St. Louis Art Caps

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

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.

Tomás Saraceno: Cloud-Specific Working at the impossible intersection of pragmatism and practicality, Argentinean-born, Frankfurt-based artist and architect Tomás Saraceno creates prototypes for a future city in the sky, a buoyant cloud of molecule-like modules amiably drifting above the overburdened environs below. In this installation Saraceno presents a massive aluminum framework encasing a similarly massive clear-plastic bubble. Viewers are invited to climb inside (after divesting themselves of shoes, rings, keys — anything that might pop Saraceno's balloon), lie on their backs and admire the silver solar cookers affixed to the capsule's upper regions or peruse one of Saraceno's source texts: The Cloudspotter's Guide, Biology of Spiders and R. Buckminster Fuller's seminal essay Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. The reclining visitor may also take in the view of the gallery outside Saraceno's One Cloud Module: a cluster of iridescent bubbles that resemble Gothic stained glass, bound in black webbing and elastic ropes; a massive mural depicting a model cloud city, with our digitally rendered descendants in their modules, going about their daily tasks; a video projected on another wall that shows Saraceno and a team of collaborators attempting to send aloft his tessellated objects in the manner of NASA test flights. At once whimsical, revolutionary and nostalgic, the work hovers between the absurdly cerebral and the elementally alluring. It's hard not to succumb to the artist's ambitious vision while you're lying on a cloud and contemplating the sky. Through January 9, 2012, at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

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