Mary Lee Bendolph, Gee's Bend Quilts, and Beyond The singularly beautiful quilts from Gee's Bend, a small African American community in Alabama, has traveled to major museums across the United States for the past several years, garnering accolades as well as controversy regarding the possible exploitation of the self-taught artists it features. Politics and media aside, it's a show worth viewing on the merits of the work included. The quilts made by the women of Gee's Bend, in nearly unwavering tradition for over a century, are pieces of honest beauty and startling modernity — resembling hard-edged abstract paintings or midcentury design. Whether it's legitimate to liken the work to canonical twentieth-century art is too heady a question for the quilts' elemental appeal. From blocky, patched-together swatches of used corduroy and denim, eccentric compositions of vivid colors emerge, creating bold tableaus. The exhibit also includes prints made from the quilted patterns and sculptures by two notable "outsider" artists from the region, Thornton Dial and Lonnie Holley, who were introduced to the quilters and created artworks that celebrated their dialogue and shared cultural history. Through September 13 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (open till 8 p.m. Tue.).
Built: Kranzberg Exhibition Series Six St. Louis-based artists — Mike Behle, Stan Chisholm, Sarah Frost, Craig Norton, Cameron Fuller and Sarah Paulsen — were chosen to transform the small rooms of Laumeier's gallery space into site-specific installations for this annual exhibition that usually focuses on the work of just one local sculptor. The decision to select artists whose work is not predominantly three-dimensional to expand their practices to fit installation art's all-consuming proportions, and thereby exemplify a current trend, is an interesting idea, if something of an assignment. The resulting work feels equal parts challenging and strained — that is, challenging for the artists to execute, no doubt, but an unnatural extension of their native impulses. Chisholm, Norton and Fuller/Paulsen, for instance, translate their distinct two-dimensional aesthetics in a way that comes across as somewhat stiffly set-like. Frost (who won a 2008 RFT MasterMind award) and Behle struggle to make their pieces cohere more naturally and transcend their disparate consumer materials. As a whole the show feels like a curious maze of backdrops to actions — particularly all the trials that go along with navigating, or in this case, building, unfamiliar territory. Through September 6 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 or www.laumeier.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset).
Bruce Burton: Observation and Formulation St. Louis-based Bruce Burton transforms this small gallery into a contemporary Cabinet of Wonders, re-articulating the space with an eye equally attuned to contemporary materials and design as to natural oddities — an eye that, in turn, trains the viewer's eye to see subtle, unlikely relationships. Like the Renaissance Wunderkammer, Burton curates an environment where correlations between collected objects are unexpected and evocative rather than predictably serial: a square piece of copper echoes with a square piece of mirror; a pile of moldering orange peels wears a patina similar to a single rusted screw. While the space can be experienced as a whole installation, its scrupulously plotted elements function dually as individual art pieces, with respective names. This movement in and out of closely viewable detail makes for an experience of endless play and infinite and irreducible curiosity — the residue of which follows one out of the gallery and into the world, made suddenly rife with peculiar nuance. Through September 4 at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Home from Work to Find Your Spaniel Turned Into a Wolf St. Louis-area artist Alison Ouellette-Kirby presents seven variations on the theme of the small green house from the game Monopoly. Home, chance, the ideal dream and desperate horror of domesticity — all of these ideas come into play as the perfectly simple form of the game piece variously manifests itself out of collected dog and cat hair, the sterling silver of a ring crowned by an enormous piece of cubic zirconia and doghouse-size sheets of Plexiglas on which a projection of a ferocious-looking spaniel mutely barks. In Longest Way Round, Shortest Way Home, three weighty cast-iron houses roll on a large seesaw-like track; they tend to collect heavily on one end unless the viewer uses the handle and exerts a little muscle to get them balanced in the center. All of the work is executed with such pristine craftsmanship that the ideas and sentiments behind it are communicated with inevitable clarity. Through August 29 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.
Ideal (Dis-) Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer This exhibition of canonical canvases of slain martyrs, pious virgins and other grand dilemmas borrowed from two encyclopedic museums and replaced in naturally lit contemporary galleries is a reaffirmation of the human scale. The minimalism of Tadao Ando's building design is diffused by ornate, gilt-framed compositions that date from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, the two historical extremes meeting precisely at the fragile effects of daylight on the predominantly figural pieces. Contemplative and reverent, the show fulfills its premise so well that it seems capable of providing a discretely intimate experience for each and every viewer. Through October 3 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Meth and Hot Dogs Dystopia's version of a salon-style exhibit of portraits, this absurdist collection of small framed drawings and paintings includes every outcast variety of imaginary cartoon character. Coordinated by Detroit-based graphic artist Kill Taupe (a pseudonym), the group of artists, culled from a national call for submissions, plumb the full range of the show title's cute-turned-horrible brand of eclecticism. Lots of large eyes, drawn in black outline, droop or leer from the be-fanged faces of what would otherwise be, say, a snow-white rabbit. There's a highly detailed sense of care taken in placing these pieces on dense but deliberate display — albeit on raw fiberboard in a cement-floor basement. That's the spirit of the show: For all the rendered creatures' apparent horribleness, they're handled with true fondness, if not a sense of inclusive pride in having found, for once, themselves among the like-minded. Also worth peering at is the store's meticulous window display, descriptively titled Crap Glued to Crap. Through August 28 at Cranky Yellow, 2847 Cherokee Street; 314-773-4499 or www.crankyyellow.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
migration (empire) — linear version Oil derricks, factories and other industrial sites are glimpsed through the windows of roadside hotel rooms, where lone specimens of American wildlife — a horse, an owl, a buffalo, among others — have been bewilderingly displaced. This non-narrative 2008 film by renowned multimedia artist Doug Aitken depicts a country claimed by humans but populated only by animals, who confront weird televised analogues of themselves and all the unnatural comforts of beds, lamps and running faucets with wide, glossy eyes. Aitken's previous projects have included Electric Earth, a multiscreen video installation that garnered highest honors at the 1999 Venice Biennale, and 2007's Sleepwalkers, a series of film vignettes featuring a host of contemporary celebrities that was projected on the exterior of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His expertise with Hollywood production values and work that communicates on a blockbuster scale makes migration (empire) mesmerizing not merely for its content, but also for its ability to speak to a broad audience. Through September 7 at the Saint Louis Art Museum in Forest Park, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)
Recycled Tendencies Everything remains to be reused, it seems, in this show surveying the myriad ways in which our daily detritus can experience a modestly dignified afterlife if hung on a wall or placed on a pedestal. The castle-like quarters of the St. Louis Artists' Guild make for an almost imperial framework for scraps of old cereal boxes turned into papier-mâché figures, shadow boxes crammed with what seems like several decades' worth of winnings from 25-cent toy machines and a disembodied Cabbage Patch doll head nested amid an assortment of discarded filigree — among many other curious assemblages. This juried exhibition of work by local artists of disparate passions and compulsions implicitly advocates a radical form of creative democracy wherein anything is a worthy contender for the title "art" if will and a little ingenuity are applied. Also showing: Greenspace, an outdoor exhibition; and Modern Rubbish, selected artworks by William Lobdell that use found objects to create representational paintings. Through September 4 at the St. Louis Artists' Guild and Galleries, 2 Oak Knoll Park, Clayton; 314-727-6266 (www.stlouisartistsguild.org). Hours: noon-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Relics of a Glorious Past: Imperial Russian Artifacts from the Collection of Dr. James F. Cooper This assemblage of orthodox icons and the daily stuff of royalty forms a two-part essay on lost cultural splendor and the bygone transcendent art object. Framed in gilt halos, pounded metal and semiprecious stones, the small tempera-on-wood devotional paintings exemplify an anonymous milieu in which studied replication was prized over innovation, and communion with the immaterial was the subject matter of choice. Similarly, the gold-rimmed teaspoons, military regalia and assorted decorative pieces from the show's secular portion involve such an engaged level of tactile detail that they could be considered devotionally crafted. The exhibit as a whole serves as a useful reference point for contemporary art's renewed interest in gold, which seems to signify a nostalgia for creative acts deemed sacred and authentic. Through December 20 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or sluma.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Thomas Struth In a masterfully resonant gesture, two large-format photographs by the notable German photographer Thomas Struth have replaced the collection of old-master drawings in the Pulitzer Foundation's lower gallery. The images, Pantheon, Rome and The Restorers at San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples, immediately predate his seminally elegant "Museum" series (which depicted people viewing canonical works of art in the world's canonical museums), but share that series' concern with the phenomenon of viewership and space. One photograph shows a cluster of minute-seeming tourists gaping skyward at the enormity of the ancient Roman sacred space; the other captures a small group of employees in the museum's rear quarters, gazing directly at the camera while rows of historical paintings lean almost casually against a wall behind them. As a pair, the photographs perform a rich exercise in perception and scale, in which you, the viewer, contemplate other viewers' contemplations of represented space, while simultaneously enacting the same action. Furthering this effect, when ascending the stairs from the lower gallery, the severe modernity of the museum suddenly resonates with Struth's ornate grand halls and coffered rotundas — making the contemporary world, for a miraculous moment, the logical conclusion of history. Through October 3 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
When We Build, Let Us Think That We Build Forever Home, or a sense of place, seems to be an ever-elusive but primary concern for the creative set, as this group show by local artists confirms. B.j. Vogt piles strata of Styrofoam and tufts of green twist ties to create a mountainous, occasionally green-sprouting form based on the shape of his arm. Christine D'Epiro consumes a discrete gallery space with a floor-to-ceiling patchwork of paper bags painted black and punctured with small holes that reveal bits of luminous color. The body, here, becomes a kind of location; and what seems like the density of night becomes a dense, all-consuming place. Also participating are Jessica Kiel-Wornson, Brea McAnally and Peter Marcus, who explore the spirit of the habitable environment from the stock form — or shards of form — of a house. Through September 30 at The Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: 2-7 p.m. Tue.-Wed. and noon-5 p.m. Sat.
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