Cosima von Bonin: Character Appropriation A giant stuffed chick, slumped and vomiting on itself while straddling an enormous rocket; a large stuffed lobster, its heavy claws flopped over what appears to be the base of a chic, modern table; two tires trapped in a custom, wall-hanging white cage: Scale is everything — a means to the humorous and pathetic alike — for German conceptual artist Cosima von Bonin. In this mini-survey of work from the past ten years, certain material themes re-emerge — fabric, most significantly, and music-related electronics — as well as situational ones — the flaccid, the frayed, the privately composed. In von Bonin's world everyone has a theme song, often of a looped and electronic variety, optimally heard through large headphones. Sound works by her collaborator, electronic music producer Moritz von Oswald, accompany nearly every piece. Dense with stuff, the exhibit takes on a new dimension: With its mildly bubbly, mildly hypnotic score, it begins to feel like a high-end boutique, artfully staged and filled with desirable objects. Here's where von Bonin excels: "appropriating" the motifs that are so common to our everyday experience that they're no longer recognizable, and reconfiguring them in odd, endearing and darkly comic ways. And how tired it leaves us — like that big chick, sick and hanging its head. Through August 1 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & 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.).
Cryptic: The Use of Allegory in Contemporary Art with a Master Class from Goya Taking the late surreally satiric prints by Francisco Goya as a point of departure, guest curator Laura Steward presents six contemporary artists as inheritors of the historic trope of the use of allegory. A tone of febrile foreboding is set from the get-go: At the entrance to the exhibition is a life-size, wild-eyed ape by Folkert de Jong, carved out of foam-core, dripped in oil-black paint and grinning widely, with a sidekick of sorts clinging to his back. In the next gallery, these same apes dance in an enormous ring, their elusive Cheshire gazes mirrored in two paintings by Allison Schulnik, "portraits" of demurely poised apes similarly slathered in inky and skin-like reticulating paint layers. Selections from Goya's "Los Caprichos" and "Los Disparates" frame these works in a tradition of dark satire: the ape appearing again, for instance, in an etching where he's painting the portrait of an ass. In the adjacent gallery, Erika Wanenmacher's truly horrifying human figures — one made of crudely stitched-together coyote coats, another pierced through with glass eyes — propose yet another fatalistic comment on the state of man. Their harrowing presences draw out the darker dimensions of Dana Schutz's oddly comic work — lush paintings of figures devouring or subjecting themselves to assorted forms of self-debasement. Bookending the exhibit are two films: one by Hiraki Sawa featuring a dreamlike interior haunted by the shadows of miniature carnival animals; and one by Javier Tellez in which the ancient allegory of six blind men describing an elephant is reinterpreted in contemporary New York. This closing work by Tellez holds the most optimism: The six New Yorkers approach the enormous animal with an affirming curiosity regarding the unknown — perhaps the most benevolent of human capacities: that of wonder. Through August 14 at 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.
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 www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)
David Johnson and Dominic Paul Moore Pairing the work of these artists yields a rich, indirect conversation, heightening the strengths of both. St. Louis-based Johnson's photographs appear crisply abstract when in fact they document the narrative of Los Caminos gallery through its inaugural exhibition year. Collectively titled "Your walls aren't that white (part 2)," they distill the space in its various incarnations into elemental swaths of color and line, revealing only occasional hints that betray the specificity of their muse. Chicago-based Moore creates works dealing with the formal and procedural aspects of what fundamentally is an experimental painting practice. Extracting delicate material relationships — how, for instance, microfiber cloth clings to a linen substrate, or how a line of tube-drawn green paint adheres a piece of clear plastic to stretched canvas beneath it — the works create among themselves a rich grammar of geometric forms and tangible textures. Together these two otherwise unrelated bodies of work serendipitously create a mutually enhancing dialogue: Moore brings out the textural dimension of Johnson's photographs, while Johnson's work draws out the narrative potential of Moore's. Through June 25 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; www.loscaminosart.com. Hours: by appointment.
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 www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Georges Rouault: Miserere et Guerre This suite of 58 etchings by the anomalous French-Catholic artist George Rouault was created between 1914 and 1927, while the artist witnessed the ravages of World War I. They're once again on view, testing the durability of their impact and their consideration as the masterwork of their maker. Formerly a stained-glass artisan, Rouault employs a heavy black outline that, when liberated from metal and glass, wavers with crude sincerity and expressive imprecision. The figures in this series — often depicted in intimate or solitary groups against depthless backdrops — are saturated in deep, sooty tones of a sort that only printmaking can create. A liturgical sensibility suffuses the pieces, beyond outright biblical allusions; all subjects appear frozen in mute pantomime of every heavier variety of suffering, their bodies arced in symbolic gestures of penance or endurance of man's plight. While Rouault never fit comfortably in any of the codified artistic movements of his time, it's clear that his influence was felt among German Expressionists — Max Beckmann particularly. That said, Rouault is utterly his own — creating a strange, wrought world of Christ figures, carnival clowns, kings and weary skeletons cloaked in every black shade. Through July 31 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 or http://mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Jane Birdsall-Lander: The Poetry of Objects This new body of work by St. Louis-based artist, writer and educator Jane Birdsall-Lander continues her inquiry into language's pictographic roots and its relationship to physical form. The undulating wall sculptures that predominantly comprise the show are works of expert craft: Wooden canes, truncated and affixed to other cane parts, form branch-, eye-, or wishbone-like shapes. Where the parts conjoin, they're bound with colored, waxed linen thread wrapped in taut circles. A piece resembling a wavering ladder ends in outstretched wooden hands; another spine-like form spouts fronds made of viola and cello pegs. The objects bear a vague resemblance to primitive instruments or tools, yet all have the linear quality of a handwritten mark, which draws them back to their point of origin: the alphabet. In one large-scale work, a grid of 26 square paintings serves as an index for the exhibit: Each piece represents a letter of the alphabet, its form revealed amid a swarm of other marks that represent the character's historical forebears. Broken down to their constituent parts, the marks begin to resonate with the core forms of the wall sculptures. The work itself appears to formulate a new language, speaking in curves, lines and staccato endpoints. Through June 11 at Duane Reed Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4100 or www.duanereedgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat. and by appointment.
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 www.sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m.