Contemporary Icons at the Cecil R. Hunt Gallery: Kosta Tonev, Headshot, 2012 digital print.
Contemporary Icons at the Cecil R. Hunt Gallery: Daniela Kostova, Cosmonaut, 2011 c-print
This post-Soviet bloc survey makes a compelling case for art's worth, even in a society (ours) purportedly free of cultural regulations. Playing on Bulgaria's thousand-year history of icon-making, seven different artists explore the new, capitalist spin on the term, in which money is revered and religion is just another oppressive institution. Start with Ivan Moudov's 2010 video, Creation of a Museum of Contemporary Art in Bulgaria, in which a lawyer tells of an utterly indifferent government and the countless bureaucratic hurdles it constructs. Foil-plated and glittering, Houben Tcherkelov's outsize canvases zoom in on various forms of legal tender (including bank notes from nineteenth-century Missouri). Tcherkelov, who represented Bulgaria in last year's Venice Biennale, pulls off a rare feat, executing painstakingly beautiful renderings that manage to mock their object of adoration. In a large self-portrait, photographer Kosta Tonev wields a spewing gas-pump nozzle like a gun. From elegant multi-process prints by Desislava Unger to a photographic image by Daniela Kostova that the artist has printed on a mattress, the array of media is broad, as is the range of political critique it evokes — fittingly so, in light of its source and history's long and often harrowing shadow. Videographers Vladimir Mitrev and Borjana Ventzislavova round out the septet — and an exhibit that offers an important opportunity to look beyond our own cultural myopia and consider how some of the other 99.9 percent live. Through May 5 at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery, 8342 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-968-7171 or www.websterart.wordpress.com/hunt-gallery. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.