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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Betwixt and Between: Christina Shmigel Most artists invited to install work in the Saint Louis Museum of Art's Contemporary Projects Gallery choose to black out the space and show off their work under discreet, tasteful lighting; the space is that awkward. Along comes Christina Shmigel, who takes the former utility closets and lights them up hard, adding her signature scaled-down versions of industrial tubing, pipes and architecture. The result is a sublime disorientation. Shmigel plays off existing plumbing, power lines and drains, installing her own little silos, wire circuitry and trestle bridges. We're left to wrestle with scenarios that are either miniatures of industrial landscapes or enlarged interpretations of the secret architecture betwixt and between the buildings we daily inhabit. Through July 11 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, Contemporary Projects Gallery, 3663 Lindell, 314-977-3399. Gallery hours Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Currents 91: Francis Cape, "Forest Park" Sadly, viewers seem to have a tough time warming up to this piece. Cape has designed three boldly colored, freestanding wall pieces in one of the Saint Louis Art Museum's upstairs galleries. Titled "Forest Park," the pieces together unite and divide the room, describing their own perfectly square floor plan while echoing the museum's subtle architectural detailing. They inscribe a space-within-a-space, and do us the extra favor of inviting us behind their pristinely painted surfaces to check out the normally hidden details of construction. Given that the museum itself was constructed as part of the 1904 World's Fair, it's engaging to watch another artist reinterpret the construction process within its walls. Through June 13 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, 314-721-0072. Museum hours Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.)

Double Exposure Fourteen internationally known contemporary artists have produced photographic diptychs for this splendid exhibition, which shows off William Shearburn's new gallery extremely well. Candida Höfer and Vanessa Beecroft treat architecture and the human body, respectively, with brilliant deadpan, while Thomas Demand's photos elevate stacks of paper cards to a quiet monumentality. Photos by Alfredo Jaar and Nan Goldin capture the vulnerability of very different human subjects. The works are all printed in a consistent, modest scale, creating a rhythmic pattern at eye level along the gallery's main wall -- a dry tone that's perfectly pitched to these fairly conceptual works. Also included are works by Malerie Marder, Uta Barth, Barbara Probst, Catherine Yass, Bill Jacobson, James Welling, Axel Hütte and Olafur Eliasson. Through May 15 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson, 314-367-8020. Gallery hours Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

El Ojo Fino/The Exquisite Eye: Nine Women Photographers An extensive exhibit of works by three generations of Mexican artists. While the arrangement is fairly dry, the work is marvelous, subtly indicating the transmission of techniques and themes among natives and immigrants working in Mexico. These women depict street scenes, heavily symbolic staged arrangements and politically charged situations. Among the standouts are Yolanda Andrade's surrealist street tableaux; less interesting are Flor Garduno's stagings, which are somewhat strained. Also included in the exhibition are Alicia Ahumada Salaíz, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Maya Goded, Kati Horna, Graciela Iturbide, Angeles Torrejón and Mariana Yampolsky. Through June 19 at the Sheldon Gallery of Photography, 3663 Lindell, 314-977-3399. Gallery hours Tue. 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Wed. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

John Dilg: Recent Paintings This collection of paintings by Iowa artist Dilg is terrific -- funny, enigmatic, emblematic and smart all at once. The color palette on these small canvases is limited to dusty blues, heather greens and grays, depicting stylized trees, waterfalls and a couple of abstract "landscapes" so oddly minimal they defy easy description. Blue Grizzly features an animal form in a simplified forest at twilight; The Big Picture is nothing more than a few lines indicating water, with a triangular shark fin planted in the center -- it's hilarious, but hard to say why. Elvis has an abstraction of the King's hair in an empty landscape, his face a rectangular void. These works are rare little treasures. Through May 21 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 4740 McPherson, 314-575-2648. Gallery hours Wed.-Sat. 1-6 p.m.

Louise Bourgeois: Nine Drawings These nine drawings by Louise Bourgeois were all donated anonymously to the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1995. Those familiar with Bourgeois know that her drawings rival her sculpture in terms of power and acerbity; even this small collection brings the point home. "Sainte Sebastienne" (1992) offers a female version of the saint, with arrows darting toward the headless body as if it were a medical illustration. An untitled oil and watercolor image from 1986 unites large and small pairs of scissors by an umbilical cord. And a 1943 ink drawing has a woman tucked underneath a bell jar; her smile is uncanny. This is vintage Bourgeois. Through June 20 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, 314-721-0072. Museum hours Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.)

Michael Lin and William Pope.L "In Sickness and in Health" is Michael Lin's exuberant installation at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. With students from Washington University, Lin handpainted an enlarged Taiwanese floral textile design on floor panels that bisect the enormous gallery space; then he added striking window designs. The installation was the backdrop for one lucky local couple's wedding. Its post-nuptial purpose will elude some, but it certainly is beautiful. Lin's "Spring 2003" fills the second gallery with flower-covered modernist furniture and a painted "carpet" incorporating symbols found in Afghani rugs during the Russian occupation (bombs, tanks, grenades, etc.). This is art of a post-post-industrial era, a sitting room in a William Gibson novel. William Pope.L's "eRacism" DVD-projection shows the artist performing "whiteness" as street theater -- it's potent stuff, and humorous. Through May 27 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington, 314-535-4660. Gallery hours Tue.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Rito, Espejo y Ojo (Ritual, Mirror and Eye) The Museum of Contemporary Religious Art has gathered photography by three important Latin-American artists -- Luis González Palma (from Guatemala), María Magdalena Campos-Pons (born in Cuba) and Pablo Soria (born in Argentina) -- whose work observes intersections of religion, mythology and cultural identity. The range of technical approaches is broad, from large scale Polaroids to sepia-toned gelatin silver prints to the use of collage and transparencies. Much of the work is arranged in multiple parts, evocative of altarpieces. Palma's works possess the richness of mestizo cultural artifacts, while Campos-Pons' lusciously colored staged images make a convincing argument for the superiority of the Polaroid among film media. Through May 30 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, Saint Louis University, John E. Connelly Mall, 314-977-7170. Gallery hours Tue.-Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Sara Good: If Anything's a Garden... Good's exhibition features "gardens" constructed of found objects that have one foot in nature and one in artifice. Bricks define garden edges, but they also crumble back into raw, red earth; metal "trees" support flower pots as they simultaneously undergo natural processes of rust and decay. All the garden tools are strangely sculptural, while a charming grove of flowers is fashioned out of the most abject materials. Everything here is in transition, suggesting that our control in the garden is illusory; nature is somehow always in charge. Through May 22 at Gallery 210, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge, 314-516-5952. Gallery hours Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Tim Liddy: A 10-Year Survey This smallish exhibition gives retrospective credit to one of St. Louis' greatest artistic imaginations. Liddy, a professor of art at Fontbonne University, possesses a formidable grasp of art history and employs it when he works with found pieces of steel. He grafts images from Jacques-Louis David, Michelangelo and the like onto decaying surfaces, combining them with dreamlike symbols, advertising icons and evocative text. Whether large or small in scale, Liddy's works reach in multiple directions and refuse to settle down. His imagination is boundless; his imagery will work its way into your dreams. Through July 11 at the Center of Creative Arts, Anheuser-Busch Gallery, 524 Trinity, 314-725-6555. Gallery hours Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat.-Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Women Only The first in a series of exhibitions featuring contemporary art in St. Louis, and chivalry evidently is not dead: Ladies first. These 34 works by 33 artists comprise a predictably varied mix of painting, sculpture and photography. Among the best: Joan Hall's Red Sky at Night... , a wall piece of rich red pigment on cast paper; Amy Morose's Yellow Infinity, a beautiful ink-jet print on canvas; paintings by Deborah Douglas and Nicole Northway; and sculptures by Lindsey Stouffer, Amber Slater and Becky Luce. Lots of these artists enjoy high profiles in St. Louis and beyond, and it's great to see them showing side-by-side with the slightly lesser-known women artists in town. Through May 22 at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, 4729 McPherson, 314-361-4800. Call for gallery hours.

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