Portraits of the Artists

Share on Nextdoor
Forum for Contemporary Art

Seven paintings by Matthew Antezzo make their St. Louis debut at the Forum for Contemporary Art, and unless you're well versed in contemporary painting theory, they're liable to leave you a little cold.

Antezzo paints pictures of artists. They aren't conventional portraits but painted copies of photographs that have appeared in journals like ArtForum, art-gallery catalogs and the like. Antezzo's paintings aren't slavish reproductions, but they include enough information, such as the original captions, to tip you off to their sources.

Why he does this is a more difficult question. It helps to consider the artists he paints. This show includes Antezzo's paintings of Robert Ryman, Frank Stella, Lawrence Weiner and Sherrie Levine, pioneers in painting since the '60s who, in their own ways, redefined the field, investigating things like monochrome painting, the relationship of painting to language, and appropriation.

Antezzo's works pay tribute to these artists and continue the kind of investigations they initiated. But Antezzo also forces us to ask questions about their status, by portraying them not as artists but as art-world icons circulated in highbrow journals.

Ultimately, Antezzo's paintings beg the question of how much further this kind of conceptual inquiry can go. But Antezzo has anticipated this in another painting, "Dialogue Box, Bomb," a copy of the familiar Apple computer message: a bomb icon, the word "Sorry" and the "Restart" button. It's as if Antezzo knows painting has become an end-game that may have reached its limit. It's an intriguing suggestion, with no indication of what might come next.

On the third floor of the Forum, three works by Matt Mullican investigate the possibilities of mapping and understanding nothing less than human knowledge itself. Mullican's work is concerned with archives and cosmologies, or systematized indexes of the universe. That may sound irritating, but the works are actually great fun to look at.

Two of Mullican's works completely overwhelm the third-floor gallery. "Five into Five" (1994), an enormous birch table containing abstract geometric forms, represents a kind of linguistic map describing human consciousness in spatial terms. It's purely a product of Mullican's imagination, but its size and confident design give it all the authority of a "real" empirical undertaking.

"New Edinburgh Encyclopedia" (1991) consists of hundreds of metal relief plates, representing pages from a 19th-century encyclopedia. The plates are fascinating, but the archaic quality of some of the entries ("conchology," "heraldry") reminds us that archives of knowledge are never "timeless" or "universal," though they presume to be. In general, Mullican's works, though difficult, contain rewarding lessons about the impossible vastness of the universe and knowledge, as well as human attempts to contain them.

The exhibitions continue through March 13.
-- Ivy Schroeder

Mossa Gallery

The work of Kit Keith contains all the vital elements -- irony, perversity, melancholy -- that make art and life worthwhile. Her work stands out in this group show at Mossa the way a unique and disquieting -- yet pleasurable -- vision always does. Keith has resurrected portraits of a former America -- a stern-faced matron, grinning buck-toothed boys, jowly men with bad haircuts, an African-American youth dressed in graduation cap and gown -- faces found in old magazines or faded, sepia-toned photos tucked away somewhere. Keith reproduces these images -- without a wisp of nostalgia -- on ancient, dilapidated mattresses. A mattress is an oddly perfect canvas for Keith's paintings. A mattress is a remnant of past lives -- where bodies did what bodies do on mattresses: sleep, fuck and die. With these compositions Keith creates a squalid environment that is, if not habitable, nice to visit. There are ghost narratives here, lives filled with dreams never realized. Maybe stupid lives. Maybe tragic ones. Keith draws a sexy nude on someone's old medical bill -- a juxtaposition that's acutely American. Is there any other national consciousness that could contain such a composition?

Edward Barron's best suite of black-and-white photographs shows wrestlers caught dramatically out of context. Barron does not show an audience or a referee; instead he presents isolated figures and scenes. A large, grizzled tough guy in a leotard rises from one knee; a grappler lies on his back, seemingly out cold. Because of the way Barron isolates his subjects in the picture frame, questions arise as to whether these characters are posed or in rehearsal. Barron doesn't supply answers to the question of authenticity in these works, which makes them more intriguing.

Linda Horsley continues with a body of work she's been doing for a few years now, "illustrating" folk tales by combining nude figures with an animal from the story. In previous works there were frogs on bodies; now there are snails and beetles. The animals may have changed, but the portraits remain the same. Christian Conrad makes paintings with a hard enamel-like surface that resist being looked at, so I didn't.

The exhibition continues through Feb. 15.
-- Eddie Silva

Art St. Louis

Putting on a juried group art show based on a theme can be risky. The theme has to be interesting and open, yet focused enough to generate good responses from artists. Unfortunately, home ..., the new exhibit at Art St. Louis downtown, is done in by its lack of focus. Part of the problem is the loose interpretation of the theme: "home ... Exploring the concept of home as structure, place, state of mind or heart, memory, geographic area and/or ... objects or furnishings for the home." They might as well have added "anything goes."

Included are the obvious works (images of houses) and some interesting furnishings, especially by Mark Paradowski (a lamp) and Clare Bramlette (a table). But mostly there are in-between works that evoke "home" rather lethargically. Indeed, lethargy is the other part of this exhibition's problem. By the time you water down a theme like "home" the way this show does, no one can generate the energy to liven it up.

The bright spots are worth noting: Rob Thornberry's "Abstract Landscape" lays a topography of encaustic over a landscaper's blueprint, achieving a rich, layered effect; and Barbara Williams' "Alpha, Richard, Dorris and Joe Garrison" mixes intaglio prints, ink and collage to capture the awkward sweetness of old family photos.

In contrast, Art St. Louis' other current exhibition, Varsity Art V, holds together quite coherently, even without a unifying theme. Varsity Art V showcases recent works by art students at colleges and universities in the area, and judging by this selection, there is a lot of talent here.

Area students seem especially strong and experimental in the area of ceramics. David East's untitled ceramic sculptures are simple, evocative forms that bring Louise Bourgeois' works to mind. Allison Shock's stoneware containers and Julie Bilow's clay and mixed-media "Extra Fancy Farm Fresh Produce" are witty and inventive.

Varsity Art V also benefits from the great variety of works and an excellent job of hanging and arranging. Don't miss Wonder Koch's fragile "7," a careful arrangement of things like thistle, pine needles and silk perched on a windowsill. And you can't miss Wes Snavely's "Fingerprint," which takes up an entire room.

The paintings in this exhibition are less strong than the other work, but that's a minor complaint. Varsity Art V is highly recommended.

The exhibitions continue through March 12.
-- Ivy Schroeder

Scroll to read more Arts Stories & Interviews articles (1)


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.