Fresh Paint Site-specific yet ephemeral, transgressive yet democratic, anonymous yet self-branding — graffiti poses one of the better contemporary-art conundrums, as it almost wholly defies institutional discourse. St. Louis graphic and print artist Kevin McCoy organizes five "street-inspired" artists — Brooklyn, James Gates, Shadzilla, Vito and McCoy himself — to wrestle with the influence of this essentially untamable medium and produce new, gallery-fit art with the hope of broadening this group's appeal and the context and scope of how their work is appreciated. Ambitious and generous in equal measure, the opening reception will be DJ'd and essentially celebratory in spirit. (There's even a website: www.stoopidfresh.com.) January 9 (reception 7-10:30 p.m.) through January 31 at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, 3151 Cherokee Street; 314-772-3628 (www.fortgondo.com). Hours: by appointment.
Houska: Hi-Def Springfield, Illinois, transplant Charles Houska — whose popular brand of flamboyantly sunny "art for everyday life" has decorated everything from credit cards and vodka ads to children's-hospital doors and animal-shelter walls — temporarily abandoned the product line for the studio to create this show of new acrylic-on-canvas paintings. While Houska's coloring-book world of wide-eyed fish, rainbowed landscapes and ubiquitous smiles may appear like the work of an agendaless Keith Haring, there's something possibly radical in such blind optimism and heedless populism. January 10 (reception 7-10 p.m.) through February 21 at phd Gallery, 2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 (www.phdstl.com). Hours: noon-4 p.m. Thu.-Sun.
Action/Abstraction A re-examination of the defining mid-twentieth-century movement that distilled art-making to its raw elements. The show opens with work by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning and words by their respective critical defenders, Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg, then follows other artists' consequent paths of influence and argumentation. Unlike abstraction's fundamental inarticulateness, this exhibit is verbosely didactic, deploying the visual work as representative specimens of heavily scripted tendencies, all of which are plotted out in the galleries like the simplest of road maps. While it leaves little room for the purely aesthetic or inventive (as often tumultuously experienced by abstraction's acolytes), the show does offer a capacious portrait of an important historical moment, when popular culture became suddenly smitten with "high art" and dead set on democratizing it. It's this co-incidence of a largely immigrant cast of painters vigorously striving for a new common language in color and composition, and an American plain-speak emerging in wide-reaching media, that unwittingly forms the show's most compelling hypothesis: that maybe it's best for some things to remain quietly misunderstood. Through January 11 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)
Artistically Incorrect: The Photographs and Sculpture of John Waters Cult film director Waters, whose B-grade "Trash Trilogy" of the late 1970s — Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living — defined him as the auteur of extreme taboo, tones down his act in this show of mass-produced sculptural objects and screen-snapshot assemblages. While imagery of stock social mores abound — puke, Charles Manson, the World Trade Center in flames — it remains safely behind glass and frame, the antagonistic subject matter dissolving in the service of traditional aesthetics. In spite of the exhibition's title, Waters possesses a scrupulous eye for beauty and good design, as evidenced by his obsessive photo-tracking of, say, a white-gloved elbow, Farrah Fawcett's blown-out hair or Sophia Loren's bare neck and shoulders. Each snapshot sequence ultimately betrays the act of someone re-watching a film he has watched innumerable times, using his still camera to capture a new, private film within it — one that is a distillation of an almost voyeuristic fascination. To this end the show is a sympathetic ode to Waters' childlike adoration of cinema — its way of rendering sensuality, gore and everything in between lushly spectacular — and the requisite humiliations that come of loving something for reasons one can't always justify. Through January 11 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 or www.laumeier.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset.)
Carmon Colangelo: From Big Bang to Big Melt The best end-of-world theories are compiled and impressionistically realized in this show of repetitively processed, large-format screen prints. Webs, grids, bursts and other universal abstractions undergird more personal imagery — totem animals, favorite art historical samples, salient phrases — all of which appear in the color range of neon viewed by daylight. The riot of topicality-meets-whimsy reaches its apex in the series titled Mondrian Skies; in these roiling two-tone cloudscapes framed in primary-colored ledger lines, the accretive froth of compositional and conceptual excess crests into something weirdly luminous. Also showing: Sandra Marchewa: Work; Kathryn Neale: Recent Paintings; Eleanor Dubinsky: New Videos. Through January 17 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.