Jill Downen: (dis)Mantle Local artist and recent Guggenheim recipient Jill Downen has transformed the former chapel inside the Luminary Center for the Arts by way of an all-over application of white plaster. In removing doorways, outlets and other visual excesses, Downen exposes its subtle asymmetries. A plumb line dangling from the ceiling emphasizes the space's subtle but numerous misalignments — and the vertiginous seasickness they combine to produce. Here Downen has taken her exploration of the relationship between body and architectural space to its most metaphysical, breaching the realm where faith and its attendant absolutes collide with human flaws and limitations. With all electrical fixtures spackled over, natural light is all that's left to illuminate the room, and the effect is transcendent: Transfixed, the viewer is made to feel peacefully contemplative and physically uneasy at the same time. Through October 30 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Kit Keith: New and Used Discarded naval maps of the Bahamas, West Indies, Australia and other far-flung locales serve as the substrate for this new series of mixed-media works by local artist Kit Keith. On the maps' surface, the faces of black-haired women with lipsticked mouths appear in an odd blend of period vogue and frayed distress. Magazine images of birds or orange blossoms or Campbell's soup cans are cut with pinking shears into triangular shapes that crown the various portrait heads, asserting a kind of heroism to otherwise anonymous characters. A pink ribbon frames one piece, while a large, cutout "F-" is affixed to another. The formal expertise — grafted from sign painting to mid-century illustration to a well-mastered brand of aesthetics entirely Keith's own — does little to hold at bay a raw sense of the sincerely autobiographical in these works. No matter how many guises the portraits borrow and wear, a vulnerably complex persona is clearly and consistently betrayed. Through October 16 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 or www.shearburngallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Mary Jo Bang: Until Was Mickey Mouse and his ragtag gang of dogs and ducks are the Everymen of poet and photographer Mary Jo Bang's debut exhibition of delicate collages. Angular swaths of truncated comic dialogue appear amid bits of leafy, illustrative foliage and Mickey in sweat-beaded exasperation, while Alice, of Lewis Carroll's surreal children's book, slyly intervenes. It's a world of pratfalls underpinned by the unsettlingly bizarre — more like Beckett than Walt Disney. Assembled with the same incisive precision as Bang's poems, these small works portray a pantheon of comic and vintage characters that slip in and out of their familiar roles. As one piece — entitled For Freud and foregrounding a medical dissection of the brain — suggests, here the seemingly innocent rustles with the darkly trenchant import of memory and dreams. Through November 6 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.
Mary Sprague: Rhinoceros! This gnarled and otherwise inelegant beast is rendered almost pyrotechnic in this exuberantly expressive series of drawings and paintings by local painter, printer and ceramicist Mary Sprague. With a palette reminiscent of the acid hues of Matta and a similar penchant for surreal abstraction, these pieces move in and out of their totem animal, becoming at once portraits of a vibrant state of being and compendiums of every nervous variety of gestural mark. A wry sense of absurdity underscores the work via titles such as Decorated Veteran, Out from the Spa and How Much Does a Rhino Charge. High art treads on hard ground here — where pure joy is experienced with abandon and a wise half-smirk. Through October 16 at Duane Reed Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4100 or www.duanereedgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and by appointment.
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.
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