold theatricality informs the work: The first piece one encounters involves a long, maize-colored swath of fabric draped across the gallery's entryway like a stage curtain pulled back to reveal a spectacle. The choreographed assemblages of everyday detritus that follow are intermittently highlighted in teal, black, lilac or bright green — unexpected flourishes announcing that all here is not as banal as it seems. These painted highlights draw the work out of its Arte Povera roots and into a new realm of styled artificiality. While a sense of artless inevitability may imbue, say, a cinderblock leaning against a wall, its bright emerald hue suggests that a deliberate hand is at work, one with an eye to memorializing not only sober, brick-and-mortar pragmatism, but also the occasional rash of the sublime. Through October 15 at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery, 8342 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-968-7171 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Doing Easy In a riff on William S. Burroughs' Zen manual-like story, "The Discipline of DE," which details the fastidiousness that underlies effortless-seeming cool, Cole Root assembles a group show of disparate work by Glen Fogel, Dani Kantrowitz, Gregg Louis, Mike Schuh and Matthew Strauss. What does it mean to "do easy"? It means setting down a fork without it clattering, landing each crumpled and thrown wad of paper in the wastebasket, gripping items with the right force so they don't spill or shatter. In the art studio, DE seems to function as a metaphor for the hermetic agony that precedes the creation of works that, when complete, appear like foregone conclusions. Kantrowitz contributes a series of found photographs that depict the interior of a middle-aged man's home, juxtaposing the impersonal and the intimate to jarring effect: the recurring appearance, for instance, of a pair of Bert and Ernie dolls amid otherwise banal décor. Normal is never normal enough. Fogel's milieu here is the subway platform, where he has snapped cell-phone pics of ads that have been tweaked by bored commuters or general wear and tear: grim Marines sporting Sharpie-drawn fangs; glossy-haired models whose visages have been torn out and supplanted by that of Kanye West. Schuh's work suggests a mind exposed to reveal its makeshift internal wiring and idiosyncratic infrastructure. An example: A utility bucket, flipped upside down, sits on a white pedestal with a chunk of cracked concrete resting on top and a vintage postcard of the inside of a cave folded in half and perched like a crown at the piece's apex. A sense of logic informs the work's unexpected disjunctions, mixing a kind of pragmatic poeticism with a dash of self-mockery: It's an absurd totem to absurdity at its best. Louis' piece — two sheets of paper upon which the word "simultaneous" is scrawled — was executed in precisely that manner: by both hands, at once. This exercise in deliberately useless prowess examines self-critique from further afield: What's the value of such an accomplishment without a witness? In this way Doing Easy wittily vivisects the elegance and mild tragedy inherent in any attempt at crafting a sense of self: Sometimes you land the trash in the can, sometimes you miss, sometimes no one notices or cares. Through October 15 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; Hours: by appointment. (Editor's note: Visual arts writer Jessica Baran is the assistant director of Matthew Strauss' art gallery, White Flag Projects.)

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