Art City Chronicle

See St. Louis' bright future at the Sheldon Art Galleries

Feb 23, 2005 at 4:00 am
Man, what was the deal with 2004? Everyone looking back 100 years, re-imagining a city bursting with civic pride, cultivating a sepia-tinted image of a St. Louis that dwarfed Chicago with its grandeur and bright future. Where did you go, Judy Garland, with your wide-eyed wonder at a world that came to our city and marveled at what we were?

The past is a canceled check, St. Louis. But that future still exists. Look within the city limits and find it, conveniently located in a building designed by Louis Spiering, one of the principal architects of that long-ago World's Fair. Between 5 and 7 p.m. on Friday, February 25, the Sheldon Art Galleries opens four new shows, and somehow these very different exhibits create a whole picture of a healthy, vibrant city of art and imagination -- elements that are the key to this future St. Louis.

Iain Fraser: Places of Mind, in the Bellwether Gallery of St. Louis Artists, is a collection of steel and wood sculptures by Fraser, a professor of architecture at Washington University. His piece City of Gravity hints at the skyline of a city under construction, with the sculpture's right-angled steel arm looming over a cluster of blocky, building-like structures, echoing the construction crane that hangs over Forest Park Parkway near Wash. U.'s southwestern corner. But Fraser's sculptures are not representations of a specific place; rather, he depicts ideas and leaves the viewer to imagine the place. Artist and viewer together create Fraser's city, which becomes our city.

Photographer Steve Brown's work hangs in the Ann Lee and Wilfred Konneker Gallery. The six photos that are Steve Brown: Edges depict garden tools in black-and-white; Brown's emphasis on hand tools as objects of beauty underscores the transformation of these once-working-class objects into gentrified items of a "leisure class," i.e., the gentleman gardener. But for St. Louis, a city of greenspace maintained largely by neighborhood associations and volunteers, these tools reflect a civic pride that remains strong.

"Quotidian observations" are a primary source of inspiration for Webster University alum Keith Bueckendorf's paintings, on view in the Elsewhere exhibit in the Founders' Gallery. Gestural line and text come together in Bueckendorf's series, which is inspired by things overheard. His mark-making often features anonymous figures in groups and a repetition of image and color. Bueckendorf's works on paper are a dream-language diary of a city viewed by one dreamer; familiar yet fantastic, his pieces are a multifaceted conversation distilled by one psyche -- an embellished representation of common experience.

Forest Park: A Multiple Masterpiece, which hangs in the SBC Gallery of Children's Art, continues this discussion of the city but amplifies the voice from one to many. The students of the Crossroads School have captured 1,000 views of our Park in 1,000 drawings, creating a literal and figurative mosaic of our shared playground. And Whitney Houston says the children are our future, so it must be so. If the children see the beauty in our city and have translated it into art, then the future is as bright as it was 100 years ago.