Smarter/Faster/Higher A clutch of wire-woven human forms crawl, run and gaze at their own images displayed on video screens in Elizabeth Keithline's site-specific installation. Wire-formed trees sprout from the hexagonal white tiles that carpet the areas on which the figural armatures pose. It's a skeletal world of reductive shapes and symbolic forms, suggesting a kind of Darwinian attrition from wildlife and infancy to the technocratic and ostensibly "adult." In this case maturity equals self-reflection, which is either an act of heightened consciousness or narcissism. Either way, whatever these characters discern in themselves must be yet one more reduction of humanity, like the hollow and de-gendered objects they are, despite their finely knotted nuance. Which is to say that this is one direly cynical diorama, lovingly handcrafted. Through January 16, 2011 at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.Ongoing
Erik Spehn: Tape Drawings Strips of masking tape used in the creation of this St. Louis-based painter's signature woven-pattern acrylics on canvas are reused in this series of small works on matte board. While calling these pieces "drawings" may imply that they're not as formidable as their painted counterparts, the exhibit proves otherwise. Arranged in chromatic groups, crosshatchings of red-, then maroon-, then blue-flecked strips appear to explore different approaches to pattern. Wide swaths of tape overlap in loose diffusions, while minute, finely cut pieces interweave in tight grids. As one moves through the gallery, the palette brightens, opening up to a full room of yellow- and golden-hued pieces that seem to be uttering among themselves a complicated language in lines, layers and other distinct and serial marks. Through September 18 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.thesheldon.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Gesture, Scrape, Combine, Calculate: Postwar Abstraction from the Permanent Collection The Kemper has arranged this predominantly painterly selection in clockwise fashion, beginning with works in grayscale (Tapies, Burri, Millare) engaged in various ways of tearing and stitching up a canvas (or, in the case of the occasional sculpture, metal) substrate. Then come works in color, from flat color fields (Olitski) to chromatic geometries (McCracken) to vibrant expressionism (Hartigan). And finally abstract surrealism (Gorkey and Matta). But this show is no greatest-hits album — more like a grab bag of random B-sides that cuts a ragged swath through the field of twentieth-century abstraction. In this context the scattered sculptural works are the most refreshing, given the increasing scarcity of serious three-dimensional forms in non-trivial materials: John Chamberlain's Hanging Herm, assembled from crumpled car parts (his signature material), is formidably immediate; Ibram Lassaw's spindly, armature-like Eden Now, in its gold plating and delicately piled welding, feels like a large-scale piece of jewelry of an unfamiliar but contemporary brand. Through September 20 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).
Recent Acquisitions I The first in a series of shows featuring art recently acquired through benefactors of the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, this exhibit focuses on prints, collages and other works on paper. Alex Katz's Olympic Swimmer from 1976; Flash Back 3, a 1981 abstract lithograph in neon and metallic inks by John Chamberlain; Donald Sultan's Orange Flowers; and Evan's Twins, a 1982 lithograph by Alice Neel — all appear startlingly fresh in their flat planes of color, contemporary palette and angular formalism. While they mark classic points in the 20th-century canon, these works could also be examples of the most immediate currents in artmaking. Other notable moments include an untitled water color by Herta Muller, whose tenuous marks and saturated diffusions have the presence of a sensate tangle of cut threads. A room of small collages from 1978 by Erro, an Icelandic artist, feels similarly intimate and trenchant beyond its scale — where minute cut-outs of militaristic formations, dictatorial gestures, political propaganda and glimpses of modern industry combine to embody something at once intimate and historic. Through September 26 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.slu.edu/x16374.xml. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Screwed Again This massive, collaborative wall mural — executed in black, white and gray by a lengthy list of local graffiti/street-inspired artists (Christopher Burch, Daniel Burnett, Stan Chisholm, Daniel Jefferson, Kris Mosby, Chris Sabatino, Jason Spencer, Justin Tolentino and Bryan Walsh) — is an unlikely homage to the power of restraint. The work was created on panels of plywood that tile the gallery and obscure its permanently installed stained glass. A bizarre entanglement of a mournful, urban vignettes appears to be eulogized: headstones crop up amid a menacing parade of white-hooded figures; Cheshire smiles float between stenciled dollar signs; cutout drawings of singed paper airplanes fly above mailboxes, bones and tears. A malicious-looking worm burrows its way through the piled, graphic debris. The message relayed is one of pessimistic resignation: "Too late to make history"; "Impending Doom"; and "Kiss the Weeds, the Flowers May Never Return." Bottles are plentiful, suggesting that deranging consumption, in this climate, is advised. But this is no place to look for wisdom. The best point made seems to be about working together — wherein subduing and subsuming distinct identities and approaches clearly benefits a shared whole. Through October 3 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811 or www.art-stl.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
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