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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Betwixt and Between: Christina Shmigel Most artists invited to install work in the Saint Louis Museum of Art's Contemporary Projects Gallery choose to black out the space and show off their work under discreet, tasteful lighting; the space is that awkward. Along comes Christina Shmigel, who takes the former utility closets and lights them up hard, adding her signature scaled-down versions of industrial tubing, pipes and architecture. The result is a sublime disorientation. Shmigel plays off existing plumbing, power lines and drains, installing her own little silos, wire circuitry and trestle bridges. We're left to wrestle with scenarios that are either miniatures of industrial landscapes or enlarged interpretations of the secret architecture betwixt and between the buildings we daily inhabit. Through July 11 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, Contemporary Projects Gallery, 3663 Lindell; 314-977-3399. Gallery hours Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Louise Bourgeois: Nine Drawings These nine drawings by Louise Bourgeois were all donated anonymously to the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1995. Those familiar with Bourgeois know that her drawings rival her sculpture in terms of power and acerbity; even this small collection brings the point home. "Sainte Sebastienne" (1992) offers a female version of the saint, with arrows darting toward the headless body as if it were a medical illustration. An untitled oil and watercolor image from 1986 unites large and small pairs of scissors by an umbilical cord. And a 1943 ink drawing has a woman tucked underneath a bell jar; her smile is uncanny. This is vintage Bourgeois. Through June 20 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072. Museum hours Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.)

El Ojo Fino/The Exquisite Eye: Nine Women Photographers An extensive exhibit of works by three generations of Mexican artists. While the arrangement is fairly dry, the work is marvelous, subtly indicating the transmission of techniques and themes among natives and immigrants working in Mexico. These women depict street scenes, heavily symbolic staged arrangements and politically charged situations. Among the standouts are Yolanda Andrade's surrealist street tableaux; less interesting are Flor Garduno's stagings, which are somewhat strained. Also included in the exhibition are Alicia Ahumada Salaíz, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Maya Goded, Kati Horna, Graciela Iturbide, Angeles Torrejón and Mariana Yampolsky. Through June 19 at the Sheldon Gallery of Photography, 3663 Lindell; 314-977-3399. Gallery hours Tue. 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Wed. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Exposure VII: Mind Games Ron Laboray has made his reputation as a smart local artist who takes on sites, maps and psychological characteristics of place. Here he takes on a dual role as artist and curator; Mind Games is a quirky collection that features a group of Laboray's paintings that populate maps of Springfields throughout the U.S. with creepy abstractions of The Simpsons. Also included are DVD works by Brian Goetz, including the brilliant Nosey Parker effort "Radiation Always Wins" (which was somehow robbed of the "Best of" prize at the recent 48 Hour Film Project awards). Rounding out this little show -- which just might be the exhibition of the year -- are Brian Burnett's scary photos of big-box storefronts with names digitally scrambled like criminals' faces; Michael Keller's superb text paintings; and other works. Through September 11 at Gallery 210, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Building 44 (TeleCommunity Center); 314-516-5976. Gallery hours Tue.-Sat. 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Emily Hubley: Preliminary, Animated and Reconstructed Frames, 1995-2004 Many St. Louisans won't realize that they're already familiar with the work of Hubley, who designs animations for independent films, including Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2000). The collages on display here are small and delicate, barely containing her ferocious sense of absurd humor. Hubley has wit and animation in her DNA; her parents were in the business too. This show is well worth a visit and is a nice advertisement for Gallery Urbis Orbis' new space. Don't miss the sweet paintings inspired by Japanese pop culture by Kelly Newcomer across the gallery. Through July 2 at Gallery Urbis Orbis, 419 North Tenth; 314-406-5778. Gallery hours Tue.-Thu. 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Fri. noon-7 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Tim Liddy: A 10-Year Survey This smallish exhibition gives retrospective credit to one of St. Louis' greatest artistic imaginations. Liddy, a professor of art at Fontbonne University, possesses a formidable grasp of art history and employs it when he works with found pieces of steel. He grafts images from Jacques-Louis David, Michelangelo and the like onto decaying surfaces, combining them with dreamlike symbols, advertising icons and evocative text. Whether large or small in scale, Liddy's works reach in multiple directions and refuse to settle down. His imagination is boundless; his imagery will work its way into your dreams. Through July 11 at the Center of Creative Arts, Anheuser-Busch Gallery, 524 Trinity; 314-725-6555. Gallery hours Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat.-Sun. noon-5 p.m.

Tim Liddy: Recent Works on Paper These 33 works by hometown hero Liddy are smaller than his usual heroically scaled paintings on metal, so they allow him to tighten his thematic focus and even experiment with media (some of the printed transfer images look downright surreal next to Liddy's hand renderings). But even within these reduced dimensions, Liddy manages to make quietly grand (but not grandstanding) statements about human vice and folly. The visual syntax is Liddy's own, but the vocabulary consists of a rich mix of Western and Eastern art-historical icons. These are portraits of tragicomic heroes and scenarios that touch a nerve -- sometimes more than one. Through July 2 at the William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson; 314-367-8020. Gallery hours Tue.-Sat. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Link: Photography with St. Louis Connections This show will make you think twice about how well you know St. Louis. Cary Horton's surreal black-and-white montages are rooted in St. Louis, but their odd spirit transcends the city. One of the most effective is Horizon Distance, which shows a betting parlor at Fairmount Park. Portrait photographers Stefan Hester and Matt Marcinkowski each weigh in with impressive, insightful images; Hester's scenes of MacArthur Bridge dropoffs, sewer department barricades and East St. Louis smokestacks are haunting. Marcinkowski takes weird color scenes of a nighttime downtown you'll have to work to recognize. Through June 26 at Mad Art, 2727 South 12th; 314-771-8230. Gallery hours by appointment.

Size Matters An exhibition based upon the curiously obvious premise that scale is a fundamental and meaningful component in a work of art. You could spend a lot of time trying to figure out why size plays a bigger role in these artworks -- as opposed to, say, any others. That would be a waste of time. Check out the show because there's some darn good art here, including a ten-panel wall work by Jenna Bauer, an irresistibly slick C-print by Miwa Yanagi and superb works on paper by Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly. Other stunners include Moses' Bullet Flag (constructed completely out of shell casings) and Joan Hall's Deep Blue, one of her delicious pigment and cast-paper nods to Yves Klein. Through July 3 at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, 4729 McPherson; 314-361-4800. Call for gallery hours.

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