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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Accidental Mysteries: Vernacular Photographs from the Collection of John and Teenuh Foster This traveling exhibition poses an interesting counterpoint to the splashy color photos currently dominating the gallery circuit. It's no wonder that found collections — old photos, random notes, cast-offs of all kinds — are so popular. They're relatively easy to come by and they've earned their art cred thanks to the hard work of luminaries like Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. (The Web site features a new "find" every day.) And there's something utterly magical about encountering an orphan object, something that once held meaning for someone somewhere but is now a free-floating non-signifier. This exhibition features dozens of found photographs from the collection of John and Teenuh Foster, who have scoured flea markets and estate sales with an eye for the particularly surreal. None of these images is titled, but some are grouped to suggest odd relationships. Still others are enlarged, which only enhances their mystery. Through January 6, 2006, at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Benjamin Bertocci and Brendan Tang Printmaker Bertocci and ceramicist Tang push the limits of their respective mediums to startling effect. The two relative newcomers work out of SIU-Edwardsville — Bertocci, a visiting assistant professor, received his M.F.A. there last year; Tang completes his in 2006 — but their works possess the sharp, observational edge that usually comes decades into an artistic career. Bertocci's works combine intaglio and monotypes with digital prints and photorealist painted passages; the subjects are devastating, commenting on brute human instincts and melancholic mortality. Tang's works are relentless critical riffs on celebrity, narcissism and the history of fetish ceramics — such as eighteenth-century rococo ormolu gewgaws and collectible porcelain Asian ware. You'll mistake them for kitschy reproductions until you look more closely and recognize plastic, mechanical birds chirping away, or the sly homoeroticism of Just What Is It That Makes Asian Men So Appealing? or the self-referential social critique posed by Gookie Jar. These artists won't be in our area much longer, and their careers are definitely going places. [Editor's note: The reviewer teaches art history at SIUE and works with both artists.] Through December 31 at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 South 12th Street; 314-771-8230. Hours: by appointment 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.

DoDo Jin Ming: Land and Sea It's astonishing to think that this Chinese photographer was Robert Frank's apprentice. Then again, her talent would probably take her to these outer regions regardless of how, or with whom, she studied. Ming is an internationally known artist, and this exhibition features her astonishing powers of photographic interpretation in spare but dramatic form. In series of photographs of roiling seas and barren fields of sunflowers, she somehow sidesteps cliché and captures something of the human condition. The sunflowers, printed in negative tones and with veils over their heads, carry with them an elegiac quality that seems to want to heal the world's wounds. Through December 18 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Fusz Hall, Saint Louis University, 3700 West Pine Boulevard; 314-977-7170. Hours: 11 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Minimalism and Beyond This exhibition is perfect. The stacked and repeated boxes of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin's fluorescent lights and Richard Serra's stacked and leaning works cast new light on the minimalist idiom, which is simultaneously thematically connected to works by more recent artists like Felix Gonzales-Torres, Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread and Robert Gober. OK, these connections have been drawn out before — but not amid Tadao Ando's minimalist architecture. Whiteread's Untitled (Gray) (1996/2003), a cast-concrete bathtub, quietly anchors the exhibition, making sensual reference to the smooth concrete of the building's walls and floor, while nearby Roni Horn's Untitled (Yes), a block of cast black optical glass, looks positively liquid in relation to the Pulitzer's water court, and Gonzales-Torres' pyramidal pile of candy in shiny silver wrappers acts as a foil to the somber character of the small Cube Gallery. The endless, subtle surprises embedded in the exhibition's layout will beckon viewers back again and again. Through April 26, 2006, at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

Garry Noland: Unorganized Territory Noland's messy, dystopic paintings and assemblages are apt metaphors for the state of current American foreign relations. In one series the artist binds National Geographic magazines in colored tape and arranges the pieces to spell out messages in Morse Code. Elsewhere Noland gouges maps into impossibly thick impasto paint. Best of all his works are the TV assemblages: stacks of dusty, pre-cable TV sets adorned with various effluvia and broadcasting mostly snow, punctuated by recognizable imagery. The works read like desperate attempts at post-apocalyptic communication. It's witty and disturbing — and a perfect complement to Return, Afghanistan, an exhibition of photographs by Zalmai, an Afghan-born photojournalist who depicts the plight of refugees and seemingly perpetual state of collapse that characterizes that nation. (Return, Afghanistan closes December 10.) Also on view is a video work by Chris Coleman and flower photographs by Gene Moehring. Through January 21, 2006, at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Public Notice: Painting in Laumeier Sculpture Park It's a brilliant conceit: Exhibit paintings in a sculpture park, and make them billboard-size, inescapable! Whoever came up with the idea deserves a raise, because this show transports Laumeier beyond the territory of contemporary-art coolness it had reached before. The ten billboard artists on view here come from all over the world (we're lucky to claim one of them, Eva Lundsager, as our own). All have the talent to translate their idiosyncratic aesthetics to a massive scale, and each twelve-by-sixteen-foot sign/painting has something unique and engaging to say. But first check out the stunning exhibition of smaller works in the galleries; they lay the groundwork for the big statements. Through January 15, 2006, at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209. Hours: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

Cindy Sherman: Working Girl and Girls' Night Out Kudos to the Contemporary: Rather than simply play host to a great touring photography show (Girls' Night Out), the museum has paired that exhibition with a selection of Cindy Sherman's works. Not the (now overly familiar) Untitled Film Stills, and not her more recent self-portraits-with-prostheses, but some very early works — photobooth things and cut-out images and portraits that retain a weak but recognizable link to her later work. Setting the video and photography of the next generation of "girls" against the backdrop of the most influential female photographer of the twentieth century gently poses questions without making overbearing genealogical claims. After a tour of Sherman's material, the work in Girls' Night Out (by Sarah Jones, Daniela Rossell, Shirana Shahbazi, Katy Grannan, Kelly Nipper, Salla Tykkä, Dorit Cypis, Elina Brotherus, Reneke Dijkstra and Eija Liisa Ahtila) takes on added dimensions of meaning — and pleasure. Through December 31 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun. — Ivy Cooper

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