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.

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.).

Eight the Hard Way A brilliant inauguration for Philip Sleins delicious new street-level gallery just down Wash. Ave. from his previous digs. Here he takes a liberal approach to defining hard-edge, including some great figurative works by Robert McCann (the dazzling Big Fish Eat the Small Fish) and Bill Kreplin, whose line-drawn images are both edgy and funny. The abstract works are savvy contemporary takes on the hard-edge sensibility, with strong, distressed-looking pieces by Jerald Ieans; superflat squigglies by Erik Spehn; and Brandon Anschultzs shapes that parade across highly varnished plywood surfaces. Kelly Chorpenings linear webs and chunky, cartoonish cityscapes play deftly with spatial illusion and pure flatness, while Cheonae Kims Untitled is nothing but surface, articulated by strong color. In a sensational digression into the textual/conceptual, Kim Humphries eight Emoticon paintings monumentalize the absurd text-messaging lingo that employs letters and punctuation marks to express remarkably banal ideas. I was LMAO when I saw these, and chances are youll LOL too. Through March 5 at the Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Candida Höfer The shows at the Sheldon Art Galleries (and the Photography Gallery in particular) 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 Women's 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 wasn't -- we can settle in and appreciate Inside Out Loud for what it is: the first exhibition devoted to images dealing with women's 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 Orlan's 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.

Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens Thank goodness for the Contemporary, which can always be counted on to provide much-needed subversion and humor just when things in the world seem their bleakest. Nara knows all about twisted humor: His angry kid characters adorn paper, sculpture and oversize dinner plates and complain about the most banal contemporary ills. They smoke, curse and laze around in that irresistible superflat way. Couple this with a look at Laylah Alis absolutely surreal cartoon drawings and local artist Danny Yahav- Browns animated plastic grocery bags, And Then They Danced, and youve got an afternoon chock-full of revelations and rowdy good fun. Through February 27 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660. Museum hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (open Thu. till 7 p.m. and Sun. till 4 p.m.).

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 isn't 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, there's 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. Perret's wonderful apartment building at 25 Bis Rue Franklin (1903-4) in Paris uses concrete to make the building's structural frame visually explicit, while in Le Corbusier's later works, such as the church at Ronchamp, France (1950-54), the concrete takes on a muscular malleability. These images will spark a newappreciation for the Sheldon's 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.

Traditions Transformed: Murrini Glass Artists Sam Stang returns to St. Louis from his Augusta glass studio to curate a show about something he knows well: the murrini technique, which employs cross sections of colorful glass rods fused together to create vibrant, colorful patterns. The eighteen artists shown here work in Italy, Japan and the U.S., and the range of murrini approaches is startling. Stang's own trademark bowls and vases are of course on hand, along with dozens of dazzling surprises. Ro Purser's glass orbs hold objects and painted scenes in suspended animation; Ralph Mossman's technique results in tiny pixels of color that float in clear glass; and Laura Pesce and Peter Secrest are represented by substantial wall pieces. The works here range from gigantic to tiny in scale, and from opaque to milky to translucent in character. They attest to the incredible versatility of glass as a medium -- in the proper hands, of course. Through March 6 at Craft Alliance, 6640 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1177. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 10 a.m.- 8 p.m. Thu.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat. and noon-6 p.m. Sun. -- Ivy Cooper

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