Memories of Fire Island Reviewed in this issue.
A New Currency The visual equivalent of "least said, soonest mended" is suggested by this modestly resonant group show which aims to diagnose the current recession's effect on art-making. The three St. Louis-area artists included — Jennifer Wilkey, Bruce Burton and Mike Schuh — enact through their works a kind of expressive triage, taking stock of what's available and making do with remains. Wilkey reimagines a patient's recliner with a finely stitched IV drip. Burton collects carpet swatches, rusted screws, discarded vinyl shapes — among other minute detritus — and re-presents them with new, elusive integrity. Schuh sees the gesture of a black-painted deck of cards, floor-strewn, as a kind of casual portent. The eclectic, disparate and largely un-manipulated materials of these pieces sparely punctuate the gallery in a way that creates a heightened sense of tactile and articulated space. It's as though space itself, along with all other things radically mundane, deserves a fresh value. Economically curated by Cole Root and Amy Blomme to great effect. Through July 19 at Snowflake/Citystock, 3156 Cherokee Street; www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space An explicit treatment of film as art, this survey of two decades' worth of the Belgian documentarian's work distills the medium to two essential parts: narration and gaze. Projected and screened in truncated swatches in a dark warren of loosely partitioned spaces, Akerman's work appears as a menagerie of endless highways, anonymous passersby and the overlapping cadences of the cigarette-ravaged voiceover of the filmmaker herself. Because two of her films explore canonically familiar American subjects — the culture of the Deep South and the Mexican immigrant experience — the issue of otherness, or how someone else's perspective can transform the well known, becomes saliently relevant. How much, actually, is different when seeing the familiar through another's eyes? Complementing Akerman's work is British artist Carey Young's Speech Acts, a series of pieces capitalizing on the creative potential of call centers, telephone operators and that disembodied voice at the end of a long line that calmly leads you through the nebulous airspace of critical questions and their ostensibly revelatory answers. It's an attractive form that suggests perhaps all of us have a need for the ritual of bureaucratic help — as a kind of general panacea, with nothing actually resulting from its use. Through August 2 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.
Built: Kranzberg Exhibition Series Six St. Louis-based artists — Mike Behle, Stan Chisholm, Sarah Frost, Craig Norton, Cameron Fuller and Sarah Paulsen — were chosen to transform the small rooms of Laumeier's gallery space into site-specific installations for this annual exhibition that usually focuses on the work of just one local sculptor. The decision to select artists whose work is not predominantly three-dimensional to expand their practices to fit installation art's all-consuming proportions, and thereby exemplify a current trend, is an interesting idea, if something of an assignment. The resulting work feels equal parts challenging and strained — that is, challenging for the artists to execute, no doubt, but an unnatural extension of their native impulses. Chisolm, Norton and Fuller/Paulsen, for instance, translate their distinct two-dimensional aesthetics in a way that comes across as somewhat stiffly set-like. Frost and Behle struggle to make their pieces cohere more naturally and transcend their disparate consumer materials. As a whole, the show feels like a curious maze of backdrops to actions — particularly all the trials that go along with navigating, or in this case, building, unfamiliar territory. Through September 6 at Laumeier Sculpture Park. 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209 or www.laumeier.com. 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).
Christopher Orr & J. Parker Valentine & Rezi van Lankveld This trio (from London, New York and Amsterdam, respectively) proposes its solutions to the problems of abstraction and novelty in the painting tradition. Orr, whose small canvases possess the shadowed, sepia patina of Dutch Old Master paintings, is figural in his depictions, though utterly elusive in his content. Valentine makes chaotic charcoal marks and pink blush rubbings and assembles the pieces to create jagged lean-to structures that rise to a mere fraction of the human scale. Van Lankveld is thoroughly abstract in imagery, filling a moderate-size board with matte, gray-scale, marbleized paint, but suggestively depictive in spirit: The piece is entitled Listen. The artists couldn't be treating their projects with any more dense a sense of history, seriousness and importance, which makes their work both highly portentous and highly cerebral. Through June 28 at the Front Room of 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.
Marcel Duchamp: Chess Master This thorough and engaging re-examination of the father of conceptual art's sudden choice to resign from making art to become a full-time chess player sees Duchamp's ostensible career change as yet another brilliant creative maneuver. Duchamp, who was responsible for some of the most formidable innovations in twentieth-century art — most resonant, the idea that choice-making itself is an artistic act — found chess to be not only a universal language but the ultimate distillation of his fundamental interests: winning, losing and fastidious strategy. The exhibition presents ephemera and art related to the artist's late years as a chess champion, chess writer, chess correspondent and chess aesthetician (even the chessboard and pieces held particular interest for Duchamp and his like-minded contemporaries), the sum of which is an elegant argument for the game's expansive and allegorical merits, as well as the boundless intellectual agility of the ever-clever master himself. Through August 16 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.
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 October 3 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.
Kit Keith: Present to Past Discarded mattresses, leather-bound books and LP cases, canning jars, a toy steak carved out of wood — this small survey of paintings, drawings and small sculptural objects by St. Louis-based Kit Keith has the instant-treasure-trove character of a yard sale. An attraction to the intimately hand-worn or sullied is clearly evident throughout, as is the clean finesse of an expert sign-painter's graphic depiction. Thus a cool-eyed, sleek-haired Betty Grable type is deemed "effective"; a young, wary-looking African American in cap and gown merits "good"; a pale and leering Mrs. Danvers-esque mistress is decidedly "ice." The all-too-human cartoon portraits, rendered on mattresses and jars alike, form a kind of illustrated guide to life fates. Ultimately the intricate pieces seem to recoil from the sterility of a white-walled gallery, preferring, it would seem, to be viewed in a bedroom space, wherein a pint-size resident leads you through, one by one, her strange collected treasures. Through August 2 at the Millstone Gallery at the Center of Creative Arts, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or www.cocastl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Later rather than sooner This small survey of obsessive narratives — salient memories, compulsive actions — written in repetitive, immemorial objects appear, here, in orderly disorder. Collected to-do lists are torn then reformed precisely into anti-anxiety pills, glass bottles of breath collected from people of personal significance are scattered like a broken-into pharmaceutical cabinet, poignant letters written to loved ones are thinly shredded and crumpled into small trophy cases without having been read by their intended recipients. The Jacksonville, Illinois, artist Khara Koffel is doing as much to methodically reveal herself as diagnose something more elusive — with the pills, bottles and letters acting precisely as the things they are at the same moment that their accretive masses add up to singular abstractions. Through July 11 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: Noon-5 p.m. Fri., Sat. and by appointment.
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 sluma.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Splinter of the Mind's Eye Curator Joseph R. Wolin suggests that artists' youthful obsessions outweigh adult, book-learned influences in this group show of paintings (and one sculpture). The youthful obsession, in this case, is Star Wars; the artists participating are men of an age that permitted George Lucas' vision to be their shared adolescent daydream. Wolin presents the exhibit as a kind of essay wherein each piece is proposed as evidence of an aesthetic contest between intergalactic spectacle and wild, expressionistic abstraction à la Jackson Pollock. Strangely, the influence that prevails is neither of the suggested two, but rather the big, brash 80s-era painting of the Julian Schnabel variety — heavy on tube-pure primaries, large glossy strokes, brute masculinity, and light on conceptual nuance and material delicacy. The one exception is Emilio Perez's a different time of day, a mass of black-lined, pale-hued undulating ribbons painted with flat, matte uniformity; it looks like a comic-book graphic of abstraction and, as such, is the most elegant distillation of Wolin's thesis. Also showing: paintings by St. Louis-based Brandon Anschultz, whose negotiation of science and abstraction is crisply controlled and modestly cerebral — a near-antidote to the main gallery show. Through July 18 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 or www.philipsleingallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. or by appointment.
Time Well Spent As curator Tom Reed states in his exhibition preface, the focus of this show is on the time spent creating the artwork on view rather than the work itself. In organizing collaborations between five St. Louis-based artists (Lisa Bulawski, Cameron Fuller, Steve Kelly, Belinda Lee, Amy Thompson) and five students from St. Louis-area schools (Amity Faith Herrera, Charlotte Reed, Jacob Torres, Lauren Fields, Celeste Gardner), Reed dismantles the traditional curatorial procedures of using art to evidence an idea, survey a career or exemplify a trend; instead, he uses the exhibit as a motive to coordinate a suite of new experiences. The result of these collaborations — small hand-bound books of poetry, a paper-clip-and-mop-head fort hidden under hand-painted stars, a mural of the universe exploding with telephones and remote controls — compel a viewing experience akin to perusing a fresh set of snapshots, wherein memory is weighed against fact, and further the idea that art is the steward of discovery and process rather than merely a means to an end product. Through July 19 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulvard; 314-863-6932 or www.art-stl.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri, Noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Rirkrit Tiravanija: Chew the Fat Friendship, we're reminded, is as much an art as it is a political act, in this documentary/installation by internationally renowned artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. Here, the viewer is invited to take his shoes off, assume a floor-cushion seat and watch a film screened on floor-mounted TV monitors, depicting casual discussions with the artist's well-established artist friends. The artist-on-artist approach is somewhat misleading — the piece feels less about insights into the creative practice than a study of the informal behaviors that signify intimacy. But a sense of removed formality is hard to ignore — no amount of casualness can dissuade a gallerygoer from wanting to judge the mythical inner life of successful artists, and the knowing edits in the film itself do little to suspend this disbelief. Equal parts sit-back-and-relax and rigid self-consciousness, the piece presents the uninnocent conundrum of treating life as art and heeding that familiar wisdom about choosing one's friends carefully. Also showing: 2009 MFA Thesis Exhibition, featuring work from Washington University School of Art graduate students. Through July 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.).