Relics of a Glorious Past: Imperial Russian Artifacts from the Collection of Dr. James F. Cooper This assemblage of orthodox icons and the daily stuff of royalty forms a two-part essay on lost cultural splendor and the bygone transcendent art object. Framed in gilt halos, pounded metal and semiprecious stones, the small tempera-on-wood devotional paintings exemplify an anonymous milieu in which studied replication was prized over innovation and communion with the immaterial was the subject matter of choice. Similarly, the gold-rimmed teaspoons, military regalia and assorted decorative pieces from the show's secular portion involve such an engaged level of tactile detail that they could be considered devotionally crafted. The exhibit as a whole serves as a useful reference point for contemporary art's renewed interest in gold, which seems to signify a nostalgia for creative acts deemed sacred and authentic. Through December 20 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.sluma.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Paul Shank: Paintings and Works on Paper: 1964-2008 Reviewed in this issue.
Tony Fitzpatrick: The City Etchings 1993-2003 This series of line renderings of imaginary cartoon icons haloed, Virgin of Guadalupe-style, in carnivalesque heaps of urban artifacts has the intimate, serial quality of daily entries in a notebook and the imagistic content of an illuminated manuscript drawn by a dime-store comic-book artist. With its raw emotional breadth, the work, which negotiates the passing of Fitzpatrick's father, defies this Chicago-born artist's tough-guy persona. The specter of Philip Guston looms large here, manifested in a spirit of wryly internalized loss, Piero della Francesca compositions, and the form of tragicomic characters like hooded Klansmen and blank De Chirico-esque faces. Fitzpatrick adds to this surreal cast with representative symbols of a personally fabled Chicagoland — teetering skyscrapers, water towers and tangles of train track — and that region's immigrant, working-class Catholicism and weather-worn survivalism. Hands clasped in prayer and wrapped in barbed wire float above a clip-art goose or a weeping robot against a shallow backdrop of iron bridges and piled brick. Despite the proliferation of imagistic references, the cumulative effect is honorific, nostalgic and ultimately Fitzpatrick's: a small riffraff world trying to hustle away the irrevocable with the eternal promise of art. Through May 23 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Damon Freed: Calm, Cool, Coherent This series of hard-edged abstract paintings draws its color, texture and tenor from the Missouri landscape. The single-hued, puzzle-piece-like forms that nearly consume each canvas seem to lie against their glossy white backgrounds in the same way that Richard Tuttle's post-minimal octagonal cloths lie against white gallery walls. Unlike Tuttle, Freed's forms are unconventional, their jagged geometries inspired by state lines, their fields of color rendered in an agitated strata of brushwork. Direct allusions aside, the work is most successful when speaking the mute and elusive language of fastidious marks, chromatic gradations, and other procedural and painterly abstractions. Through April 4 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. on the first Sun. of every month and by appointment.
Funhouse Inaugurating PSTL's new location is this show of point-and-shoot digital snapshots by local writer (and former RFT calendar editor) Byron Kerman. Focusing less on aesthetics than the camera's quick ability to compose, the images extract the comic and ironic from the otherwise mundane by framing instances of the material world inelegantly confronting its natural counterpart, and vice versa. It's ultimately a one-line perspective that would benefit from the immersive suggestion of its title: a gallery-turned-funhouse through the compulsive generation of hundreds of these images, whose yield is, then, a less precious and more complex world-view. Through April 4 at PSTL Window Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Good Friday The second of two group exhibitions celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Saint Louis University's Museum of Contemporary Religious Art features work from the permanent collection that explores "the meaning of suffering, death, compassion, and unconditional love" through direct references to Jesus' last day. The show's explicit focus on the Christian tradition challenges the ecumenical spirit of the institution's identity as an interfaith repository, but one can also take the show as a point of departure for broader expression. It's a fine balance — the blend of faith-based inquiry and the secular standards of contemporary art. The show's strongest works mine this unusual context by being visually evocative, spiritually direct and singularly personal: Michael Tracy's monumental Triptych, 11, 12, 13, for instance, and Adrian Kellard's Lovers and Prayer of the Faithful in Ordinary Time. The latter, who died from AIDS in 1991, explores being a "gay man loved by god" in two eccentrically and emotionally wrought painted woodcarvings that move between the traditionally liturgical and explicitly kitsch in a delicate manner that only this space can entirely honor. Through April 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Mall Boulevard (on the campus of Saint Louis University); 314-977-7170 or mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Ideal (Dis-) Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer This exhibition of canonical canvases of slain martyrs, pious virgins and other grand dilemmas borrowed from two encyclopedic museums and replaced in naturally lit contemporary galleries is a reaffirmation of the human scale. The minimalism of Tadao Ando's building design is diffused by ornate, gilt-framed compositions that date from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, the two historical extremes meeting precisely at the fragile effects of daylight on the predominantly figural pieces. Contemplative and reverent, the show fulfills its premise so well that it seems capable of providing a discretely intimate experience for each and every viewer. Through June 20 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Locusts & Honey: New Work by Jennifer Angus In a kind of alchemical transformation, Wisconsin-based Angus pins locust, grasshopper and other bewilderingly large and intricate insect specimens in floral geometrical patterns on the walls of Craft Alliance's Grand Center gallery space, to produce delicately beautiful wallpaper patterns. The effect is something aesthetically marvelous of the purely decorative variety — trumping all the more topical curiosities that the bugs, the process of their acquisition and application and the installation's biblical allusions, evoke. With the other domestic-decorative accents of early-twentieth-century dark-wood occasional tables, jewelry drawers and display vitrines punctuating the space, what remains is a work less about fear, plague and/or bounty than about the peculiar mystery that old Americana holds. Or, more simply, how certain rooms in a home seem to have a spirit and life of their own. Through May 17 at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future A traveling exhibition that comprehensively surveys the work of this key midcentury architect, best known — locally, at least — for the Gateway Arch. A Finnish immigrant, Saarinen came from a family of diverse architectural, artistic and decorative talent and imported this totalizing approach to his work, notably diverse in style and scope, which came to ultimately define the forward thrust of the Modernist American ethos. Little more need be said here, as this show is abundantly informative — proliferating with timelines, videos, furniture pieces, models, large-scale photos, architectural models and in-depth textural addenda. It successfully adds up to an advanced education in Saarinen, but also, with timely importance, Modernism — asking important questions of this highly contestable progressive spirit, whose lingering influence has been alternately that of hope disastrously dashed or freshly, if desperately, invoked. Through April 27 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).
Gedi Sibony: My Arms Are Tied Behind My Other Arms Reusing discarded carpet, Sheetrock, brown-taped drop cloths, and freighting crates and blankets — the material language of contractors and art installers alike — New York-based Gedi Sibony creates a poetical site-specific installation that dismantles and exposes the intricacies and immediacy of installations. Leaning against walls or draped over partial partitions, his neutral-toned assemblages softly and economically recompose the main gallery space in a way that feels newly austere but fundamentally domestic. Narrow halls lead to larger rooms, which, in turn, are sectioned off into smaller, more intimate quarters. The engineering is basic cause-and-effect — gravity roots a freestanding door to the gallery floor; the conceit is unassumingly modest — two carpet pieces curl up to touch at their far corners like a pair of hands. Art formalism, here, is discussed in the global vernacular of fray, wrinkle and shadow. Underscoring Sibony is Bruce Nauman: Dead Shot Dan, a selection of classic photos and videos from the '60s, '70s and '80s in which Nauman plays an Everyman documenting the self trying to make plain sense of the self — a quixotic quest that amounts to a series of slapstick pratfalls shrugged off then compulsively re-attempted and perhaps summarized best by the image of the artist's arms roped to his back, entitled Bound to Fail. Altogether, a perfect exhibition. Through April 19 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
Cindy Tower: Riding the Rubble Down This solo show of predominantly large-scale plein air paintings of St. Louis-area industrial ruins, completed between 2005 and 2008 while Tower was a visiting professor at Washington University, gains strength as it attenuates. Compressed by the galleries' narrow halls and low ceiling, the grand canvases and their detailed, putty-hued depictions of massive, decaying interiors, feel further dwarfed by their performative origins, which are prominently broadcasted in the space via video and assorted accompanying text. Not much room is left to consider the paintings on their own terms — which is unfortunate considering their fluid execution and demand for perspective. As though heeding these strictures, the chronologically arranged works decrease in size, subject and taut realism, and conclude on a simple and vulnerable note: a small piece (after which the show is named) depicting an unpopulated playground, its swings and slides half-discernable behind long paint drips and loose painterly strokes. Through May 2 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.thesheldon.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.