St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Andrew Millner: Rose is a rose is a rose Starting with a digital drawing pad and a stylus, St. Louis-based Millner drafts meticulous renderings of leaves and other botanical subjects, then projects the drawings onto stretched raw linen and traces the lines with thick beads of paint, often straight from the tube. Millner's earlier work held fast to its source (down to every last serration and vein on a single leaf), but Rose finds him radically essentializing and abstracting the renderings in transferring them to canvas. Titled after the single hue in which it is painted — White Rose, Red Rose, Crimson Rose, etc. — each canvas exists somewhere between absolute adhesion to its muse (the rosebush) and the capacity to lose that grip entirely. Some sustain a crisp and conventional line quality, while others are set loose to drip to excess. The result is as texturally rich as a piece of lace but with an overarching component of frenetic abandon — as though something has literally unraveled on the canvas. Every painting's tangle of sanguine thread embodies the rift that, we all imagine, separates the "real" from the wholly impressionistic. Again and again the rosebush returns, each time pitting a former conception of self against a startlingly new one. Through December 23 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 or www.shearburngallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Monet's Water Lilies Before collectible magnets, waiting-room posters, silk-screened mugs, T-shirts and hotel wallpaper turned his work into deplorable kitsch, Claude Monet was a bona fide revolutionary. A proto-abstract expressionist (and before that a rough-hewn countercultural innovator who literally reimagined the way we see), the Father of Impressionism can lay claim to a staggering number of not-ready-for-gift-shop achievements, despite considerable efforts to persuade us of the contrary. Seeing the three massive panels of Agapanthus (1915-1926) reunited for the first time in 30 years communicates an almost jarring order to stop, look closely and reconsider all of one's rigid preconceptions. One of his "Grand Decorations" (as he referred to them), the seven-by-fourteen-foot depiction of the artist's beloved water-lily pond is wild, rough and, at the same time, luminous and narcotically tranquil. Allow your eye to see beyond the teal and lilac that we long ago made crass with our consumerism, and he palette is for the most part muddy, the pond’s murky depths occasionally shot through with mad swipes of yellow or cadmium red. The scope, Confronted in person rather than via reprint, the scope is staggering; it dwarfs and engulfs the viewer, creating a spectacle that bears no relation to turn-of-the-century plein air painting. The exhibition prefaces the triptych with a display of studies, which give a sense of the final work's agonized evolution. Tracing the process from its descriptive, fathomable beginnings to an endpoint that's depthless and nearly abstract, the viewer is able to appreciate the enormous risks the artist embraced as he moved from the comfortably conventional to the twilight zone of invention. Not everyone will leave a convert, but it's impossible not to absorb this effort — so huge, strange and, yes, beautiful. Through January 22, 2012, at the St. 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.)

Ongoing
Adrian Kellard: The Learned Art of Compassion A show of rare impact, this concise but powerful retrospective of the late Adrian Kellard's work reveals an artist of masterful formal skill and emotional immediacy. Held on the 20th anniversary of Kellard's passing and the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the HIV virus, the exhibit collects a number of signature large-scale painted and carved wood assemblages that celebrate Kellard's identity as a gay man and devout Catholic. Originally trained as a printmaker — as an undergraduate his instructor was the woodcut artist Antonio Frasconi — he uses printmaking tools to carve pinewood blocks that depict images of Christian subjects, often derived from canonical art-historical sources including Michelangelo and Giotto. Kellard's style is a combination of German expressionist and midcentury illustrative: Jagged but meticulous black lines etch the outlines of his figures and patterns, while bright, comic-book primaries fill them in. Though his career was brief — he died from AIDS in 1991 at age 32 — Kellard forged an indelible style; this survey conveys a sense of a mature, self-assured artist with a lifetime's worth of range. As he bore witness to the passing of many of his peers during the AIDS epidemic and illness ravaged his own last years, his work took on fresh urgency, resulting in exuberant shrines to those who'd passed or were soon to. The effect is profound and generous: Rising above the specifics of Kellard's narrative and identity, the works speak boldly of something at once grievous, celebratory and fundamentally human. Through December 11 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 or http://mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Andrew Millner, White Rose IV, 2011, acrylic on linen, 72 by 75 inches.
Andrew Millner, White Rose IV, 2011, acrylic on linen, 72 by 75 inches.

Commonwealth Time Bandits — the 1981 Terry Gilliam film about technology, treasure hunting and time-traveling dwarves — isn't a bad aesthetic analogy for this far-out multimedia installation by Derek Larson. Using video projection and freestanding screens cut to fit the projected imagery, Larson creates a dense virtual garden of Greek statuary, in which fountains and figures pulse with all the frenetic insistence of the Las Vegas Strip. The lascivious Barberini Faun, for instance, surrounded by twitching bulbs, a faux rustling shrub and neon-hued throbbing fractals. And a precarious-looking bridgelike arrangement that features a life-size marble bust, a cascade of men's dress shoes, and a pearl necklace that dangles from a chain of drastically scaled-down piles of fresh timber. On the gallery walls, framed prints take up the theme in two dimensions: grid-patterned 1980s-era landscapes that depict antiquities amid a techno-ether of conspicuous commodities and shades of hot pink. Close inspection of the prints, however, reveals that each contains a digital watermark: All of the works are property of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It's not hard to glom onto the dialectic of the publicly sharable versus the privately owned, but it's far more rewarding simply to enjoy it as playful absurdity. In the event you're still dubious, there's a series of crude pig drawings in one far corner of the gallery that ends in a pile of miniature money bags. How evil can evil be, if it has such a goofy face? Through November 5 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.

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