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Robert Duffy encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Capsule reviews of current exhibits are written by Riverfront Times arts writer Robert Duffy, with occasional contributions by the RFT staff.

Brandon Anschultz: Fission, Friction, Fiction How many times in the contorted continuum of art history has painting been declared dead? Let's not count. Let's do consider, however, the genuine satisfaction gained from the work of young artists of vitality and vision who not only understand that painting is not dead and never will be, but also appreciate painting's limitless potential for thrashing out ideas and making fascinating discoveries. In this vivid and unfailingly rewarding exhibition, Brandon Anschultz shows not only his remarkable facility with paint but also his pure delight in painted images. With a wide repertory of ideas and impulses and a penchant for pushing color to extremes, Anschultz's work adds a lustrous new piece to the incremental puzzle that is painting. Through October 7 at Philip Slein Gallery, 1319 Washington Avenue; 314-621-4634 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
— Robert Duffy

Ars Botanica: Works by Leslie J. Laskey Redoubtable, formidable, irascible, brilliant. For nearly a half-century, Leslie Laskey held forth with self-assured conviction in the School of Architecture at Washington University. He gathered disciples and detractors by the dozens and never doubted the rightness of his opinions and pedagogy — or, at least, he didn't let on if he had a doubt. All the while he was teaching, he was also working as painter, sculptor and printmaker, as a designer of jewelry and of lighting fixtures and furniture. He has exhibited frequently in galleries around town, at Wash. U. and at Frank Schwaiger's south-side Xanadu, in New York and in North Carolina. He has also shown before at the Sheldon, and now Sheldon art curator Olivia Lahs-Gonzales has mounted a telling examination of Laskey's work that concentrates on plants and flowers. Just as Laskey was loath to admit that he might be less than correct in his pronouncements, he developed a firm, authoritative and recognizable style early on and stuck with it. Within this rigorous, disciplined aesthetic and stylistic framework, Laskey produces art of great intellectual depth and lyricism, and — as do all artists who understand that the architecture of living things is the foundation on which all art is constructed — plants are a means to his understanding of the world, and of his interpreting it for the viewer. (Laskey will discuss his work at 11 a.m. Saturday, October 7, at the Sheldon.) Through January 27, 2007, at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat., and one hour before all performances at the Sheldon and during intermissions.

Bound Visions: Artists' Books Try to put a date on the birth of the book, and you'll pick a big, fat scholarly fight. Nevertheless, bookmaking is ancient human industry, and the first book-like things probably were invented — guess where? — in Mesopotamia, which is now being ravaged. Professor Ken Botnick, head of the Book Art Department at Washington University, and Robert Ebendorf, a distinguished professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, have mounted an absorbing exhibition about contemporary manifestations of the art of the book. This survey presents everything from illustrated books of rather traditional natures (books that look, y'know, books) to books that move beyond accepted and expected conventions. This liberation of the book allows the form entry into an entirely more experimental territory, where narrative is read more viscerally than literarily. Books of this new bibliography are more like blank slates, bare canvases, lumps of clay or masses of stone, ready to be manipulated and moved from shelves onto walls and into vitrines. Through November 5 at Craft Alliance Gallery, 6640 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1177. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon.

Carmon Colangelo: Configured/Disfigured Although we recently learned from St. Louis' Only Daily that no self-respecting artist employs collography in his work, Carmon Colangelo, the new dean of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University, puts this dynamic technology to good use in combination with other traditional printmaking processes and digital innovations. His prints, as well as drawings in ink and gouache, seduce the viewer with what initially appears to be comic book-colored whimsy, a sassy sense of humor and humanity, and a keen appreciation of the bizarre. Steadily the viewer finds himself ensnared in a nightmare where Popeye, Howdy Doody, bunnies, viruses, spiders, moths, human body parts turned every which way and various Boschian grotesqueries establish themselves as a population dwelling in its own universe. Hints, such as the words "mental illness" spelled out like the markings of a psychological EEG, point to a typology of the chaotic, confounding mine fields of the mind. (Full disclosure: In my role as a part-time instructor at Wash. U.'s architecture school, Colangelo is technically my boss.) Through October 7 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.

Leila Daw: Reconstructed Archaeologies Daw has spent many years creating maps of a world that at first blush seems not entirely dissimilar to the "real" one. But more often and more engagingly, her cartography traces the artist's own sensibilities and seeks to answer the question: "Where are we, anyway?" Her progress over the years has been fascinating, and sometimes flamboyant, such as the time she used skywriting to make a sky map of a Native American site on terra firma. These recent archaeologies, topographies and geographies are part of an established Daw tradition, which is original, quirky and engaging. A group of mixed-media fuzzy-fantasy landscapes are another matter entirely, reminiscent of the illustrations found in Hobbit books — of which I am frankly sick. Through October 15 at Atrium Gallery, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-1076 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.

Michael Eastman: America Series Michael Eastman has employed technical virtuosity time and again to impress his keen sensibilities as images on paper. With the exception of an equine detour I never quite got in the saddle of, his eye and intelligence have been trained toward buildings and built environments. Although few human beings physically appear in these images, they're palpably present. Look, for example, at Eastman's photograph of a New Orleans library, an accommodation of a diverse accumulation of books and pictures and Mardi Gras regalia and other shards of an existence's mirror. This and similarly affecting images reveal Eastman's ability to evoke the sad and silent eloquence of rooms and buildings, and to observe them not simply as material and space but also as resounding symbol. Through October 21 at R. Duane Reed Gallery, 7513 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-2333 ( Hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat.

The Graphic Imperative: International Posters for Peace, Justice and the Environment — 1965-2005 Posters blur the boundaries between advertising and art. They've long performed effectively in getting consumers to buy this necktie or that automobile, or in getting theatergoers into this seat or that one. They encourage you to take public transportation or to take your kids to the circus. Posters are everywhere, or seem to be, anyway. "Post No Bills" was meant for them. As important as they are in keeping commercial activity humming, posters have also proved invaluable to politicians and to anyone advocating for one cause or another, or against something regarded as heinous. These posters in this powerful show are guaranteed to give any committed conservative a rip-snorting case of fantods, but for those who navigate the political middle and the left end of the continuum, they are vehicles of wisdom and truth, expressed in powerful graphics and economical use of words. Examples go back to the heyday of Another Mother for Peace and that movement 's ubiquitous "War is not safe...." poster. Sharing the same space is the haunting silhouette of the tormented, humiliated prisoner in the black hood at Abu Ghraib. There's enough visual gunpowder enough in this show to blow the roof off 1627 Washington. Its energy is expressed in a beautifully designed exhibit, hung by Tom Bussmann, art preparator-extraordinaire and co-owner of the Philip Slein Gallery. (On Friday, October 13, the curator of the show, Elizabeth Resnick, will talk about this work from 6 to 8 p.m. in the gallery. She is associate professor of graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, and chair of communication design there.) Through October 21 at the Des Lee Gallery, 1627 Washington Avenue; 314-621-8735. Hours: 1-4 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

Jerald Ieans: New Paintings Nothing could be finer than to have Jim Schmidt open his handsome new gallery in Grand Center with a brilliant exhibition of the work of his protégé, the talented St. Louis painter Jerald Ieans. For years, Schmidt has soldiered on valiantly as a dealer and an evangelist of modernism, encouraging young talent such as Ieans and showing work that perches perilously on the point of the advance guard's javelin. Now, one hopes, he is getting what he has long deserved: a bright new gallery, properly outfitted, with spaces designed to accommodate large works of art as well as intimately scaled paintings and sculptures. Schmidt gives Grand Center's leadership full credit for its support of his establishment, and indeed, the all-over-the-place street party Vince Schoemehl and his colleagues tossed last Friday was not only fun but also had the effect of restoring faith in the Grand scheme of things. But let's not lose our focus. Ieans — since the first show of his work at Schmidt's gallery on Washington almost fourteen years ago — has gone from strength to strength as a painter, and this new, fleshly group of paintings spells further advancement. Arpian shapes ebb and flow, advance and recede, in this radiant world, flexing and relaxing, meandering insouciantly, while some muscle vigorously against the pictures' frames. Dealer and artist commit acts of aesthetic heroism on Grand Boulevard. The evolving arts district and the region are better for their being there. Through November 4 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-575-2648. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.

Leslie Laskey: Lilium Another thing about the work of Leslie Laskey, whose floral retrospective is reviewed above: Although paintings, prints and drawings have been particularly important media for expressions of his ideas, he enthusiastically embraces other media (such as photography), should they serve his purposes. Ellen Curlee has brought together a garden of photographs of lilies of various descriptions and in various conditions (including shattered). These are digital prints; the eye is drawn to the exquisite grain on the paper as well as the central images. All are bold, luscious, exotic, saturated with color and sexuality. Through October 21 at the Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-231-1299 ( Call for hours.

Bill Smith: Structures and Systems One's tempted to say words fail him, but we're not here to demonstrate creative uses of white space, no matter how tempting that may be. Still, the unfailingly rewarding and confounding energy of Bill Smith's wizardly constructions and their ethereal beauty challenge a writer to bear witness properly. Smith was trained as a scientist first, then as an artist, then as a diesel mechanic. Juggling all of those capabilities, he makes art that draws inspiration from everyone from Leonardo to Jean Tinguely to Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell. He assembles — no, involves, makes marriages of — skulls and artificial flowers, light, magnets, sounds (including the voice of Carl Sandburg), maple-tree helicopter seeds, mathematics, and yards and yards of wire. Like a spider's web, the intricacy of the construction and the glitter of shiny stuff draw you in first. Once seduced, you are transfixed, trapped and sentenced to sit or stand and attend carefully to Smith's visual music. Whirring, moving, constantly in motion, surprising, at once fragile and structurally vigorous, Smith' s art speaks credibly and hypnotically of genius. His sculptures are installed to great effect, with room to breathe and to operate, in Matthew Strauss' noble venture in the Grove. (The artist will discuss his work and demonstrations of its magic on Thursday, October 12, at 8 p.m.) Through October 21 at White Flag, 4568 Manchester Avenue; 314-531-3442. Hours: noon-7 p.m. Wed., noon-5 p.m. Sat. and by appointment.

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June 16, 2021

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