St. Louis Art Capsules 

Malcolm Gay encapsulates the St. Louis arts scene

Ongoing
Alex Couwenberg: Working Space Painter Alex Couwenberg brings his Southern Californian aesthetic to St. Louis in "Alex Couwenberg: Working Space," an exhibition at Bruno David Gallery. Raised in Los Angeles and Orange County, Couwenberg is deeply influenced by the cultural touchstones of the region: custom cars, surf and skateboard culture and the rigors of mid-century design. But it is Southern California's graphic tradition that seems most deeply to inform Couwenberg's paintings, which display a fine use of color and composition. St. Louis artist Shawn Burkard occupies the gallery's project room with his show "Over and over and over," a body of work that reinterprets commercial objects. In the New Media room is "Cornerstone," a short video by installation artist Jill Downen, in which the artist explores the relationship between human bodies and the buildings they inhabit. Through May 31 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; www.brunodavidgallery.com or 314-531-3030. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.

The Annual Juried Photography Exhibit Each year Webster University presents a juried show featuring the work of its photography students in the School of Communications. As with any juried show, the subject matter here varies dramatically. Some students concentrate on more artistic portraits, while others focus on architectural details or photojournalistic images that document the fleeting moments in a city's life. Standouts include Krista Rose Breece, who shows a good eye for detail in a black-and-white shot of an Asian street scene, and Samantha Britton, who provides a bit of visual humor in Wolf Mother, a portrait that captures the intersection of avian culture and lupine sculpture. Through May 2 at the May Gallery, 8300 Big Bend Boulevard (on the second floor of the Sverdrup Building), Webster Groves; 314-246-7673 (www.webster.edu/maygallery). Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (MG)

Deborah Aschheim: Reconsider In earlier projects Los Angeles-area sculptor Deborah Aschheim has explored the relationship between the cyborg and the surveillance state, most notably in her critically acclaimed multi-part installment Neural Architecture. More recently the artist has been exploring the nature of memory. Alzheimer's disease runs in Aschheim's family, and initially the artist embarked on her current project as a defense against forgetting. She submitted a list of her 25 favorite words to Bay Area musician Lisa Mezzacappa, who (along with other musicians) created songs for each word. Aschheim, in turn, created sculptures designed to play the songs. The idea: Our linguistic and auditory memories use separate neural pathways. By creating new sensory associations for these words, Aschheim might be able to protect them from the ravages of memory loss. The result is a series of boldly colored hanging sculptures — made of plastic tubing, LEDs, monitors and funnels — that resemble the circuitry of the human nervous system. Through May 11 at Laumeier Sculpture Park Museum Galleries, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 (www.laumeiersculpturepark.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Chuck Close: 10 Years in Print In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Chuck Close has developed an instantly recognizable style. Often working from photographs of family and friends, Close applies a grid to the image before meticulously re-creating the photograph, grid cell by grid cell, on a grand-size canvas. From a distance Close's paintings appear almost as photographic reproductions. Step closer, though, and the image quickly disintegrates, revealing itself to be a seemingly pell-mell construction whose logic is only apparent when the painting is viewed as a whole. This is the stuff of museums, but here in St. Louis the William Shearburn Gallery is presenting a partial retrospective. One standout: A new 187-color screen print published by Pace Editions, the publishing arm of the famed Pace/Wildenstein Gallery in New York. Through May 10 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 (www.shearburngallery.com). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (MG)

Common Concern After more than 30 years of work and friendship, painters David Ottinger and Barry Sullivan mount a joint show at the Regional Arts Commission. Former classmates, Ottinger and Sullivan even shared a studio before heading in separate directions. For Sullivan that meant stints in Paris and Iran, where he explored the world of abstract painting. Ottinger, meanwhile, remained in his native St. Louis, where he honed his skill as a representational painter who relies heavily on the observed world. For Common Concern, Ottinger presents a crop of formal paintings concerned with line, form and shadow, while Sullivan offers a moody series of expressive paintings. Through May 11 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811 (www.art-stl.com). Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Currents 102: Sarah Oppenheimer The Saint Louis Art Museum has given over to installation artist Sarah Oppenheimer one of the galleries that houses its modern collection. With an undergraduate degree in semiotics, Oppenheimer explores the notion of "mutable architecture": Rather than viewing a room or a building as a fixed space, Oppenheimer seeks a fluctuating architecture that is socially engaged. Here the artist has constructed plywood tunnels through several of the museum's walls. Each tunnel, smooth and tapered, provides a view to a piece in the museum's modern collection. Some portals use mirrors, others open onto artworks that are several galleries away; each has a vaguely filmic quality that allows the viewer to reframe and re-engage with the museum's collection. Through July 6 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 (www.slam.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Discerning Palette: Jerry O. Wilkerson Retrospective Like many of his contemporaries in the pop art movement, Jerry Wilkerson, who died of cancer in 2007, took his inspiration from the world of consumer goods. Painting in a neo-pointillist style that was more influenced by the technological world of printing than the wispy ghost of George Seurat, Wilkerson tackled consumer culture in the most literal way. He painted that thing we consume directly: food. Boiled lobsters, hot dogs, beer cans, potato chips. Wilkerson did not confine himself strictly to painting. He was also a sculptor whose three-dimensional creations tackled similar themes. Like the best pop art, the relationship of Wilkerson's work to the material consumer world is ambiguous: It celebrates the riot of product variety while simultaneously highlighting its disposable nature. Through August 15 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 (www.slu.edu/x16374.xml). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Fiesta de la Libertad: Celebrating Passover in Havana In 2001, taking a break from her documentary photography project about the Bible Fellowship Apostolic Church in East St. Louis, Deborah Weinstein traveled to Cuba with the Maine Photographic Workshops. What she found there was remarkable: a group of Orthodox Jews who had worshiped in an Old Havana synagogue without interruption throughout Fidel Castro's rule. Latching on to a friendly interpreter, Weinstein gained remarkable access to this little-known community, visiting private homes, a kosher butcher and, of course, the synagogue itself. Shot on black-and-white film, Weinstein's photos act as a window to a world few of us have ever imagined, much less seen. Through May 16 at the Art Space at Provisions Market, 11615 Olive Boulevard, Creve Coeur; 314-989-0020. Hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat.

Dan Flavin: Constructed Light Limiting his palette to mass-produced fluorescent tubes of varying lengths and colors, Dan Flavin, who died in 1996, made a career distilling these ubiquitous artifacts of bureaucratic life into their purest form. The result: a body of reserved, minimalist work that at once extracts these relics from their workaday commercial context and reformulates the sites they inhabit with their refulgent glow. As installations, many of Flavin's works are site specific, leaving the stewards of his estate with the thorny question of whether in re-creating his works they are, in effect, creating new works of art. For this show, Tiffany Bell, director of the Dan Flavin catalogue raisonné project, and Steve Morse, who worked as Flavin's chief technician for many years, have chosen several works that rely more on architectural situations than on specific sites. The result is a meditative show that both accentuates and quarrels with the natural grace of their setting. Through October 4 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 (www.pulitzerarts.org). Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

Love, Kisses, Tears (and heartache)! Inspired by a topsy-turvy dreamworld of ubiquitous eroticism, Phyllis Bramson fills her exotic landscapes with images of elves, insects, cats and flowers. These opulent paintings are pretty, yes, but viewers must quickly reevaluate their superficial beauty when they view, for instance, an enormous pussycat spreading the legs of a partially clad Lilliputian woman who appears to be performing fellatio on an elf. Lurid, transgressive, and ultimately melancholic, these paintings are suffused with eroticism, enticing viewers with the promise of childish fancy, only to invert that expectation with an exhibition of complicated sexuality. Also showing: A show of small-scale works by 40 of Philip Slein's favorite talents. Through May 3 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 (www.philipsleingallery.com). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Miao Xiaochun: The Last Judgment in Cyberspace What do the subjects in a painting see? That question lies at the heart of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art's first exhibition of 2008. Working from Michelangelo's Last Judgment, Chinese digital artist Miao Xiaochun has re-imagined the towering fresco in which Christ separates the blessed from the damned, from the internal perspectives of some of the fresco's subjects. This allows the viewer to, say, view the scene from the angst-ridden point of view of a cowering man awaiting judgment. Moreover, whereas the original work features muscular male and female figures, Miao's work, rendered in black-and-white digital photographs, features the same computer-generated nude in each role: Miao himself. The exhibition includes a short animation, allowing viewers to explore the entire three-dimensional work. The effect is as mesmerizing as it is vertiginous. Through May 11 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 or http://mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Quilts in a Material World: Selections from the Winterthur Collection Bedding, you say. Yes, bedding. But these quilts, dating from the 1700s to 1850 and on loan from Delaware's Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, are historical artifacts. Not only are they examples of the materials and technologies that were available to their makers, they also bear witness to the evolving cultural lives of women. One, for instance, represents "The Deserted Village," a poem by Oliver Goldsmith celebrating rural life. Others were status symbols whose imagery reflected their makers' worldliness or whose content more blatantly referenced their well-placed acquaintances by simply listing their names. Also showing: A Stitch in Time: Images of Needleworking, 1850-1920, images of women engaged in knitting, sewing, embroidering, etc. Quilts shows through May 26 in the main exhibition gallery, Stitch through June 8 in Gallery 321 of the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072 (www.slam.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.).

Things That Matter: Art by Children with Autism The premise: Artistic creation can help children with autism to better express themselves. The disorder, which affects a person's ability to communicate, often includes intense fascinations with things: stoves, Hello Kitty, dinosaurs. Harnessing this fascination, coordinators Bevin Early and Nancy Pierson asked children to make art about their obsessions. So we have a video of a teenager dancing to Willy Wonka's "The Golden Ticket," a collection of found objects from a boy who collects everything he can and repeated self-portraits of a young boy. Also showing: the work of Don Koster and Jen Maigret, the 2007-'08 Cynthia Weese Teaching Fellows at Wash. U.'s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Through September 6 (Koster and Maigret) and September 13 (Autism) at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 (www.sheldonconcerthall.org). Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Urban Fossil: Cast Paper Artifacts by John Tuccillo Tuccillo takes the region's rust belt legacy as his jumping-off point. After taking urethane molds of the manhole covers, metal grates and crumbling concrete around his home in Peoria, Illinois, Tuccillo reconstitutes these urban relics in a thick paper pulp, which he then paints to resemble the original object. In the gallery's rear is Ensemble, a group show featuring ceramics, painting, photography and sculpture by artists Joe Chesla, Rebecca Eilering, Leslie Holt, Ken Konchel, David Lancaster, Metra Mitchell, Jeff Palmer, Stan Trampe, David Wallace, Rebecca Trawick and Lin Xu. Standouts include Mitchell's figurative paintings, which turn the brush on the artist in a series of psychologically revealing self-portraits, and Chesla's prints, which incorporate the process of oxidizing metals. Through May 3 at phd Gallery, 2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 (www.phdstl.com). Hours: noon-4 p.m. Thu.-Sun.

Works by Ronald Christ and Ken Anderson Duane Reed Gallery presents the works of two Midwestern artists whose styles are quite different. Christ, an art professor at Wichita State University, paints imagined scenes that he insists are "possible but not probable." His gorgeous, calming, dreamlike canvases call to mind the work of Giorgio de Chirico and the early Renaissance painters who, having freshly discovered the technique of perspectival painting, imagined pristine cityscapes of impossible symmetry. Anderson concerns himself with earthier issues in his mixed-media series of low-relief abstract wood assemblages. Drawing heavily on the world of textiles, Anderson, an art professor at UMSL, uses a muted, earth-toned palette as he arranges strips of painted wood into abstract patterns that begin to resemble woven rugs. Through May 3 at Duane Reed Gallery, 7513 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-2333 (www.duanereedgallery.com). Hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat. and by appointment.

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