Current Shows

Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Jan 25, 2006 at 4:00 am
The Curious Teapot Every city large enough to support one or two craft centers gets treated to an annual teapot show. It's the craft-center moneymaker, the sure thing that will bring out everyone from the collectors to the curious to the people convinced they don't like "art." St. Louis is no different, and Craft Alliance puts on a teapot show every year, and there's nothing curious about it, except for the fact that it remains perennially popular. The teapots this year are fun, amusing, nonfunctional and functional, "wacky" and "wild" — in other words, just what you'd expect. (As Marge Simpson might exclaim: "A teapot with Scrabble letters stuck to it? Whatever!") The standouts here are the twisted takes on the classic objet d'art, such as Annette Corcoran's faux Fabergé eggs and Rain Harris' absurdly baroque fetish pots. Through March 5 at the Craft Alliance Gallery, 6640 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1177 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Currents 96: Tim Eitel The paintings of German artist Eitel draw on historical and contemporary artworks to generate scenes of extreme enigma. The four large canvases in this show isolate figures in spare environments described only by somber gray and black fields. Helicopter (2005) has the aircraft hovering motionless just above the ground in a seemingly airless environment; Lying Figure transports Edouard Manet's Dead Toreador of 1864 to a similarly empty, vaguely interior setting. The maximum scale of the large works combines with their minimal elements to make for intriguing scenes of surreal isolation. A series of small, square oil-and-egg-tempera works on linen lines the gallery's fourth wall; these scenes are more populated but just as tight-lipped in terms of what they say to the viewer. Eitel's works are simultaneously cold and oddly irresistible. Through March 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park; 314-721-0072 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Dan Gualdoni: Recent Paintings These 41 paintings from the artist's 2005 "aer/Eire Series" capture the crystalline light and atmosphere Gualdoni observed during a residency fellowship in Ireland. The paintings, which range in size from small to medium format (the largest is seventeen by fifteen inches), are composed of many delicately colored, translucent layers on board. Low-horizon landscapes glow through the quartz-like depths, though what the landscapes describe is difficult to determine: Here and there hills and water are clearly visible, while other works seem to depict empty, eerie landing fields or industrial parks cleared of vegetation. Some scenes feature misty skies worthy of Turner's most romantic moods; others appear completely airless. They're all beautifully strange, and Gualdoni is to be congratulated for delivering up a good measure of ambivalence that must accompany any contemporary depiction of Ireland. Through February 11 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Tom Huck: The Bloody Bucket More memories of Potosi from this proud native son. This time the starkly absurd, shockingly beautiful large-scale prints the artist is known for focus on the fantastic goings on at the Bloody Bucket, a Potosi watering hole that existed from 1948 to 1951. The scenes are of drinking, fighting, blood, guts, beasts, lactation — typical Huck fare, operatic and apocalyptic and completely mesmerizing. Three original carved wood blocks illuminate Huck's technique, which is becoming finer and more sensitive over time, even as his content gets more excessive. Philip Slein has included some earlier works, including selections from Huck's "2 Weeks in August: 14 Rural Absurdities" (1995-98), which allow for direct comparison. The older works reveal sharper, shorter lines, while prints from "The Bloody Bucket" contain graceful, long lines and more tonal range. By now it should be obvious: Tom Huck is one for the ages, up there with his influences — Dürer, Hogarth and Crumb. Through January 28 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Kim Humphries: Certain Areas Kim Humphries once again proves to have the best eye in the business for oddities of American vernacular habits and habitats. While his 2003 installation at the Contemporary's Great Rivers Biennial was bombastic and excessively good fun, this group of nineteen works is smaller in scale but not in effect. A Crock-Pot filled with a spicy Cognac brew scents the air and sets the stage for encounters with certain areas — that is, tableaux of found materials or photographs of found places that are startling and all-too-familiar at once. In one corner The Mississippian offers up a hoosier workout station with pulleys for lifting paint-can weights and tree-stump seats for relaxing. Three Angle of Repose assemblages burden slight wooden stands with impossible piles of white-trash collectibles: shells, driftwood, rocks. The photographs on display are tours de force — still-life arrangements of basement furniture layouts and ad hoc shrines Humphries has collected over the years. Don't miss Certain Things (the hard to follow mix), a slide show of odd scenes on a revolving pedestal of fake wood paneling; it's utterly mesmerizing. Humphries maintains a nice tone throughout the exhibition, never stooping to condescension, as a lesser artist would. Through February 4 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and by appointment.

Alicia LaChance Locally based LaChance produces paintings with dense surfaces of fresco and oil, divided into separate panels. While the imagery is clearly contemporary in design, the thick, heavily worked application of paint evokes archaic styles. Especially strong are the paintings that combine botanical silhouettes with areas of joyful abstract patterns. One or two false steps (such as a Mark Rothko redux) can be overlooked in a show that includes strong pieces like Tupelo Meadow Lark and a lovely grid of twelve square panels called Botanicals. Through February 4 at Houska Gallery, 4728 McPherson Avenue; 314-454-0959 ( Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Minimalism and Beyond This exhibition is perfect. The stacked and repeated boxes of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin's fluorescent lights and Richard Serra's stacked and leaning works cast new light on the minimalist idiom, which is simultaneously thematically connected to works by more recent artists like Felix Gonzales-Torres, Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread and Robert Gober. OK, these connections have been drawn out before — but not amid Tadao Ando's minimalist architecture. Whiteread's Untitled (Gray) (1996/2003), a cast-concrete bathtub, quietly anchors the exhibition, making sensual reference to the smooth concrete of the building's walls and floor, while nearby Roni Horn's Untitled (Yes), a block of cast black optical glass, looks positively liquid in relation to the Pulitzer's water court, and Gonzales-Torres' pyramidal pile of candy in shiny silver wrappers acts as a foil to the somber character of the small Cube Gallery. The endless, subtle surprises embedded in the exhibition's layout will beckon viewers back again and again. Through April 26 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 ( Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

New Works: Jesse Thomas and Andrea Green Snowflake's inaugural exhibit at is spare, clean and smart, like the gallery itself. Gleaming wood floors, white walls that stretch to a high, high pressed-tin ceiling — Snowflake is a perfectly lovely space and a welcome addition to the burgeoning Cherokee Street art scene. Jesse Thomas' six painted portraits owe much to the likes of Bronzino, Titian and Caravaggio, but Thomas trades in the Renaissance garb for outfits and props inspired by — no kidding — the 1980 film version of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Brilliant! Six new pieces by Andrea Green are also on view. Small in scale, they hold their own thanks to their quiet intensity: faint bite marks in paper, a bridal dress zipper cloaked in beeswax — Green handles evocative materials with a subtle surety. Through mid-February at Snowflake, 3156 Cherokee Street; 314-865-1557. Call for viewing appointments.

Philippe Parreno: The Boy from Mars The fourth installation in the Saint Louis Art Museum's "New Media" series is the most exciting to date from the standpoint of contemporary art. French artist Parreno has produced a video piece that's meditative, mysterious and somehow otherworldly. A billowing, tentlike structure, glowing gold from within, stands peacefully in a swampy, verdant setting among water buffalo. As evening descends, strange lights rise in the sky. The film reads like the documentation of an advanced culture on another planet, or Earth in an enlightened future. This is not far off the mark, for the site is an artists' community in rural Thailand, where a host of artists have come to work and contribute to the self-sustaining system that supports the place. Along with architect François Roche, Parreno designed the building, a central gathering place within the community and the mute protagonist of this film. It's strange and enigmatic, while staking a clear claim for the possibility of communities this beautiful, this harmonious, here on this planet. Through February 12 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park; 314-721-0072 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

Peter Pranschke: My Disaster Box Most of us familiar with Pranschke's sparkling, funny-sad autobiographical illustrations are convinced he can do no wrong. Now, here's proof: more than a thousand dashed-off sketches retrieved from the artist's "disaster box" (just this side of the trash can), covering the gallery walls. Each one is labeled and numbered; some are pinned so close to the ceiling that binoculars are supplied for closer inspection. These wonderful works illustrate Pranschke's drawing and decision-making processes and contain all the savvy charm of more finished works. Plus, they're for sale. Admit it, you've been meaning to start a Pranschke collection; here is the place to start. While you're in the neighborhood, check out Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts' newest gallery additions: Beverly Gallery (3155 Cherokee), featuring artwork by Sara Arnold, Amanda Baker, Julie Hayes, Jessi Kelley and Nicole Northway; and Typo Café (3159 Cherokee), showing drawings by Mike Cook, Chris Deckard, Peter Monahan, Dana Smith and Jason Vargas. These shows and Pranschke's work at Fort Gondo, 3151 Cherokee Street, are up through January 29. Call 314-772-3628 for information.

Max rada dada: Sideshow! Rada dada is the real deal: a kinder, gentler Dada artist for the 21st century. Where some of the Dadaists of the early twentieth century made work that was cutting, politically subversive and anticapitalist, rada dada's work is delightfully strange, utterly apolitical and imminently commodified and consumable. Which is not to say it's not worth a look; in fact, it's outlandish and fun. Rada dada is skilled with the large-format Polaroid camera, as evidenced by a few "double pull," two-part images of hybrid figures such as Grecian Beauty and Mystical Boy (both 2004). Other large Polaroid works feature tableaux of taxidermied animals dressed up and acting like people. Two extraordinary hand-painted banners, Monopoly and Flying Bad Taxidermy, evince rada dada's fine sense for archaic imagery and the absurd. Also featured are more affordably priced handpainted and printed shirts. Through February 4 at Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1299. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Social Commentary in Black and White This modest exhibition of prints by Tom Huck, Bill Fick and Richard Mock delivers a serious punch and a chance to see works by three of the finest, sickest printmakers working today, in one place. The show also features works by University City High School students who worked with Huck during his residency at the school. Printmaking is an immediate, forceful medium of communication. Huck's works are some of the finest prints being made, and he clearly has a talent for communicating with young artists, whose efforts carry jarring imagery and heartfelt messages. Through March 26 at the Center of Creative Arts, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-1834 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Alfred Stieglitz This small (eleven prints) stairwell exhibition is a lovely survey of photography's early high period, as well as a telling tribute to an artist who is remembered as much for his editorial and curatorial work as he is for his own photography. Ranging from his late-nineteenth-century work in Germany to his far more abstract images from the 1930s, the works on view here include some of Stieglitz's best- and least-known photographs: the nostalgic November Days (1886) and The Old Mill are soft, glowing platinum prints; The Terminal (1893) is shown in its photogravure printed form in a 1911 issue of Camera Work; the small, moody "Equivalent" cloud images from the 1920s verge on total abstraction; and From the Shelton West (1935), a gelatin silver print of New York skyscrapers, captures the dramatic urban lines and contrasts that fascinated modern artists at the time. Whether you know a little or a lot about Stieglitz, this show is well worth a long pause in the stairwell. Through March 26 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)