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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.

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.

Larry Krone: Artist/Entertainer and Janaina Tschäpe: Melantropics At his opening at the Contemporary, Larry Krone's sister Janet Kennedy was suspended six feet off the ground, singing her heart out about her life, Larry's life, family life and her best friend Eleanor. Her sweet soprano sounded so nice she sang it twice. Positioned above the crowd in a Larry-made swing seat that's a variation on those chromy crazed-plastic dinette-set chairs so popular in the 1950s — everybody could see her and she could survey not only the audience but also her brother's new exhibition. Which is, gentle reader, a knockout. Quirky, irreverent, Dada-all-over-again, bizarre, hyperimaginative: all that plus a triple gainer into the murky pool of memory. Like the circus, it's a lot of fun. And like the circus, once you make the effort to get beyond the surface, you're transported into the magician's reality. In Krone's world the most basic materials (including strands of hair and toenail clippings) communicate the most fundamental and complicated components of consciousness and parcel out secrets from the shadowy world of dreams. Krone. Stuff from his University City boyhood, from sink traps, from the remnants bin in a fabric store, he transforms into little fetish dolls and embroidered objects of ironic sentimentality. Nothing in Krone's repertoire looks like it's worth more than a nickel. Nothing is discarded as irrelevant before being examined for its communicative potential. Such glosses of kitschiness mess with ideas about taste, about perception and about art. Krone's unpretentious charm is disarming, the authenticity of his art, mesmerizing. There's less to love in the work of Janaina Tschäpe, also on view here. Tschäpe's color-saturated photographs bear mock botanical Latin names, and that's sort of amusing. The images themselves are just plain funny, however. Populated by women dolled up in costumes that resemble the Fruit of the Loom TV commercial gang sent south to loll about the jungle, the photos register as second- or third-generation Cindy Sherman. Through December 31 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Of Spirit and Form: The Monuments of France in Photographs by Èdouard Baldus and Médéric Mieusement Photography was born in France, in the first half of the nineteenth century; its first image was architecture. In 1851 Édouard-Denis Baldus became one of 40 founding members of the Société Héliographique. That same year France established the Commission des Monuments Historiques to document the noble heritage of architecture on French soil. Yet the work produced for the commission regularly transcended documentation and comes down to us as art. Why? Photographs of structures in their context, produced by men and women of deep visual sensitivity, convey more than documentary evidence; they allow viewers to respond to buildings as vessels of personal and universal memory. More than 80 individual images and portfolios in this show at the Sheldon Galleries represent Baldus and Séraphin Médéric Mieusement, who revived the work of the commission in the 1870s. To say it is arresting and beautiful is to praise it only lamely: Of all the photography exhibitions of the past three decades in St. Louis, this stands as one of the most indelible. David Hanlon, art department chair at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, who'll talk at the Sheldon at 11 a.m. on October 21, organized the show. The photographs, culled from the Russell Sturgis Collection at Washington University, are up through January 27 at the Sheldon, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 ( Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Rockin Reuter Review There were times in the cultural history of St. Louis when a fellow'd have the feeling that plenty of mainstream stuff was going on but precious little to make you want to stay out late to watch art go toe-to-toe against the Man. No underbelly to speak of, no opium dens, no absinthe bars, no Blue Note. Still, Bob Reuter often rode to the rescue, making music, flipping more platters and less chatter — and producing photographs of extraordinary vitality. Nowadays the Grove — the honky-tonk stretch of Manchester west of Vandeventer — possesses a counterculture quality that's appreciated, and the Atomic Cowboy's show of Reuter's sexy, smoke-veiled, late-night, rock & roll images hones the district's edge. Reuter's work has qualities similar to Tom Wood's and Robert Frank's; like them he has a way of vanishing into the smoke in order to penetrate façades. In the end, this work is all Reuter: rhino tough, bristling with energy, sympathetic in its way — and true. Through October 31 at Atomic Cowboy, 4140 Manchester Avenue; 314-775-0775 ( Hours: 5 p.m.-3 a.m. Wed.-Sat.

Bernar Venet: Recent Sculpture, Drawings and Prints After attending the dedication of an installation near the Grand Basin in Forest Park of a group of large Cor-Ten steel sculptures by the French artist Bernar Venet, William Shearburn returned to his gallery in a well-deserved state of exhilaration. It was Shearburn, after all, who brought these large coiling sculptures to St. Louis, bankrolled their installation and navigated the approval process governing the placement of art in the park. And there couldn't be a more appropriate artistic contribution to our treasured refuge. Aspects of the Slinky present themselves in these steel extrusions, and to regard them as exuberant and playful is not to suggest they are less than genuinely serious. They are fluid expressions of the artistic line drawn in majuscule, expressions of enormous tension, like gigantic springs in some cosmic clock. At his gallery Shearburn has hung drawings, collages and prints by Venet, along with three sculptures. The works conduct a lively dialogue, showing similarities here, differences there and articulating Venet's wondrous ability to produce work that springs from the playful to the profound and back again. Through October 14 at William Shearburn Gallery, 4735 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-8020 ( Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Mel Watkin: Insurgency Mel Watkin was one of the smartest of the bright, dedicated crowd that shaped influential exhibitions on next to no money in the good old days of the old Forum for Contemporary Art. She now directs the Public Policy Resource Center at UMSL, but she continues to make art on her own. This haunting exhibition of drawings is a deliberate subversion of the folding road maps that even in the Internet era find their ways into glove compartments. Some are worn to the texture of chamois by frequent handling; some after a hundred refoldings acquire the enigmatic qualities of palimpsest. Watkin draws on them, and what she draws corrupts the map's established function: Geography is erased, redefined, overgrown with the flora of the draftsman's compass and the artist's fecund imagination. The commercial road map — so deliberately informative, so thoroughly artless and commonplace — thus becomes anarchic. Watkin's work will challenge your notions of time and space through February 3, 2007, in the Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery of the Sheldon, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 ( Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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