On the Wall

Malcolm Gay encapsulates the St. Louis art scene.

Jan 30, 2008 at 4:00 am

All Systems Go and Meditations on Limitations/One-Hour Sculptures White Flag Projects exhibits two young artists from out of town. In the main gallery is All Systems Go, a suite of meticulously rendered paintings and drawings by Kansas City artist Linnea Spransy. Spransy's quarry is theological, and her paintings, which involve organic, line-based systems brought to their not-so-logical conclusion, explore the inherent tension in belief systems that seek to ward off chaos while at the same time producing it. Upstairs, Meditations on Limitations/One-Hour Sculptures is a collection of whimsical pieces by Los Angeles-area artist Zach Kleyn. Originally conceived as a one-hour creative warm-up in which Kleyn cannibalized earlier failed works, the show is a mash-up of everyday elements tossed uncomfortably together: a mossy rock wearing a Beatles wig, a plastic revolver exploding with insulating foam. Through February 16 at White Flag Projects, 4568 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-3442 or www.whiteflagprojects.org. Hours: noon-7 p.m. Wed., noon-5 p.m Sat. and by appointment. — Malcolm Gay

Annual Faculty Exhibition Webster University's May Gallery kicks off 2008 with its annual faculty show. Featuring the landscape photography of fifteen photographers, the exhibition is a study in contrasts, with some photographers cranking down their apertures to take in sweeping panoramas while others narrow their depth of field, concentrating on a single environmental element set against an abstract background. Standouts include Curt von Diest's very pretty landscape with horses amid Utah's sandstone formations, and a dynamic close-up of prairie grasses that Dan Dreyfus caught swaying. Through February 29 at the May Gallery, 8300 Big Bend Boulevard (on the second floor of the Sverdrup Building), Webster Groves; 314-246-7673 (www.webster.edu/maygallery). Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (MG)

Black Line Fever! St. Louis' master of pop art, Philip Slein, opens the new year with a show that features two artists whose shared interest in legend prompts them to create wildly different pictures. Bill Kreplin commands the front of the house. His cycle of restrained, black line paintings — reproduced from earlier drawings and highlighted with planes of temperate solid color — are heavy on symbolism as they reinterpret the legend of the Holy Grail in an antiseptic world of 1950s America. The rear of the gallery holds the large-scale wall drawings and attendant paintings of Cameron Fuller. A recent graduate of Washington University's M.F.A. program, Fuller uses a grab bag of media — black masking tape, India ink, acrylics — often applied directly to a wall, in order to reinterpret the phantasmagoric world of "The Willow-Wren and the Bear," a Brothers Grimm fairy tale in which the animals of the air battle the animals of the ground. Through February 23 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; www.philipsleingallery.com or 314-621-4634. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (MG)

The Embedded Image and Close Work Webster University professor and art department chair Tom Lang fills dual roles this season at Craft Alliance. Working first as a curator, Lang has compiled The Embedded Image, an international group show of contemporary papermaking. While their styles vary considerably — the show features everything from handmade books to a marvelous still-life photograph of fruit constructed from toilet paper — the artists share an interest in paper's pulpy physicality and its ability to make fleeting thoughts and ideas permanent. In the rear gallery, Lang, who teaches both printmaking and papermaking, exhibits his own work in the aptly titled Close Work. Using thickly layered pulp, Lang has created a series of paper bas-reliefs that seek to return the material to its original arboreal state. The result is a series of highly textured details — bark, branches — that Lang has highlighted with iridescent colors. Through February 24 at the Craft Alliance Gallery, 6640 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1177 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Thu. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. (MG)

Dan Flavin: Constructed Light Limiting his palette to mass-produced fluorescent tubes of varying lengths and colors, Dan Flavin, who died in 1996, made a career distilling these ubiquitous artifacts of bureaucratic life into their purest form. The result: a body of reserved, minimalist work that at once extracts these relics from their workaday commercial context and reformulates the sites they inhabit with their refulgent glow. As installations, many of Flavin's works are site specific, leaving the stewards of his estate with the thorny question of whether in re-creating his works they are, in effect, creating new works of art. For this show, Tiffany Bell, director of the Dan Flavin catalogue raisonné project, and Steve Morse, who worked as Flavin's chief technician for many years, have chosen several works that rely more on architectural situations than on specific sites. The result is a meditative show that both accentuates and quarrels with the natural grace of their setting. Opens February 1 (reception 6-9 p.m.) and runs through October 4 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 (www.pulitzerarts.org). Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. (MG)

Four Aces: Large-Scale Prints from Four Universities The title just about says it all. This touring exhibition, which has made stops at universities around the nation, features works from graduate students and faculty members at Washington University, Louisiana State University, the University of Texas and the University of Wisconsin. Though the schools have presented joint touring shows for a few years now, this is the first year that printmakers from Wash. U. have been included. That's due in no small part to the presence of Carmon Colangelo, the prolific dean of the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art. Colangelo's deeply biographical prints are included in the show, as are the works of more than 40 other artists. Opens February 1 (reception 6-9 p.m.) and runs through March 8 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 (www.brunodavidgallery.com). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment. (MG)

Miao Xiaochun: The Last Judgment in Cyberspace What do the subjects in a painting see? That question lies at the heart of the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art's first exhibition of 2008. Working from Michelangelo's Last Judgment, Chinese digital artist Miao Xiaochun has re-imagined the towering fresco in which Christ separates the blessed from the damned, from the internal perspectives of some of the fresco's subjects. This allows the viewer to, say, view the scene from the angst-ridden point of view of a cowering man awaiting judgment. Moreover, whereas the original work features muscular male and female figures, Miao's work, rendered in black-and-white digital photographs, features the same computer-generated nude in each role: Miao himself. The exhibition includes a short animation, allowing viewers to explore the entire three-dimensional work. The effect is as mesmerizing as it is vertiginous. Opens February 3 (reception 3-5 p.m.) and runs through May 11 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 (http://mocra.slu.edu). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (MG)

My Psychological Activities to the Environment Using an expressive brush, painter Dongfeng Li, a professor of art at Morehead State University in Kentucky, renders his human subjects front and center. Many, placed in indeterminable surroundings, stare frankly out from the canvas as though they've been interrupted, or have only just noticed the painter. But though the human subjects clearly command the artist's attention, it is the incidentals — the errant sheep, the paint that's allowed to drip haphazardly across an otherwise self-contained portrait — that prove most compelling. Also, Li's treatment of light: cool, verging on clinical, in stark contrast to these otherwise intimate portraits. Opens February 1 (reception 6-8 p.m.) and runs through February 29 at Fontbonne University Gallery of Art, 6800 Wydown Boulevard (in the Fine Arts Building), Clayton; 314-889-1431 (www.fontbonne.edu). Hours: 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. (open till 7 p.m. Tue. and till 2:30 p.m. Fri.); noon-4 p.m. Sat. (MG)

Outside the Box For its first show of 2008, phd gallery features 40 paintings from New Jersey artist Eric Gibbons' "Box Series." Confining himself to a monochromatic palette of grays, Gibbons gives us nearly life-size neoclassical nudes crouching, sitting and kneeling in uniform three-by-three-foot boxes. Many of the paintings, deftly rendered with fluid, muscular strokes, tackle mythological subjects. In Hera the wife of Zeus joins sword to chalice; in Bacchus, a tribute to Caravaggio (whose natural figures rendered in dramatic chiaroscuro clearly made an impression on Gibbons), a heavy-lidded youth seductively engages the viewer while offering a goblet of wine. Each work can certainly stand alone, but viewed together they permit viewers to create their own associations, allowing the paintings to grow in expressive strength. Through March 8 at phd Gallery, 2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 (www.phdstl.com). Hours: noon-4 p.m. Thu.-Sun. (MG)

Pedestrian Project Each January Boots Contemporary Art Space goes into hibernation as owner Juan Chavez turns his attention to publishing Boot Print, an international journal devoted to emerging contemporary art. (A copy can be downloaded at www.bootsart.com/html/bootsbootprint.html.) Though his small gallery is closed, Chavez converts its picture window into the Pedestrian Project, for which he invites an installation artist to create a work for passersby. This year that artist is Brett Williams, who, except for a small circular opening, has painted over the entire window. The circle of clear glass invites you to view Future Hole, a four-foot tube at the end of which Williams has placed a video monitor that displays four short video animations. The videos, which range from a retro-futuristic composition of erratically patterned lines to a cascade of stars, are accompanied by a lulling soundtrack that emanates from a speaker above. Plays continuously through February 3 at Boots Contemporary Art Space, 2307 Cherokee Street; 314-772-2668 (www.bootsart.com). (MG)

Ann Pibal and John Dilg: Recent Work Ann Pibal, a New York artist who works in a meticulous geometric style, paints fine repeating lines on a monochromatic background. Often working on small sheets of Dibond, a thin aluminum composite, her paintings — clean, cool and reserved — hug the wall, allowing viewers to project the works' internal geometric logic across the entire room. John Dilg, an artist from Iowa City, also works with solid-color backgrounds. Dilg, though, uses solid colors and lines to create organic pictures of misleading simplicity — the keys to which are often contained in a single element: a lion with glasses and a prominently featured penis; an abstracted female form whose only recognizable feature is a vagina; an abstract landscape made recognizable only by a tree. Through February 16 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 615 North Grand Boulevard; www.schmidtcontemporaryart.com or 314-575-2648. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. (MG)

Poetic Constructions Katy Stone's work, clearly inspired by the robust glass-arts scene of her native Seattle, involves layered strips of transparent Dura-Lar (a clear, plastic-like sheet) painted in bright blues and greens. Shimmering at the slightest breeze, the wall-mounted works are evocative of the natural world; many bring to mind the rushing water of a stream or a spray of cattails. Using pins and plastic bolts, Stone constructs her pieces in several layers, giving them depth and allowing shadows to transform them. The work, highly fluid, skirts the line between painting and sculpture, further reminding viewers of the constant flux that is the natural world. Through March 8 at Atrium Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-1076 (www.atriumgallery.net). Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun. (MG)

Protoplaces The Center of Creative Arts (COCA) opens 2008 with an exhibition of the work of Washington University architecture professor Iain Fraser. Working in the crosscurrent of architecture and sculpture, Fraser fashions structures of welded metal, wood and glass. Like the architectural model, Fraser's expressive constructions beg to be imagined on a grand scale (in Fraser's case, the size, say, of an airplane hangar). But unlike their more utilitarian cousins, Fraser's models — foreboding, sharp-angled and often adorned with or supported by precariously hung iron webbing — are free of function's dictates. Here a construction's potential use is only hinted at once it has been assembled, inviting the viewer to imagine a world in which such a structure might exist. Through February 24 in the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 (www.cocastl.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri, noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (MG)

re-construction St. Louis photographer Jamie Kreher's new works at the Ellen Curlee Gallery feature single, mass-produced elements found in car-based environments — a dismantled diner sign that has been abandoned, a gas station sign bare of prices — which Kreher reproduces across the span of the picture. The result is an asymmetrical patterning that from afar looks almost like fabric; closer up, the hundreds of identical images reveal themselves, now jostling for space in a crowded landscape. Running concurrently is the gallery's "next door: Video Series" installment, Wrestle Nebula, a work by Chicago video artist Travis LeRoy Southworth that depicts a dozen or so old-school WWF-ers smacking down in deep space. Through March 8 at Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1299 (www.ellencurleegallery.com). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sat.; First Friday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (MG)

Resilience: The Sculpture of Philip Hitchcock and Revelation The Saint Louis University Museum of Art exhibits two local artists with wildly different takes on Biblical themes. Using a technique to cast gypsum, Philip Hitchcock has assembled a series of highly detailed (and highly idealized) nude figures, here recast in homoerotic Biblical roles — a strapping nude Jesus embracing the cross, a semi-recumbent Adam receiving the breath of life. The figures, remarkable in both their detail and frank sensuality, are often concentrated on one portion of the anatomy — the front of a muscled male torso, the front of a pregnant woman's torso — that ends abruptly, leaving the viewer to wonder if what's unseen hides an imperfection. Upstairs, Revelation is a collection of painstakingly rendered pen-and-ink drawings executed over a 30-year period by illustrator Russell Kraus, illustrating scenes from the hallucinogenic Book of Revelation. The drawings, highly mannered and quite beautiful, often blend long-limbed, graceful angels with a psychedelic background. Resilience runs through February 15, Revelation through March 30 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 (www.slu.edu/x16374.xml). Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun. (MG)

Signs of Time Art Saint Louis offers more than 140 works by 86 area artists. Juried by artist Kim Mosley and open to almost any medium (sorry, no Web-based artwork), Signs of Time required artists to submit works that explore the passage of time. Approach, technique and quality vary wildly; standouts include Robert Treece's Glass Still Life, a disorienting self-portrait clearly inspired by M.C. Escher's reflecting-sphere lithographs; and The Maplewood Dust Collector: Dismantled 2007, an urban landscape by oil painter Steve Turner. Through February 28 at Art St. Louis, 9917 Locust Street, Suite 300; 314-241-4810 (www.artstlouis.org). Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. (MG)