Mexican-born, New York-based artist Pablo Helguera is best known for his politically infused performative works that riff on forms of pedagogy. This smart and incisive show finds him stepping back from the lectern to explore and toy with a more fundamental academic pursuit: research. Visitors first encounter Conservatory of Dead Languages: Mary Smith Jones (Eyak), a series of wax phonograph cylinders that ostensibly preserve for posterity an interview with the last surviving speaker of the Alaskan Eyak language. Further along a Norwegian archaeological text from 1936 lies open on a pedestal. Framed reproductions of its pages hang on the walls, their descriptions of site maps and photographed specimens having been "translated" by Helguera — who cannot speak nor read Norwegian. A page containing illustrations of what appear to be primitive arrowheads is annotated with descriptions that read "fears of adulthood," "regressions of childhood" and "it is better to forget," among others. The exhibit's final component is a series of enlarged text panels from T.S. Eliot's epic poem The Waste Land, whose title Helguera has selectively erased to form a new epic for the current age, He Was Elan, complete with "translated" fragments such as, "If you see art,/Tell it horoscopes:/one must care less." Rather than assess the present moment through the elevated verbiage of existential alienation, Helguera's version sums up simply and deflatedly: "odd era." Through December 15 at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery, 8342 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-968-7171 or www.websterart.wordpress.com/hunt-gallery. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
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