St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

St. Louis Art Capsules

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.)

Four Chapters in the Present We Were After interviewing a passel of Americans old enough to possess memories of World War II, the Kennedy assassination, the 1969 Apollo moon landing and 9/11, artist Lisa Bulawsky has crafted a trenchant series of prints rooted in those recollections. An ironing board and button down-shirt bear the faint residue of bloodshed; Wonder bread's primary-hued polka dots intermingle with pages from a handwritten journal and mirror the red bullet holes that dot an adjacent print; gas-rationing coupons float above piles of foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses and Morse code messages rendered in red — here history is grafted upon the quotidian, reversing the conventional hierarchy wherein the personal becomes secondary to the national. This version of the past, etched in hand-drawn marks and collaged ephemera, presents itself like a new memory recalled, inviting viewers to revisit their own sense of the not-too-distant past. An empathetic listener and observer, Bulawsky summons images as diverse as fighter planes and the broken yellow line that divides some stretches of highway, in order to get a firmer grip on what it means to be "American." The long and deep stream of her interview subjects' consciousness places more-recent watershed events in a context less often considered — i.e., one of perpetual warfare and struggle accompanied by human ingenuity and making-the-best-of-it goodwill. Walking through the exhibit is like rerunning a dream: an unfolding of familiar tragic subtext shot through with buoyant and freshly discovered humanity. Through October 16 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

From Jillian Conrad’s On Tenterhooks installation at Webster University’s Cecille R. Hunt Gallery.
From Jillian Conrad’s On Tenterhooks installation at Webster University’s Cecille R. Hunt Gallery.

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.

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