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St. Louis Art Capsules 

Jessica Baran encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Newly Reviewed
Christina Shmigel: This City, Daily Rising A weathered wooden child's chair is stacked atop its twin, with two bright pink plastic bowls stacked on the top seat. In an adjacent vitrine sits a miniature version of this assemblage, the tiny pieces placed in the center of a bright orange square of velvet. Vacillating between the small human-scale and the impossibly small, this exhibit plots out a curious landscape of material correspondences — between the prefabricated and the hand-wrought, between massive and minute, and between the Eastern and Western ends of the cultural spectrum. In response to having lived for the past five years in Shanghai, artist Shmigel unpacks the commercial and tactile associations of the objects in this show and explores their capacity to become, literally, foreign. An intricate gridwork of scaffolding is wrought out of bright-painted bamboo; galvanized oilcans are equipped with dangling appendages of blue plastic tubing, calling to mind a sense of practical purpose no true function. Surveying the peculiar but ordinary materials, the viewer sees both a landscape of familiar objects made strange and a bright composition of shapes laid out like a traversable, albeit surreal, painting. Also showing — Shawn Burkard: Oranges/Megalithic is a large angular mound of several dozen neon-orange plastic shapes, letters from from an invented alphabet. The form has the classic dignity of, say, an obelisk, but its core appeal is elementally childlike: the most desirable pile of toys in sight. Through March 5 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.

Featured Review: Ghost: Elizabeth Peyton Like one of her closest forebears, Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Peyton made a name for herself as a noted barometer of ultra-contemporary culture — painting diaphanous, unapologetically sentimental portraits of (in her case) '90s-era pop figures, from artists to musicians to gallerists and friends. Now Peyton serves as a marker of how rapidly trends age, and of the unforeseeable patina they acquire in the process. In this first museum survey of the artist's print-based work, Ghost casts Peyton in a slightly new light — as an inheritor of the deeply historical tradition of portraiture. While depictions of Eminem and Julian Casablancas, to name two, locate the work in the timeline of hype, those of Robert Mapplethorpe and Georgia O'Keefe widen and deepen the range of Peyton's amorous gaze. The technique of printmaking seems to complement her craft, drawing out the delicacy of her brushwork while — thanks to the medium's inherent reproductive element — underscoring the more conceptual aspect of her practice as a meditation on fame. Mass-produced icons can be intimately reclaimed alongside personal heroes and dear friends. This may not be entirely new "news," but in the sky-blue galleries it inhabits, Peyton's work appears dreamily revelatory — a timeless reflection on the past and the ghostlike traces culture leaves upon us. Through April 18 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).

Brookhart Jonquil: Physical Spectrum A spare meditation on reflection and refraction, the first St. Louis show by Chicago-based artist Brookhart Jonquil exploits the fundamental properties of high '80s corporate-era materials — glass, metal and mirrors — for philosophic, pragmatic and contemporary effects. A full-length beveled vanity mirror is split in half and affixed to the edge where wall meets floor, appearing like a slumped figure or a perspective-altering portal. In Envelope a series of windows fan out to form a transparent partition; the pristine, off-the-Home-Depot-shelf items dimly reflecting fractured portions of the gallery space. Embedded into the opposite wall are letters created in cut mirror glass that spell out "AMBULANCE," arranged in reverse. It's as though artist Dan Graham re-imagined Charles Demuth's Modernist classic The Number Five in Gold, which rendered in paint William Carlos Williams' poem about a fire truck receding into distant streets of a city at night. In this updated version, the viewer is left to (literally) reflect on the spectacle of oneself in a state of emergency, rather than any particular sense of place or quality of mind — a revision that, however direly, very much speaks to the moment. Through March 12 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; Hours: by appointment.

Paris Dream'n In this show of drawings and paintings, local artist Jamie Adams displays salon-style, a mythical sub-world of obsessional, invented eroticism. Continuing his acute study of the tragic and luminous screen star Jean Seberg — as she remains, in Adams' vision, trapped in the character of Patricia Franchini from Godard's 1960 Nouvelle Vague classic Breathless — the artist depicts her in various states of Mannerist undress in her Parisian apartment. But Seberg's body, while predominantly nude, is not a conventional object of desire. Her hair is clipped boyishly short and her limbs are strangely muscular, as if they belonged to a man. It's this fact that Seberg/Franchini is more male than not (think of Michelangelo's gender-bending Renaissance figures) that is this show's peculiar point of focus: male desire transmogrified into a female form, appearing at once titillating and disturbing. The proliferation of sketched and painted studies for a perhaps nonexistent final masterpiece suggests a desperate attempt to pin down the root of this singular fascination. The summary effect speaks to other classic fictional conceits — of the empty screen star who provokes the collective imagination, of the historical nude and all that it has been able to sublimate and pervert and of the artist as a socially permissible voyeur, capable of viewing and expressing what the tactical common lot dare not admit. Also showing — Mel Watkin: Trunk Show, a collection of surreal arboreal variations on the theme of dreamlike, or dreamed-of, nature. The linework in these drawings on graph paper speaks to a kind of earnestness in the search of the sublime, that ever-elusive quality more readily embodied in collective approach than in one single form. Through February 26 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.

Ryan Thayer: Timemachines In this exhibit of photograms, local artist Ryan Thayer suggests that temporal distinctions of the past, present and future collapse in the tiny frames of portable devices with LCD screens. When you're holding an archival image in the palm of your hand as it's displayed on, say, an iPod, the future is essentially now. Thayer exposes cell phones, laptops, iPads — all those gadgets that have come to define how we now experience daily life — to traditional photo processing, rendering something akin to an x-ray trace. These ghostly archeological imprints of planned obsolescence, in their characteristic black-and-white severity, simultaneously recall turn-of-the-century avant-garde techniques and ultra-contemporary technology — making something wistful and timeless out of tomorrow's recyclables. Through March 25 at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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