St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

David Noonan The extent to which the world is a stage and all of us mere actors is wisdom darkly revisited in this solo exhibition of recent works by London-based Australian artist David Noonan. Using found imagery of theatrical performances from the '60s and '70s, Noonan creates large-scale screen prints on linen that's patched together in textures that recall Japanese Boro textiles (an intuitive patchwork clothing style from the late 19th century). Noonan constrains his palette to inky black and the earthen tones of the fabric, which imbues his works with a saturated, macabre character, amplified by the black-painted eyes and mouths of the sinister performers he depicts. Suggestive of extreme avant-gardism and occult ritual, the players in these fractured scenes are at once frozen in bizarre contortions and animated by the frayed and tactile nature of their substance: The torn swaths of linen beg to be touched, if not worn, like a costume. Abstract patterns printed over the images underscore the work's identity as fabric and artifact of the past, resembling both stitch lines and the marks of distress. A roomful of just-beyond-life-size dancers, also printed on linen but affixed to freestanding pieces of wood cut to the figures' silhouettes, is more physically confrontational in real time. The specter of the past — when experimentalists' utopian aspirations were sincere and hopeful — thickly permeates the show like a sinister symbol of misguided folly, vain indulgence or worse. Also showing: Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck In this Gothic-inspired 16mm film, British artist Emily Wardill uses the morality-tale paradigm as an absurdist analogy for the mis-education espoused by contemporary media, wherein the common phrases we use to communicate with one another (e.g., "sex and drugs and rock & roll," which is mangled and re-imagined as the film's title) are reduced to hollow rituals and empty acts of aimless devotion. Through December 30 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.camstl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Out of the Box: Artists Play Chess To inaugurate the contemporary gallery in the newly minted World Chess Hall of Fame, Bradley Bailey has curated a thoughtful yet cacophonous exhibit of 21st-century artworks that exploit the cerebral game's sculptural and conceptual possibilities. Drawing on chess' militaristic identity, the exhibit abounds with warring audio tracks — Liliya Lifánova's expertly stitched costumes from an interpretative live performance of the game may hang empty and mute, but video footage of the event booms with moans and growls. Diana Thater restages a famous 1920 match between chess showman Georges Koltanowski and conceptual artist/chess enthusiast Marcel Duchamp (the artist won): Two female chess novices re-enact the moves on four video screens, the action and audio twitching at a frenetically sped-up pace, the twice-bisected image nearing abstraction. Looking on as a mute foil, Yoko Ono's all-white chess board, Play It by Trust, suggests there's an antidote to all the heady antagonism: communication and collaboration. And St. Louis native Tom Friedman offers another pacific salve: sheer absurdity. His fantastically bizarre and meticulous set confounds any attempt at studied fastidiousness, even as it creates the most impossible game of all. Through February 12, 2012, at the World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Avenue; 314-367-9243 or www.worldchesshof.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed. and Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu.-Fri. and noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in the Form of Khasarpana Lokesvara, late 11th or early 12th century, India, Bihar or Bengal.
Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection
Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara in the Form of Khasarpana Lokesvara, late 11th or early 12th century, India, Bihar or Bengal.

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 www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

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