Current Shows 

Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Brancusi and Serra in Dialogue The Pulitzer is getting a lot of mileage out of Richard Serra, particularly a few large-scale pieces (Joplin and Standpoint in particular) that have graced the main gallery since the Serra solo show opened two years ago. (Theyre really heavy; I wouldnt move them either.) Now Serras sculptures and drawings are paired with sculptures and photographs by Constantin Brancusi, whose interests intersect with Serras in some fascinating ways. Their approaches to materials couldnt be more different -- Brancusi hacked away at wood and polished stone and bronze to a high, classical finish -- but all kinds of intriguing observations emerge out of this dialogue, including the ways in which both artists treat (or dispense with) the pedestal, their interest in stacking pieces and relating individual parts to the sculptural whole. The small Cube Gallery now features an intense confrontation between Serras Pacific Judson Murphy (1978), a black paint-stick piece that spans two walls; and Brancusis Agnes E. Meyer (1929), a stately, totemic polished work of black marble. Its an inspired pairing, equaled by the strong juxtapositions throughout the show. Through July 23 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850. Museum hours noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

Keith Bueckendorf: Elsewhere and Steve Brown: Edges Local artist Keith Bueckendorfs works play out in a consistently engaging modernist scrawl, highlighted with cheery colors and figures that float, fly and morph into their own formalist schemes. Browns photos, meanwhile, march in lockstep along the wall: six black-and-white images of garden implements, implying a violence to the land that is required by First World rules of real estate and property values. Deadpan, funny and revelatory, these two shows should not be overlooked on your way to the galleries upstairs. Through June 4 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Gallery hours noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Contemporary Women Artists XIII It sounded like such a good idea.... The St. Louis Women's Caucus for Art snagged feminist art icon Judy Chicago to judge this exhibition, which was open to women artists all over the world. The resulting show should have been a glimpse into the rich range of media and conceptions employed by women in the post-post-feminist 21st century. Instead, this one is destined for the dusty annals of art history, filed under "H" for "Huh?" There are good works here, to be sure, including two large works by St. Louisan Janice Nesser, from her "living within the boundaries of nine squares" series; and the humorous, conceptual project titled The Hardly Hard Business: the dress to get hired in and the dress to get fired for, by AnniAbbi of Brookline, Massachusetts. Judy Chicago's interest in local artist Agnes Pal's Holocaust-inspired work is understandable, given Chicago's own work on that theme. But many of the works are retrograde, warmed-over feminist statements that would look more at home at Cal Arts in the 1970s. A few pieces are third-rate takes on women's folk art. And a couple of these beauties appear to have been dusted off from BFA shows circa 1986. Finally, will someone please explain what is going on with the woven tapestries by Linda Friedman Schmidt of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey? Two of them? Are they for real? Even the judge herself seems unimpressed by the work. From her juror's statement: "I had hoped that there would be some more radical work... but perhaps my expectations are too high; I still want art that changes the world -- God knows the world needs to change." Indeed! Through March 30 at Mad Art Gallery, 2727 South 12th Street; 314-771-8230. Gallery hours by appointment 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Fri., 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Sat.

Currents 93: Rivane Neuenschwander This young Brazilian artist spent the last two years traveling the world, collecting verbal wishes, which she prints onto ribbons in a homage to the practice at a pilgrimage church in São Salvador, in which visitors take away a ribbon bracelet -- their own wish comes true when the bracelet falls off. Her show at the Saint Louis Art Museum includes an entire wall of these variegated ribbons printed with a vast array of wishes for everything from world peace to the achievement of rock stardom. An earlier version of this review noted, quite incorrectly, that the ribbons are for display only. In fact, they're meant to be taken away by visitors, and museum staffers replenish the stock daily. The whole affair comes a little too close to the irritating wristbands-for-causes fad, but the charm of being able to take away a piece of the artwork will likely outweigh that issue for most visitors. Also on view are Neuenschwander's "Ze Carioca" paintings, comic book pages minus characters and text; and "Love Lettering," a DVD of fish making poetry (you have to see it to appreciate it). This is a lovely show: Go get your ribbon. Through March 20 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072. Museum hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (open Fri. till 9 p.m.).

Iain Fraser: Places of Mind Frasers steel sculptures invoke the improbable architecture and the daring, imperative projects of Russian Constructivism. Ranging in height from less than two feet to more than five, the structures are poetic proclamations about past or potential cityscapes, with cantilevered branches, suspended rooms and contingent support systems. Fraser, a professor of architecture at Washington University, has clearly put a considerable amount of thought into the works and their content, as evidenced by the powerful quotes from Gaston Bachelard and Italo Calvino that accompany the pieces. The sculptures dont always rise to the level of the literature quoted, but this is truly food for thought. Through May 7 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Gallery hours noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Candida Höfer The shows at the Sheldon keep getting better and better. This selection of German photographer Höfer's work comes from the collections of Barbara and Tom Eagleton and Ulrike and Tom Schlafly, as well as a San Francisco and a New York City gallery, and it's an absolute gem of a show. Höfer is best known for photographing interior spaces, employing that somewhat chilly aesthetic that is the legacy of the German team of Berndt and Hilla Becher, with whom she studied. These works, from 1983 to 2003, present interiors of libraries, museums, archives and schools, perfectly and palpably devoid of human presence. But surrogate beings haunt them -- in the form of portraits, furniture and taxidermy. Anatomisches Institute der Universität Basel (2002) is sumptuously sterile, its overwhelming whiteness punctuated by the human skeleton hanging on a rack; Palazzo Zenobio Venezia III (2003) contains an extremely rare self-portrait reflected in the central ornate mirror. Through April 9 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Gallery hours noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Inside Out Loud: Visualizing Womens Health in Contemporary Art Now that the hoopla is over -- the opening forum with its cast of art-world luminaries, the Todd Haynes Superstar screening that wasnt -- we can settle in and appreciate Inside Out Loud for what it is: the first exhibition devoted to images dealing with womens health. Smartly curated by Janine Mileaf of Swarthmore College, this broad (ha!) survey offers something of everything, from personal narratives about living with cancer (Hannah Wilke) to Orlans cosmetic-surgery performances to cautionary agitprop by Gran Fury, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger and beyond. This being the first exhibition of its kind, it tries to cover a lot of ground, and it largely succeeds. A watershed show that ought to engender plenty of interesting, perhaps more tightly focused exhibitions elsewhere. Through April 24 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum (in Steinberg Hall on the campus of Washington University), Forsyth & Skinker boulevards; 314-935-4523. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., noon-4:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Inventory Clearance Sale at Elliot Smith The news of this gallery's closing took everyone by surprise. Director Bruno David has been authorized to liquidate the inventory, much of which hasn't been displayed in years. The works for sale are mostly prints and some paintings, with nice pieces by Robert Indiana, Janet Fish and many others, as well as a patinated brass chair/ sculpture by Jim Cole and an enormous, intriguing painting on canvas by Bill Hawk. Through mid-March at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4800. Call for hours.

Material Terrain: A Sculptural Exploration of Landscape and Place Laumeier Sculpture Park is the ideal venue for this exhibition of work by eleven artists who explore the sometimes tenuous relationships between the constructed and the natural, the inside and the outside. The exhibition, curated by Carla M. Hanzal in conjunction with Laumeier for the International Arts & Artists, brings together works by some of the finest sculptors and installation artists working today, including Kendall Buster and Dennis Oppenheim, Donald Lipski, Roxy Paine, Ming Fay, James Surls, Michele Brody and Wendy Ross. Many of these artists have imported extraordinary, earthy stuff right into the galleries, while others have installed constructions in and among Laumeiers rolling terrain. Of the gallery works, Ursula von Rydingsvards massive cedar Hej-Duk (2003) creates a dense, dignified presence, while Valeska Soares 2002 steel Fainting Couch emits the sickly sweet scent of the lilies that are tucked into its frame. Outside, John Rupperts absurdly scaled Aluminum Pumpkins (2004) enliven the winter landscape. Through May 15 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.

Bea Nettles: Return Trips This is not an easy show to see if you are a mother, or have a mother, or are related in any way to a woman. But its revelatory, charting the past and recent work of a woman who has seen a great deal and made eloquent art out of it. The recent pieces juxtapose three small photos with a larger one, in compositions that propose something grand about visual experience, visual incident and coincidence. The older pieces from the 1970s and 80s are books and prints from Nettles projects with and about her daughter, her mother and herself. Terre Suhre has organized this exhibition with the extraordinary professionalism and sensitivity he consistently brings to his job as curator. Through April 23 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, UM-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard (at Natural Bridge Road), Normandy; 314-516-5976. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Perret and Le Corbusier: A Dialogue in Reinforced Concrete Who knew concrete could make for fascinating viewing? In the hands of architects Auguste Perret (1874-1954) and Le Corbusier (1887-1965), this most mundane of building materials is transformed into expressive, space-shaping form. The exhibition itself isnt particularly pretty or inviting, consisting primarily of a bunch of photographs, dense text panels, placards and even samples of the varieties of concrete these progressive architects employed (yes, theres more than one kind of concrete). But the photographs capture the marvelous forms and textures that Perret and his onetime apprentice, Le Corbusier, achieved in public and private buildings throughout the world. Perrets wonderful apartment building at 25 Bis Rue Franklin (1903-04) in Paris uses concrete to make the buildings structural frame visually explicit, while in Le Corbusiers later works, such as the church at Ronchamp, France (1950-54), the concrete takes on a muscular malleability. These images will spark a new appreciation for the Sheldons concrete neighbors, the Pulitzer and the Contemporary. Through April 16 at the Bernoudy Gallery of Architecture, Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Gallery hours noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri. and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

The Wall Ball Preview Show Here are works by twenty artists who participated in March 12's Wall Ball, the South City Open Studio and Gallery's annual art-making and -buying extravaganza. In spite of the loose logic behind the roster, the works hang beautifully together, as if the entire affair had been years in the planning. Standouts include Kim Humphries' digital prints on ceiling tiles; three small encounter paintings by William LaChance; and a trio of heartbreakingly fragile maplike drawings by Sarah Giannobile. Also included are works by Alicia LaChance, Craig Downs, William Christman, Nate Abner, Lyndsey Scott, Janice Wallace, Chris Moreland, Charles Houska, Keith Buchholz, Christopher Gustave, Alan Brunettin, Terrell Carter, Solomon Thurman, Michael Paradise, Jenna Bauer, SAResa (the team of Theresa Disney and Sara Hale) and Michael Hoffman. Above all, a spirit of experimentation, fascination with the everyday and sheer joy in picturemaking connects these works -- and perhaps explains the artists' generous contributions to SCOSAG's mission. Through March 26 at Gallery Urbis Orbis, 419 North Tenth Street; 314-406-5778. Gallery hours 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu., noon-7 p.m. Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. and by appointment.

Warren Rosser: Hide and Seek The last time Rosser (who teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute) showed in St. Louis, the Contemporary was called the Forum and his paintings were spaced-out neon abstractions about ten feet long, populated by elliptical characters masquerading as chemical symbols. The ellipses are back, as ghosts of their former selves -- echoes that sound through their layers of translucent, indescribable hues of dusty lavender, milky cocoa and hazy blue-green. The seek involves staring and moving about the mostly medium-size canvases, watching forms emerge and change; the hide is the disappearance of layers behind other layers behind ellipses. Its a carnival for anyone who loves abstract art, which doesnt get any better than this. Through April 2 at the William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat. -- Ivy Cooper

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