St. Louis Art Capsules

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Apr 21, 2011 at 4:00 am

Newly Reviewed
Featured Review: Currents 105: Ian Monroe Washington University alum Ian Monroe returns as this year's Freund Fellow, exhibiting a new body of work inspired by Minoru Yamasaki's original 1956 design for Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. Using sheets of aluminum, upon which pristinely cut pieces of colored vinyl are applied, these austere, painterly collages depict a nearly obsolete culture of flight populated by immaculate fountains, phone banks, lounges and business-attired travelers. Scenes of the architect and his design team at work, pens in hand and sleeves rolled up, appear as abstract reductions of original archival photographs. Monroe's slick renditions heighten the original utopian ambitions for the terminal. While perhaps it's difficult to recall amid an era of groping security checks and dim anxiety, traveling by air was once a crowning progressive achievement. Monroe's works are rife with nostalgia for this older era's Modernist faith in technology, his attentive craftsmanship and bold, midcentury palette drawing out the timelessness of its design. The exhibit — which includes a large-scale sculptural installation — exudes a material presence that complements the stuff of the airport accoutrements depicted, aligning itself in tactile spirit with this pre-digital culture of architecture and design. Through July 31 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)

How to Disappear This show, titled after Seth Price's self-published book How to Disappear in America, brings together seven contemporary artists whose work explores the removal or dissolution of personal identity. Paris-based conceptual art collective Claire Fontaine contributes a pile of quarters with box-cutter blades soldered onto them, a riff on the notion of "constructed" identity. Tatiana Grigorenko presents a haunting group of old family photographs, the images enlarged to painterly proportions, sections of them literally painted out to remove a number of those depicted. A strip of camouflage-patterned carpet trails across the gallery floor in a work by Cayetano Ferrer, with a book bound in identical fashion lying on top of it so as to appear invisible. Ben Alper's photographs display pages of photo albums from which snapshots have been removed, leaving holes and yellowed tape, magnified nearly to the point of abstraction. In a text-based video animation by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, a noir-esque narrative unfolds, an air of suspense emerging from its suggestions of character, plot and displaced intrigue. Amid all the vanishing, the show leaves the viewer with an impression — that we are all identifiable by the traces left behind in our absence. Also showing: Charles Gick's Three Clouds in Waiting, a site-specific installation involving a floor cover of parched and crackling red earth, on which sit three large black-framed encaustic paintings of blue sky and clouds. Mesmerizing and tactile, it feels like a Magritte-themed diorama — if the French Surrealist had gone through a Southwestern phase — evoking at once pneumatic dreams and rough-handed American realism. Through May 20 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

Dreamscapes This exhibit subtly trains the viewer to navigate the Pulitzer's inimitable space as though it were an exquisite dream recalled. De Chirico's Transformed Dream sets the stage: a train in the painting's high horizon line directing one to unforeseeable locales. Nearby sits a piece by Janet Cardiff: a black rotary phone you pick up to hear the voice of the artist relaying her dreams. A golden, recumbent Brancusi head rests on a plinth, while at the gallery's far end, Magritte's Invisible World hints at a watery vista beyond its French doors and the imposing gray stone that blocks them. Here is where you reach the hinge in this surreal sonnet: Arriving at the Pulitzer's water court, you see Magritte's stone in solid form: Scott Burton's Rock Settee, which overlooks the narrow, placid reflecting pool and a swath of city beyond. Only now do you pause to consider the multitude of portentous cues inhabiting the masterworks curator Francesca Herndon-Consagra has assembled, transforming the museum into a dreamlike tableau vivant. Highlights include Do Ho Suh's diaphanous fabric staircase to nowhere, two late, dark paintings by Philip Guston, an early suite of Max Klinger's Glove etchings and the nebulous Wolfgang Tillmans forestscape that marks the dream's end. (A series of programs exploring the exhibition's theme will unfold through the spring and summer, on Saturdays at 1 p.m.) Through August 13 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.

Eyedeas Washington University art school dean Carmon Colangelo assembles a group of recent works on paper and canvas that appear like torn-out and magnified diary pages. Or, more specifically, notes from meetings, embellished with incidental doodles, personal asides and recorded sound bites that read like scripts of the inner mind taking counsel from itself. Using digitally printed templates, Colangelo builds the images by hand, adding water color, pencil sketches and collaged elements, which are then re-scanned, printed, and built upon again. The end products are wild landscapes — of gridded or wide-ruled paper — upon which colors explode, data collide and playful, abstract sketches are annotated with pleas for (literally) "Help." Pages of '50s-era art magazines warp into amorphous inkblots, while minute swatches of pixelated imagery enlarge to form nearly psychedelic color fields. A sense of play is key in navigating this cross-historical collapse — of culture, technology and personal reflection — the prevailing spirit being one that would find relief, as opposed to tragedy, in, say, a computer network crash and use it as an excuse to take the day off. Through May 7 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. on the first Sun. of every month and by appointment.

[F]utility Kitchen Austin-based printmaker Leslie Mutchler realizes the twin dreams of organized living and boutique organic farming, with a critical wink and cool commercial allure. Beneath grow lights suspended from the ceiling in the gallery's center, a custom-built system of trays holds handmade paper bowls from which lentil seeds delicately sprout. The bowls are laid out in a neat pattern, and the long white cords from the lights are braided to look like decorative macramé. Mutchler has wallpapered one gallery wall in a minimalist lentil-sprout motif and lined the adjacent walls with a series of fetishistic drawings depicting vases and other ceramic ware that range in brand quality from Ikea to, say, Moss. Though to the casual eye it looks to be a perfect realm of modular shelving and stackable containers, its conspicuous materialism — tempered by suggestions of DIY spirit and eco-friendliness — gives rise to unsettling intimations. Inspired by Marie Antoinette's faux farm, the Hameau de la Reine, where, on the grounds of Versailles, she'd play milkmaid to adopted animals using the finest grade of rococo dishware, Mutchler provides a modern-day Hameau: a sleek adult playpen where one's taste for good design and locally grown produce can be dually satisfied. At once a witty spoof and the product of a true believer, the show thoroughly plumbs the guilt-ridden psychological depths of "enlightened" consumerism. Through May 7 at Snowflake, 3156 Cherokee Street or Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.

Grab grassy this moment your I's It is difficult to create a sense of cohesive inevitability from a music stand, fluorescent light, electrical cord and a metal can and to make these materials convey sculptural and painterly sophistication. But such are the materials and their miraculous, galvanizing effect in artist Jessica Stockholder's pioneering craft, once again made startlingly apparent in this exhibit of recent work. Presaging the contemporary "unmonumental" aesthetic of repurposing disparate consumer materials to poetic ends, Stockholder has been mining this space between conceptual and traditional practices since the onset of her career, finding her forebears in Rauschenberg, Picasso and Judd. Each assemblage here creates a giddy, self-sufficient landscape complete with its own lighting scheme, its parameters dictated by the familiar living-room logic of a rug. While the elements included are discrete and stark (an orange extension cord that powers a neon light fixture dangles down and snakes into a wall socket), they combine to create an intractable whole at once sculptural and painterly in which a raw stroke of paint will move from the rug to an end table to the bulb of a lamp. It's a maniacally determined world of high-end formalism colliding with blue-light specials that, amid its cacophony of plastic, neon hues and shag, manages to communicate a clear, intuitive utterance not unlike the Dylan Thomas-like directive of the exhibition's title. Through May 29 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun. (outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).

Larry Fink: Attraction and Desire — 50 Years in Photography This generous survey of the notable Brooklyn-born artist reaffirms the durable pleasures of black-and-white figural photography. A nimble chronicler of society's more extreme coteries, Fink moved among New York beatniks, Vegas gamblers, mid-century jazz musicians, the young Mike Tyson and other boxing strivers, rural Pennsylvanians and the lacquered elite of fashion, art and Hollywood. His preference for Caravaggio-esque high contrast dramatizes what is essentially an obsession with fugitive detail: the long, alabaster, manicured hands of a man clutching the back of a black-dressed blonde; a silver radiator in an angled swath of daylight; the heavy-lidded eyes of a lone woman in a crowd at the Cedar Bar; drops of rain on the black sedan bearing Coretta Scott King to the 1968 Poor People's Campaign. It would be easy to marvel at the fabled personalities and events chronicled here, but Fink's most anonymous subjects serve as the firmest testament to his peculiar eye — a complex gaze that is at once empathetic, excoriating and salacious. Intimate and disarmingly wearied self-portraits of himself, his wife, his child and dogs reframe a narrative that might otherwise tip completely into an obsession with cultural novelty. In the end, the show functions much like that other beleaguered medium — the novel — telling stories about living, loving and other less conclusive failures. Through August 20 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m.

Poems by Bobby Thiel In this elegant suite of collaborative works on paper by local artists Gina Alvarez and Jana Harper, a too-often-lost sense of innocent wonderment is harnessed and safe-kept in line, color and texture. Inspired by a child's notebook made in the 1940s by one of Alvarez's distant relatives, the artists used the titles of Thiel's poems to generate new imagery, combining their own photographs with found images, along with shapes and hues drawn from Japanese prints and Indian miniatures. Beginning with digital prints, they applied printmaking techniques and handwork to each unique piece, drawing, stitching and collaging elements into to the imagery. An aerial image of plotted land, as one would see from an airplane window, is punctuated by inset rhinestones, washing those squares of fields in emerald and yellow. The blurred impression of a figure behind a shower curtain turns spectral, with the dappled mist punched through with multicolored dots. A rain cloud hovering over a cityscape swirls with minute circular gestures, emitting a dotted-line rainfall, as a child would render it. Memory, here, is embodied in the impressionistic mark, amassing a gestural journal of days defined by changes of light, shifts in weather and all-but-ephemeral glimpses of the modestly sublime. Through June 4 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sat.

Return of the Outlaw (Printmakers) The beast is back, though with less roar and more, well, skilled craftsmanship. This group exhibit featuring printed work by Phyllis Bramson, Art Chantry, Don Colley, Bill Fick, Peregrine Honig, Tom Huck, John Jacobsmeyer, Michael Krueger, Tom Reed and Frank Stack rekindles a relationship with Philip Slein Gallery formed early in the space's history, with a few updates. A curious highlight: new member Jacobsmeyer's small, peephole-like etchings of pop characters (Star Trek's Mr. Spock; the robot from Metropolis), who spell out a line from James Dickey's poem "The Sheep Child" in sign language. Another striking change is the lack of palpable anarchism. Instead, the work looks lush, meticulous and collectively beautiful (perhaps in spite of itself). Bramson's diptych illustrating a dark, tilting world of glitter-frosted Christmas trees has all the charm of a vintage snow globe; and Stack's snapshot-like etchings of anonymous spots in Columbia, Missouri, recall Edward Hopper at his most starkly existential. In the back room, Tom Reed has crafted a mock mine shaft of a mini-exhibit wherein his jewel-like work resides, drawing you into its world of tree-stump interiors, miniature waterfalls below which sunken cabins pool and wood-bound journals full of pencil-sketched trees. Through April 30 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Richard Aldrich and the 19th Century French Painting The uniform 84-by-58-inch white-primed canvases that compose New York-based painter Richard Aldrich's exhibition appear, in their close-hung repetition, like pages in a notebook. Upon each page paper clippings, splints of wood or the erratic trace of a brush's single gesture are collected, producing the effect of a most intimate journal, perhaps written by a cloud. The gestural focus is underscored by what is presented as Aldrich's historical forebears, a select four paintings, drawn from the Saint Louis Art Museum's collection, by French intimist painters Vuillard and Bonnard (with one Irishman's self-portrait added, for discontinuity's sake). These nineteenth-century footnotes, describing in obsessional detail daily artifacts such as fruit, the domestic space and the more immemorial varieties of light, place Aldrich's contemporary fixations (Syd Barrett, slide film, BAM Cinema ticket stubs) firmly in an elegant tradition. Granted, these "newer" artifacts are throwbacks in themselves, suggesting a more complex relationship to the daily in which the present, and our most banal and intimate moments, are no longer a safe source for nonderivative authenticity but yet another space to compose the myth of oneself. Our masterpiece is, indeed, the private life. Through May 1 at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 on Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

William Kentridge: Two Films The animated shorts Weighing...and Wanting (1998) and Journey to the Moon (2003) embody South African artist William Kentridge's signature stop-motion technique, in which single charcoal drawings are erased and redrawn to form atmospheric narratives of a post-apartheid culture. Moving between the personal and political, Kentridge's invented alter-ego, the industrialist Soho Eckstein, rises and falls in from the small heaps of charcoal detritus, allegorizing attempts to resurrect personal integrity, if not a fresh national identity. Also showing — Visual Musings: Prints by William Kentridge Two recent series of hybrid aquatint, drypoint and engraved prints are also on view, one inspired by Nikolai Gogol's short story "The Nose"; the other, Thinking Aloud, a fantasia of personal imagery. Other prints explore Kentridge's long-time relationship to theater and, in this case, opera, with themes from Mozart's Magic Flute and Shostakovich's adaptation of "The Nose" putting in frequent appearances. Through May 22 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)