In the Galleries - Great Rivers Biennial at CAM (Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis)

The three local artists whose work constitutes the current iteration of this anxiously anticipated juried exhibition find their raw materials in the city itself. David Johnson creates a portrait of the Contemporary Art Museum as a kind of theater, driven by an assorted community of off-scene professionals in a series of photographs that reveal only employee office quarters and the private homes of donors. Devoid of people, the exclusively interior shots focus on quality of light and incidental abstraction — angled intersections of wall and floor, gridwork of shelves or texture of architecture — telling their back-story through place, object and atmosphere. Mel Trad's work employs metal, cloth, wood and other dispossessed scrap to create tenuous, abstract sculptures that intimate the human body: A knotted strip of thick, flesh-colored rubber lies across a low white platform; its title, Untitled (Reclining Nude), anthropomorphizes the rough-hewn assemblage, transforming it into something feminine and sensual. For her exhibit, Between Word & Image, Asma Kazmi worked with a group of illiterate adults, inviting them to respond to poems, artwork and their own biographies. The participants used paper and ink to craft delicate images, each of which might be a pictorial rendering or a part of a written alphabet, but is neither. Though entirely disparate in its genesis, the exhibition as a whole celebrates the mind's capacity to coax elegance from whatever is close at hand — an existential statement that's salient, durable and bracingly affirmative. Through August 12 at CAM (Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis), 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.camstl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. on Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

 
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