St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Follow the Leader All the assaulting joys of navigating an amply stocked thrift store are harnessed here in this large-scale sculptural assemblage by Guerra de la Paz (a punny but accurate composite moniker for Cuban artists Alain Guerra and Neraldo de la Paz). Using cast-off items accrued through a local clothing donation drive, the artists crafted an enormous snake of piled shirts, pants, skirts, ties and then some, all set precariously atop a static marching line of boot-clad mannequin legs. Like the children's game of the show's title, the hollow and headless ensemble follows itself through the gallery space with mindless and aimless propulsion. Those polyester neon paisley bell-bottoms that looked so great (and terrible) at Goodwill? They're here, along with every other species of absurdly loud, outmoded fabric pattern, tossed in dessert-topping heaps. At the mouth of the gallery, the otherwise orderly chaos collapses as the now-legless mass becomes a solid mound that confronts you with the imperious scale of collective wastefulness. So much stuff, so few excuses for it. Through January 29, 2012, at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

I'll Be Your Mirror Taking its title from Nico's ethereally creepy Velvet Underground ballad, this group exhibition of work by artists near and far delves into the realm and refractory meaning of doubles, doubling and dopplegängers. According to curator Daniel McGrath, look-alikes aren't just deeply unsettling; they're harbingers of evil. It sounds forbidding, but do not fear: The artwork assembled is strangely melancholic yet elegant. From his Drawings from the Cave series, Juan Chávez contributes two pieces that riff on the sci-fi film Blade Runner; the pairing and the film itself create both a cross-historic dialogue and one about real and ersatz versions of the human. Bookending the interior gallery is an inspired pairing: Slater Bradley's Dark Night of the Soul, a video in which the artist's doppelgänger, dressed in a space suit, wanders New York's Museum of Natural History; and B.j. Vogt's Trespasses, a video in which two crudely and identically masked characters (in fact, the artist and his brother) harass one another in alternately comic and sadistic ways. Projected at opposite ends of the space, the two pieces seem to illustrate the pendulum swing of any given interior life: fraught by duality, at once lost and contemplative, or aggressive and confounded by action. The reverberations continue with works by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, Hannah Greely, Pablo Helguera, Gunther Herbst, Charles Ray and Darren Harvey-Regan. Through February 11, 2012, at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www .sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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.

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