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The following articles were first published by St. Louis Public Radio - KWMU

Sheldon Photo Contest Winners Show St. Louis With Affection

How do you see St. Louis? That was the question the Sheldon Art Galleries posed as it asked people to send their photographic answer for prizes and a chance to have their work shown.

This Friday, June 6, The City at 250 - A Celebration of St. Louis in Photographs opens to reveal stories of the city, shown with affection.

There is no direct statement in any of the photographs regarding social conflict or political struggle – no photograph depicting the “Delmar Divide” or homelessness or college students against Peabody Coal. Sheldon Art Galleries Director Olivia Lahs-Gonzales does not recall any conspicuously transgressive content in the photographs that didn’t make the cut. The general response was diverse in a myriad of ways but uniform in the photographers’ testimony to their gentle love for the city.

The judges -- Lahs-Gonzales, the St. Louis Art Museum’s Eric Lutz, John Nagel of the International Photography Hall of Fame along with the Beacon and St. Louis Public Radio’s Robert Duffy -- have selected high-quality images that create a record of this moment in our city’s history. They did not know names of the participants, their gender, ethnicity or backgrounds. The resulting exhibit – with work from professional, amateur and youth photographers– presents fresh as well as fine-tuned ways of seeing St. Louis.

A small selection of the “places” category winners depict architectural ruins as an aesthetic interest. Pamela Lawson’s Looking Backwards shows the once beautiful Carr School, ravaged by time and neglect. Like a crumbling Corinthian column, once great buildings now beyond hope for repair are more fascinating than sad when removed from the context of an impoverished neighborhood. Lahs-Gonzales notes that St. Louis parks are well represented in the exhibit. Wendy Williams Gold on the Ground – Ginkgos in Tower Grove Park and David T. Carriel’s Unusual Tree in Lafayette Parkoffer keenly composed views of local favorites.


Entranced, by Jeff Hirsch, October 2013; Professional, 3rd Place, Architecture and Places
Credit Courtesy of the Sheldon Art Galleries


It is also an earnest, as opposed to commercial, showcase of our best-loved buildings. Neil E. Das presents an alluring view of a Moonrise Over the Chase. Matt Wicks and Jeff Hirsch both present dazzling details of the fabulous Fox that are not found on the theater’s promotional materials, but should be. The magic in these images comes of the photographers’ discerning vision facilitated by their technical talent. Many provide very interesting perspectives on well-known places. There are an abundance of arches. Yet, presentations of the Gateway Arch in the exhibit will not be familiar. They show the Arch from odd angles, through objects and as seen from the midst of deserted buildings in North St. Louis.


You Came Back, by Hilary Hitchcock, 2014, Amateur
Credit Courtesy of the Sheldon Art Galleries


Some hidden gems that only St. Louis insiders will recognize are also on display. Sugarloaf Mound along the Mississipi south of the brewery is the only known Mississippian mound west of the river, but few people are aware that it exists. Two photographers mark this spot as important. Some of the photographers capture fleeting moments to describe a place. Hilary Hitchcock’s images do just this. You Came Back, a photograph she took from a window in her Skinker-Debaliviere childhood home, makes the viewer into a voyeur. The image of a man seen through trees as he walks through snow is frozen in time like held breath.

Despite the heavy competition and without any advantage other than her artistry Hitchcock had three photographs chosen for the final contest selection. She employs a different method of visual storytelling for each. Hitchcock has spent years exploring photographic devices from digital point and shoot cameras to Polaroids to pin-hole and toy cameras. Her photograph of humble South City red brick bungalows, titled I Notice You, comes of her love for the “unsung heroes of St. Louis architecture.” Hitchcock is sentimental about these charming houses that were “built for a turn-of-the-century working class, not fancy people, yet always include beautiful millwork, a little stained glass window somewhere and a mantle above the fireplace.”


A Stitch-in-Time Becomes a Playground to Climb, by Olivia Kristine Botonis, Feb. 16, 2014. Youth, 2nd Place, People
Credit Courtesy of the Sheldon Art Galleries


The personal stories of the photographers often provide an interesting backstory. Amateur photographer Olivia Kristina Botonis had her mother pose with her sewing machine in front of the City Museum in A Stitch-in-Time Becomes a Playground to Climb. When Botonis’ lovely mother left Greece for St. Louis in 1973 she found work as a seamstress in that building, then the home of Biltwell Sportswear.

The first place award for the youth category went to Emily Scholten of Parkway North High School. Scholten’s photograph is a very clever take: It shows a map of the St. Louis region projected onto the face of her friend and classmate, Ashley Hanson. The image is captivating. It is also a lovely marking of the transition both of these young women are making into their next phase of life. Hanson is heading to New York City to embark on a career as a professional model, as Scholten enters Kansas University to study graphic design. Both Scholten and Hanson are likely to look back periodically on the countless ways that their St. Louis childhoods shaped their lives and their vision.


St. Louis, by Emily Scholten, 2014. Youth, 1st Place, People
Credit Courtesy of the Sheldon Art Galleries


The exhibit catalog featuring 100 of the 250 winning photographs will be available at the gallery, online and in local bookstores. At $24.95, it is surprisingly affordable for a fully illustrated, hardbound art book. The remaining 150 photographs that were chosen to represent contemporary St. Louis are on display on video slide shows throughout the galleries.

The Sheldon Art Galleries began commemoration the 250th anniversary of the city in February when the Imagining the Founding of St. Louis exhibit opened. To enter the photography galleries, visitors will pass through that expansive array of early St. Louis colonial art and artifacts from large and small local collections. These rooms draw the Osage history of the region into focus and show French Colonialist attempts to make their own visual record. The juxtaposition of historic and contemporary visual reflections on the city makes for a thought-provoking exercise of self-analysis. What are we looking for when we envision our city?

Note: The St. Louis Beacon/St. Louis Public Radio supported the contest.

Related events:

Saturday, June 21, 11 a.m. - J. Frederick Fausz will sign and discuss his book The Significance of the “Indian Capital” of Colonial St. Louis – Then and Now.

Saturday, July 12, 1 p.m. – Artist and Osage Scholar Sean Standing Bear will discuss his painting in the Imagining the Founding of St. Louis exhibit as well as the Osage objects on view.

Wednesday, July 14, 12 p.m. – Daven Anderson speaks on the history of the founding of St. Louis.

Admission to all gallery talks is free, but a reservation is needed for each. Call or email Susan Sheppard at or 314-533-9900 x37

Saturdays, June 28-Aug. 9, 10:30-12:30 p.m. – Children’s event - Storytelling and scavenger hunt in the galleries. (Suggested donation of $3 a child for craft supplies)

Where: 3648 Washington Blvd. 63108

St. Louis Museums Offer Innovative Job Training

If someone were to tally the number of St. Louis area students participating in career training at arts institutions and compare that to the numbers in other local industries, the arts might possibly win. The Contemporary Art Museum, alone, draws hundreds of students into its pre-professional programming each year. And not only are the exciting, pre-professional youth programs at CAM and the St. Louis Art Museum free to participants, some pay a stipend.

Those selected for this year’s Teen Museum Studies program at CAM just recently learned of their good fortune. In this program, the students will choose artists and themes they wish to develop in mini-exhibits that they will then organize at the museum. In the process, these teens will experience the wide variety of tasks required of curators as they envision, develop, install and, finally, represent their exhibits for CAM visitors.


TMS class of 2012 in Contemporary Art Museum receiving room.
Credit Provided by CAMSTL


CAM has developed several youth out-reach endeavors over the last decade. Students in CAM’s New Art in the Neighborhood program will develop their own professional art portfolios as they prepare for college or embark on a new career. In separate components, high school students and middle schoolers explore St. Louis while creating art.

At the St. Louis Art Museum, the Teen Arts Council gives high school students the chance to work as curators. These students sign and implement arts events inside and outside of the museum. As they work with museum professionals to create their own exhibits, they engage with local artists. They meet with entrepreneurs to discuss project ideas. They discover, by doing, what it takes to organize and to lead.

The Teen Arts Council was created last year by 2011-12 SLAM Romare Bearden Fellow, Vanity Gee. This year, Bearden Fellow Kimberly Jacobs facilitates the council. Given that Jacobs is from Jackson, Miss., she is also having an adventure exploring local art institutions and local artists. The Tavern of Fine Arts hosted the 2013 Young Artists’ Exhibit and will host the exhibit for the students participating this year.

The Teen Assistants program is another pre-professional opportunity at SLAM, and those who are selected will be paid. CAM, also, will provide the Teen Museum Studies participants with a stipend. That opens up the programs to students who don’t have the freedom to forgo summer employment. It also sends a significant message to the teens about the value of their work.

CAM education director, Tuan Nguyen, enjoys watching students form teams to tackle challenges that initially appeared insurmountable. Nguyen sees the museum as a model for the ideally open office in which ideas are shared and welcome. His attention to the development of young collaborators is in perfect tune with the call for changing corporate climate found in so many TED talks, op-ed articles and commencement speeches.

Nguyen at CAM and Jacobs at SLAM are heavily involved in local collaboration. They and the other members of their museum teams support each other, sharing what has and hasn’t worked in past years. They depend upon large and small local entities to keep their programming fresh and relevant. The Missouri History Museum, the MUNY, Metro Theater Company, Craft Alliance, Perennial, the Northside Workshop, Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts and the Firecracker Press are just a few of the many organizations that have provided real world application and instruction to the young people involved in arts programs at SLAM and CAM.

Nguyen says it is no accident that this list is so long, “It is crucial, as St. Louis arts organizations that we stick together. Doing so makes all of us stronger.”

He and Jacobs find that work with individual artists is especially empowering for students. Studio visits make the students aware of the day-to-day operations of arts entrepreneurs and allow them to build connections. Installations come alive when introduced by their maker.

The investment that all of these parties are making in St. Louis youth – the artists, the small businesses, the galleries and museums – is a proven method for helping young people flourish. Before long, the whole city benefits. The students involved in St. Louis area art museum career programs represent all areas of St. Louis, geographically and otherwise. Their career goals are equally diverse.

Professional training in a museum context has practical applications beyond the obvious. Students engage deeply with a variety of subjects that are inherent in a well-rounded education. They gain confidence and cultural authority while discussing the complex visual language of the art they encounter. They face issues of class, gender, identity, privilege and race. They discuss physics, health and religion … the entire human experience is up for examination.

For the future businessperson, the experience is a better investment than golf lessons. The future educator will come closer to knowing how to ask the really good question and then how to listen. The future judge gains empathy and a better ability to observe third and fourth perspectives. The future engineer draws links between the abstract and the concrete, while developing invaluable tools for envisioning possibility.

With luck, those in these programs will look back at their teen arts careers as an incubatory period that set them on a creative and fruitful career path.

Full disclosure: My own joy-filled introduction to art professions came in 1988 when I was chosen to participate in a program the St. Louis Art Museum organized to train public school students as Teen Mummy Curators.

Reflection: Free Paarking Exhibit Looks Just Beyond A Person's Reach

Deo Deiparine is the founder, director, curator and whatever else is needed at the Free Paarking Gallery in South St. Louis. The 21-year-old Washington University architecture student exemplifies the multitasking art-worlder archetype. Such entrepreneurial art leadership may be the best and only way to enter and stay in such an underfunded field. His gallery is now hosting its fifth exhibition since opening in August 2012.

Michael Powell’s (sic) opened just as Deiparine began preparing for finals and closes on May 17. On May 24, a new exhibit will have work from Chicago artists Noah Barker, Mitchell Thar, Andrew Kelly and Timothy James Kelly. That timing and quick turnaround were clearly not enough excitement for the enterprising Deiparine. Just as the scheduling, organizing and promotion work inherent in gallery work became mildly familiar, he began hosting short-run exhibitions in the unfinished basement of the building he rents to run Free Paarking. This space is, of course, called Underground Paarking.


Top: The noise attracts and repels. Bottom: Confluence rock
Credit Sarah Hermes Griesbach


Powell’s exhibition (sic) explores the distance between the space where one stands and one’s desire. Each of us spends a lifetime seeking impossible, chimerical goals that, Powell contends, rest just beyond reach, forever separated from us in the same way that tomorrow is unreachable. Powell uses principles of science to connect to the quixotic nature of time. 

Powell develops and applies this theme over and over in straightforward and abstracted ways. The most straightforward application of his vision of the human condition is an untitled piece in which a yellow rubber duck sits on a tall glass. The glass is full of water, but the duck is too wide to fit in the narrow mouth of the glass. It is an instantly recognizable representation of life’s cruel wit – an artist’s one-liner.

At the center of the gallery space, Powell has installed a rock and noise machine titledThe State of Things (Ha). The noise machine is a vacuum set on a timer to periodically blow air out, expanding the plastic bag surrounding a rock. As the reverse setting on the vacuum causes air to expand the bag, the noise is deafening. The gallery’s wonderful tin ceiling may augment that roar. Characteristic of Powell and Deiparine‘s shrewd intentions, this rock show pushes viewers to leave the loud room while it simultaneously attracts the curious in.

When my 10-year-old son, Immanuel, asked Deiparine if the rock was a special rock, we discovered that it is a rock from the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. This sparked a later conversation between Immanuel and me about how often we see the mark of the rivers’ confluence in local artwork and how absent this place of meaning for artists is otherwise.

The title piece of the exhibition, (sic), allows viewers to peer into a long camera lens at a small projection of a bright earth endlessly turning. The darkened room is the universe with only the gallery visitors acting as celestial bodies. They hover over the home planet they know intimately but now find unapproachable and distant. The performance of looking is like seeing oneself in a hall of mirrors.

Deiparine says he appreciates Powell’s presentation of universal questions through an amalgam of scientific theory and artistic device. Deiparine shows his own artistic vision in organizing and promoting this captivating soup of cosmic dreaming and reality testing.

Michael Powell at Free Paarking through May 17

Next Free Paarking Opening Event – May 24

Where: 2901 Sidney St. 63104

Gallery hours: Saturdays 1-4 p.m. and by appointment and

St. Louis Outsider Art Fair Welcomes All


Credit St. Louis Outsider Art Fair


At its core, the St. Louis Outsider Art Fair is less about art insiders and outsiders than it is about belonging. Shana Norton has organized and grown this inclusive art event over the past three years. This year the fair is sponsored solely by the nonprofit organization Resources for Human Development – Missouri (RHD-MO).

The circle encompassing these artists is very wide. Artists and art organizations from all over the country have answered the call for submissions, not with lists of their previous successes, though perhaps with what would be an anti-resume in the art world. Their work is as varied as they are.

The term “outsider art” has a complex history. The conceptual origin of recognizing unknown artists who work outside of art institutions can be traced to French painter Jean Dubuffet (1901-85). Dubuffet referred to art created by artists who had not received formal training as “art brut.” Yet, the appearance of self-taught “genius” artists predates Dubuffet.

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) was a customs officer in France when he was “discovered.” During Rousseau’s lifetime he was often ridiculed and his paintings were referred to as “naïve” or “primitive,” but his style was greatly influential on following generations of artists.

Today the more general term, “outsider” includes artists whose practice is guided as a form of art therapy, as the artists working for RHD-MO. Reclusive artists or artists living on the margins of society are also placed under this umbrella of “Outsiders.”


A piece by Abraham Lincoln Walker
Credit Outsider Air Fair


Jackie Lewis-Harris of the University of Missouri-St. Louis brought the largely unknown paintings of self-taught East St. Louis artist Abraham Lincoln Walker (1921-93) to the Outsider Art Fair last year. Lincoln Walker reportedly told his wife that spirits would wake him in the middle of the night and urge him to go paint. He refused to consult art instruction books or to take classes, as he believed training might muddy his vision. Norton is pleased to again include Lincoln Walker’s work this year.

But Norton does not present the art at the Outsider Art Fair as representative of the artists’ biographies. She does not include didactic material about the artists, though they may choose to do so themselves. Her interest is in showing compelling art and in showcasing that work.

Tim Ayres’ Koken Art Factory is the perfect venue for the Outsider Art Fair. The event takes place in the Pingle Building, one of the larger buildings in the expansive industrial complex that Ayres has developed in the Benton Park neighborhood. Koken was once a manufacturing center for Koken barber chairs (picture plush leather, chrome and porcelain thrones with ashtrays built into the armrests). Today, the space feels edgy and underground. Like the art celebrated at this event, the Koken complex is raw and exciting.

Norton has found that organizing spring events in St. Louis is forever challenging. This city bursts into action as the trees come into bloom. No weekend is without conflicting events. This year the Saint Louis Outsider Art Fair is an official celebration partner withSt. Louis 250 and it’s just around the corner from the Cinco de Mayo festivities, so attendees can check off multiple cultural accomplishments in one fell swoop. In addition, the Broadway Oyster Bar will cater both days of the Fair and the Southside Jazz Trio will perform on opening night.

The basics

Where: Koken Art Factory, Pingle Building, 2655 Victor, St. Louis 63104

When: Friday, May 2, 6-10 p.m. and Saturday, May 3, 12-5 p.m.

Cost: $5 suggested donation

Information: 314-255-4038

Related Events: Thursday, May 1, is installation day. Norton is looking for volunteers.

Get Ready Now To Join The Amazing People’s Joy Parade

Cinco de Mayo is one festival that can be counted on NOT to leave St. Louis, let alone the Cherokee Street neighborhood. Every year, St. Louisans have been adding new dimensions to this festival. In 2008, local artists began what’s become Cinco de Mayo’s official parade, the People’s Joy Parade.


Detail from the Sam Washburn poster Cherokee Street
Credit Sam Washburn | St. Louis Beacon


This parade calls to the inner-artist in everyone. It is, primarily, a pedestrian parade made up of St. Louis hula hoop troops, roller derby girls, bike brigades and anyone else who wishes to join in. And you can start getting ready now, with workshops throughout the month of April. Workshop attendants can build agigante and become both puppet and puppeteer or come as a group to create a float. Few ideas are too daring for this parade.

Jenny Shriner of the Community, Arts and Movement Project (C.A.M.P.) on Cherokee organizes the parade. Her calendar is packed as she helps bring people and art supplies together. “With bamboo strips and duct tape you can bring just about any idea into being,” she said.

Shriner sends workshop invitations to area schools and neighborhood groups and posts on social networks, drawing in as wide a swath of the community as possible.

Each year the parade is born anew with the inventiveness of local talents and the magic of spontaneity. Shriner remembers the collaboration with the Turner Center for the Arts as a highlight of the 2013 parade. The Turner Center serves aspiring artists whose lives are challenged by developmental disabilities, mental illness or brain injury. Working with the Turner Center revealed ways in which the arts are truly empowering, she said.

Shriner and the many volunteers who organize the parade and events leading up to it maintain an open and democratic atmosphere as they try to coordinate this unscripted happening. An underlying optimism runs through creation of this event, a belief that community involvement in public art personalizes the places we love and builds social bonds.

In 2008, artists Sarah Paulson and Lindsey Scott led a small procession of costumed artists through the Cinco de Mayo merrymaking. This collaboration came after a personal transformative experience for Paulson. Local children in Ayacucho, Peru, invited Paulson to join the play and dance of a parade in the mountain streets. Her adventure in the Andes planted a seed of an idea that developed into the People’s Joy Parade.

The idea has conceptual cousins in more places than Peru. Portland, Maine, welcomes the spring with a procession of masked and costumed pedestrians, as do the Minnesota twin cities,  Minneapolis and St. Paul. Similar events are created by Milwaukee artists each Labor Day; and people in Seattle celebrate the summer solstice. But by their very nature each such event is unique, with every participant altering the outcome as they add their energy and imagination.

The Cinco de Mayo Street Festival is on Saturday, May 3 this year, from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The People’s Joy Parade begins at the corner of Minnesota and Cherokee at 1:11 p.m.. Drop-in participants may come to the parking lot early for face painting and last-minute costume creations.

But opportunities abound for everyone to join in the planning. Artist-led workshops are held at C.A.M.P. throughout April. Every Sunday in April from 1-2 p.m. Celia Shacklett will lead a singing workshop for children and adults to participate in the Footbeat Choir. A children’s costume-making workshop will follow from 2-3:30 p.m. Float and costume workshops for adults are held from 5:30-8:30 p.m., every Tuesday .

Those who want to help may come to the volunteer meet-up at 6 p.m. April 2. The main fundraiser is JoyRita StL, a “Margarita-off,” featuring Cherokee Street mixologists and restaurants competing for recognition and street cred. ($15 at the event, $10 in advance)

For more information on the People’s Joy Parade contact Jenny Shriner at C.A.M.P. 3022A Cherokee, 314-827-4730

Video footage from last year:

For more of Sam Washburn's work, go to the St. Louis Beacon website

Reflection: Art-Activist Alfredo Jaar Asks St. Louis Students To Stop Making Art and Think


An exhibit at Washington University’s Kemper Museum — In the Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations —  introduces painful political conflicts to St. Louis museum goers at oblique angles.

Cambodian artist Vandy Rattana, Israeli artist Yael Bartana, British artist Phil Collins, Indian Artist Amar Kanwar and Chilean-born Alfredo Jaar use the power of their artists’ perception to stimulate our engagement with important issues. Kemper director Sabine Eckmann describes the format of their video productions as aesthetic hybrids of the real and the imagined, both fictional and documentary. These artists’ video installations are efforts to make it possible to grasp incomprehensible violence.


Alfredo Jaar, The Geometry of Conscience, 2010. Santiago de Chile, Museo de la Memoria y de los Derechos Humanos. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York, and the artist, New York.
Credit Kemper Art Museum


The opening for this exhibit began with a lecture by participating artist Alfredo Jaar. In The Aftermath of Trauma, Jaar points his finger at U.S. government secrecy, but his rancor is not limited to U.S. political actions. Jaar is known for more than 60 art projects he has organized as “public interventions” all around the world. In 1985, Jaar began photographing the abysmal working conditions of Brazilian gold minds; between 1994 and 1998 he created projects drawing attention to the Rwandan genocide. When in Helsinki, he focused on disheartening Finish nationalism; in Tijuana, the tragedies that occur along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Jaar sees as the overarching demand of his work as “finding and providing context.” He has built a celebrated career around his ability to enter a situation, research the complex realities of those involved and create an art project that demands the local audience reflect on their complicity to injustice, their apathy or their misunderstanding. In St. Louis, Jaar addressed his audience within their own context as residents in the United States and as art students at a private, Midwestern university.

Addoley Dzegede is a Washington University Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) student who attended Jaar’s public lecture and then participated in the small group workshop Jaar organized. Dzegede roots her art practice in her global citizenship, addressing fractures she finds in our ecological and social environment. Jaar asked her to tell the student group in attendance what she was most concerned with at that very moment.

Dzegede gave a heartfelt account of the overt and obscured racial discrimination she witnesses in St. Louis. She described her concern for loved ones who, she worries, are in perpetual danger of attack based on their racial appearance and she recounted her repeated experience of getting “carded” at the Brentwood Galleria Mall. Dzegede is confident that, at age 30, the demand that she show ID when shopping is not because she is perceived as a juvenile and that she would not be seen as possibly delinquent if her skin color were of a lighter hue.

Jaar encouraged Dzegede and the other Washington University students who met with him to make art that requires 99 percent thinking and 1 percent making. He charged the students to be insatiably curious, to study the world until they had something to say and to then choose the medium that best tells the story they felt needed telling. “If you work first with ideas you may find that you can express an idea best with wood, but if you work only with wood, then you will only create what is easily produced from wood.”

Jaar would know. At 58, he continues to innovate, developing projects that are often expressed with cutting-edge technology, communicating in original ways his vision of the contexts he observes around him.

The basics

Where: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, 1 Brookings Dr., 63160

When: Open through April 20

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 1st Friday of month, closed Tuesdays and Washington University holidays

Cost: Free

Related Events

Friday, Feb. 28: Kemper Director Sabine Eckmann and CAM director Lisa Melandi engage in Directors’ Dialogue: Exploring Contemporary Video Art. Reception is at 5:30 p.m., program at 6 p.m. Free for Kemper members, $10 others, register in advance

Thursday, March 6: Svea Bräunert, Tonya Edmond, Erin McGlothlin and Sabine Eckmann discuss Terror, Trauma and Memory, Reception is at 6 p.m., program at 6:30 p.m. Free

Friday, March 7: Film screening of Kira Pollack’s Beyond 9/11: Portraits of Resilience, 8 p.m. Free

Wednesday, April 2: Gallery Talk with Sabine Eckmann, 5 p.m. Free

Monday, April 7: Lecture by Lisa D Freiman, Representation and Trauma in Contemporary Art: Examining Four Perspectives in Work by Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Alfredo Jaar, Aziz and Cucher and Allora & Calzadilla. Reception is at 6 p.m., program at 6:30 p.m. Free

The following articles were all published in the St. Louis Beacon

Review: Photography exhibit at SLAM holds its weight

In Visual Arts

6:42 am on Tue, 11.26.13

The new special prints and photography exhibit space in St. Louis Art Museum’s Cass Gilbert building has already proved a great boon for the museum. It was truly sad to see the galleries’ inaugural exhibit, Mantegna to Man Ray, come down. But our farewell to curator Elizabeth Wyckoff’s assemblage of cross hatching splendor is followed by yet another spectacular exhibit.

The Weight of Things: Photographs by Paul Strand and Emmet Gowin provides another delightful display of rare and exceptional work available to our eyes for only a brief period.

Paul Strand; Village, Gaspé, 1936; Saint Louis Art Museum 73:1978; © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive.
Paul Strand; Village, Gaspé, 1936; Saint Louis Art Museum 73:1978; © Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive.

Paul Strand was celebrated by the great master of seeing Alfred Stieglitz. He was a student of the prescient social documentary photographer Lewis Hine. His career spans the move away from 19th-century photographic pictorialism to sharply defined and purposefully abstracted modernist photography. Strand used his camera as a tool for sharing his own poetic perspective of the world and as an advocate for social reform.

Some of Strand’s photographs will be recognized as iconic images that capture an era or a place. A great many of the works within this exhibit came out of SLAM’s permanent collection. Strand’s photographs, taken over decades, reveal the way in which varied photographic processes render expansive expressive scope.

For example, Strand attains great tonal range by using platinum prints. Platinum prints are completely non-reflective, providing warm blacks, reddish browns and delicately varied grays that look very different from the glossy, or even matte, photographic prints we typically see. The effect is spellbinding.

Emmet Gowin; Edith, Chincoteague, Virginia, 1967; Saint Louis Art Museum 3:1978; © Emmet Gowin; courtesy Pace/ MacGill Gallery, New York
Emmet Gowin; Edith, Chincoteague, Virginia, 1967; Saint Louis Art Museum 3:1978; © Emmet Gowin; courtesy Pace/ MacGill Gallery, New York

Where Strand shows himself as deeply sympathetic to the painful conditions in which he finds humanity, Gowin seems perplexed by the disjointed connections between idiosyncratic (as all of us are) people. An image of a single person, when seen through Gowin’s lens, appears unsettled in one or several ways. Gowin’s images of two or more individuals confounds the bewilderment. He appears to take as his directive: Show what is so honest as to be disconcerting. The resulting images have an entrancingly spectral quality.

Throughout their careers these remarkable photographers both turned their cameras toward their marital partners. Strand’s platinum print of his wife, Rebecca, taken in 1920, two years before their marriage, is haunting. Gowin, too, is enthralled by his wife, Edith, making weirdly wonderful images of her over a period of several decades.

Eric Lutz and his curating team make a marvelous pairing with these two masters of photography. Together, Strand and Gowin’s combined work lays out a history of the 20th century. The history is political and personal. It is also a strong history of a century of photography.

The basics

Where: St. Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, 63110

When: through Feb. 16

Cost: Free

Related events

Presentation by Emmet Gowin: “A Life in Photography – Stories from Experience”

When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6

Where: The Farrell Auditorium

Cost: Free

Review: Sarah Frost's 'Site' grows on the senses

In Visual Arts

6:42 am on Fri, 11.15.13

The term art installation can be used for any number of things. It sounds like something serious, though sometimes, the “installation” is a more minimalist “art object placement.” Installation is hardly grand enough a word for Sarah Frost’s complete use of the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Gallery 210.

The basics

Where: 1 University Drive at Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis

When: through Dec. 7

Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10am – 4pm and by appointment

Cost: Free

Related Events

When: Saturday, Dec. 7

Music: Tony Renner plays original music inspired by Site:2 to 3 p.m.

Panel discussion: 4 p.m.

Reception: 5-7 p.m.

Frost has played with the materiality of her art media in St. Louis galleries for a while. Her ambitious repurposing of objects typically takes the materials she uses far away from the mundane uses for which they were intended (See Nancy Fowler’s 2011 article on Frost).

In her current exhibit at UMSL,Site, Frost’s materials are given their most conventional use. Frost has filled the gallery space with a complex bamboo structure. White strips of canvas hold together bamboo rods in a giant geometric swooping grid.

Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. The plant’s many uses make it vital to Asian economies. American entrepreneurs have begun, in recent years, to explore the many eco-friendly, cost-efficient uses of the wonder-plant. But most ubiquitously, Bamboo is a versatile ecological construction material and it is exactly that use of the strong, natural composite material that Frost’s installation echoes.

Frost is not the first artist to celebrate bamboo and bring it out of the practical and into the philosophical sphere. Artists (and identical twins) Doug and Mike Starn installed a bamboo sculpture on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) in 2010 and reused the bamboo in a sculpture they installed at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Frost’s Site makes great use of the closed, cave like gallery space. Along with the massive scaffold construction, Frost has laid a dirt floor that cues the gallery visitor to experience the room as a fully developed -- neither inside, nor outside -- space. Shadows along the white walls are a second work of art, adding to the intricate layering of the Frost’s knotty labyrinth.

An event for this installation on Dec. 7 will rival the opening. Local artist, and Frost enthusiast, Tony Renner will play an eerie electric guitar composition generated from his repeated visits to the gallery after which will follow a panel discussion on the work.

PHD Gallery hosts one very smart photography show

In Visual Arts

6:33 am on Fri, 11.08.13

You will love Linda Mueller’s impossible worlds whether or not you know her intentions and process. They are delightful and bizarre. As part of the “Altered Reality” exhibit at PHD Gallery, Mueller skillfully combines multiple images to create still life constructions through magic called Photoshop. Mueller’s surreal scenes are not fragmented like collage. Her photo layers merge seamlessly, as she deconstructs surfaces and rebuilds them to her fancy.

A work by Mueller
A work by Linda Mueller

Mueller connects her work to Georges Braque’s still lifes. Mueller’s photographs do not appear as cubist, though the presence of faceted geometries is striking in her compositions. It is Braque’s manipulation of art materials for compositional effect that inspires Mueller’s approach to the objects she employs in her tableau scenes. An added dimension of fun comes in the knowledge that each of these images is a portrait of someone Mueller knows. Here a cigar is definitely not just a cigar and every bent and skewed ornament is ripe for analysis.

Opposite Mueller’s still life portraits are Emily Stremming’s photography as fiber arts creations. Stremming destroys her photographs to make them whole. She cuts two images into long, even strips and weaves the images together, making choices about the dominant scene as she goes.

The basics

Where: 2300 Cherokee St. 63118

When: Closing Nov. 30

Gallery hours: Noon to 4 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment

Cost: Free

Stremming has an eye for unusual vantage points of well-known locations. Her photograph Powell Square shows the Gateway Arch through the skeletal remains of a partially demolished building. This unusual point of view makes the gleaming metal icon small and inconsequential. Stremming’s woven photographs range from just slightly obscured street scenes with legible hints of location to highly abstracted combinations, as in Indoor Parking.

Philip Hitchcock has put together a very interesting exhibition here. The work of these two photographers couples well, each acting as a foil for the other. Hitchcock’s salon style hanging in the tight PHD Gallery space successfully forces the relationship. Mueller’s perfectly crisp images shine brighter when facing off with the illusion of seeing through a window into a rainy day created by Stremming’s woven photos.

Both artists have employed inventive means to create painterly illusions. Their laborious efforts are completely successful and worth a visit to the ever-interesting East Cherokee.

Review: Whatever the weather, come to CAM for autumn leaves and spring foliage

In Visual Arts

6:35 am on Thu, 10.31.13

After an autumn day drive to spot the brilliant colors of leaves along the Great River Road, head back to St. Louis to see an amped up nature projected into the night sky against the large exterior wall of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM).

The basics

Where: 3750 Washington Blvd. 63108

WhenThrough Dec. 29

Hours: Projected every night from 6-11 p.m.

Cost: Steinkamp’s projection is on view outside of the museum, so: Free!

Jennifer Steinkamp’s projection,Orbit 11, is not complicated or challenging. It bares no overt message. But it is quite lovely. Computer animated graphics of luscious plant life are seen through a bug’s eye-view. Wiry vines of green leaves change to brown, flower and shift again, the gleaming tendrils constantly swirling in motion, slow enough to hypnotize.

Steinkamp uses the concrete and metal museum façade as a canvas upon which she projects the colossal landscape of spiraling green shoots and sprays of pink and purple blossom.

Steinkamp is like so many visionary artists who used the technological innovations of their time to pioneer new artistic techniques. Renaissance artists adopted oil-based paints to give their colors increased brilliance and translucence and one point linear perspective to create an illusion of depth. French impressionists made use of newly available tin paint tubes to allow painting en plein air.

Steinkamp uses computer animation programming to create a visual magical realism in which the cold, urban, built environment transforms into a fantastical garden. Steinkamp has described her projections as an effort to “dematerialize architecture by combining light, space and movement.” Experiencing that transformation of space is like a corporeal visit to second life.

Review: Bill Kohn's work sizzles at Bruno David

In Visual Arts

6:50 am on Mon, 10.21.13

 Sunset from Hopi Point Acrylic on canvas (diptych) 67-1/2 inches x 15 feet 16 inches 1989
Sunset from Hopi Point Acrylic on canvas (diptych) 67-1/2 inches x 15 feet 16 inches 1989

Just as Saint Louis University has added dashes of electric blue highlights to the mid-city skyline, Bruno David Gallery has brought Bill Kohn’s sizzling electric paintings to Grand Center. TheMonumental Paintings retrospective includes Techos Uno, the earliest work in the exhibit, and the immense Jaisalmer Fortress. Both are examples of the artist’s work inspired by years of world travel.

The five large-scale paintings at Bruno David surround the gallery visitor with a unified vision of the natural and built environment that casts an intense fiery glow. Each painted vision - from the immense 12th-century sandstone fort at the historical crossroads of Persia, Arabia, Egypt and Africa in the Thar Desert to the luscious layers of rock formation that make up the Grand Canyon - is an exploration of geometry and color.

The basics

Where: Bruno David

When: through Oct. 26, 2013

Gallery hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free


The exhibit is personal to me, as I grew up across the street from Bill Kohn and his family. I have decades of memories of him that are mostly auditory. Without effort, I can hear his booming laugh and his wonderful, deep singing voice. Bill’s life was, like his art, joyous. Growing up surrounded by Bill’s brilliant, saturated colors granted me lifelong permission to enjoy expressions of artistic exuberance.

My sister, Lucy Hg Solomon, an artist living in LA, remembers invitations to Bill’s studio. She recalls the excitement of seeing works in progress and a notable, enviable confidence that guided his practice. Unlike many artists whose intentions can be muddled and whose artistic process can be riddled with anxiety, Bill seemed to come to his work with great clarity. Lucy recalls that watching him create pencil sketches and watercolors on location in Mexico, she was moved by his ability to produce work that was as beautiful in its first casual iteration as in the final, formal painting on canvas.

Many St. Louisans feel personally connected to Bill Kohn’s paintings. The magnificent two-panelSunset From Hopi Point (Grand Canyon) that anchors the current Bruno David Gallery exhibit hung at Duffs Restaurant on Euclid for many years. As my sister said about those fabulous strips of color: “All those colors are there in the rock. Your eye might only see browns and grays at first glance, but the deep fuchsias, ambers, crimson, azure … they are all there in the geologic architecture. Bill could extract the essence of color from life and give that magnificence existent within nature full expression.”

Kohn, who died in 2004, captured the distinctiveness of the places he knew and loved: St. Louis and Chicago, Machu Picchu, Arizona, Oaxaca, Andalusia and Florence… He steeped himself in the individual characteristics of these uniquely evocative places. He was a student of their histories, literature, material culture, food and especially music. Yet, an assemblage of Kohn's paintings, such as that on view at Bruno David, fits together like clues connecting to reveal a truth.

Review: Germans like their America at SLAM

In Visual Arts

12:08 am on Mon, 10.14.13

Enter the old, beaux art, Cass Gilbert building of the St. Louis Art Museum from the new stairwell designed by David Chipperfield and look up, up over the museum’s main entry. “We Like America and America Likes Us” reads the immense red, white and blue banner on the balcony. You will have to go upstairs and get a close look at the banner to notice the gingham print on the quilted letters all of which is intended to call to mind American folk traditions.

Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, German; We Like America and America Likes Us, 2013; Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, German; We Like America and America Likes Us, 2013; Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

The quoted message is a reference to German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys’ 1974 performance in which he flew to New York, wrapped himself in grey felt and arrived at the René Block Gallery in an ambulance, carried on a stretcher. Beuys spent three days in the gallery and eight hours of that with a wild coyote – the only American he wished to see – before he returned to Germany. Video footage of Beuys’ I Like America and America Likes Me performance can be seen in SLAM’s new Chipperfield building, where it is part of the Postwar German Art in the CollectionExhibition.

The “We Like America” sentiment and its many references are consistent with the way in which Berlin artists Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock mull over and play with the St. Louis-Germany connection present in the museum’s collection. Stih and Schnock’s exhibit, The German Connection – Raft with Stranded Objects, provides a bit of inside baseball (er…fussball?) for German art enthusiasts in St. Louis. It also offers a rather thorough display of what America looked and looks like to many Germans.

The basics

Where: St. Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park, 63110

When: through Jan. 5, 2014

Museum hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays

During the holidays: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 24 and Dec. 31; closed Dec. 25; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan.

Cost: Free

Related Events

Gallery Talk: “The Art of Renata Stih & Frieder Schnock” given by Tricia Paik, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

When: 11 a.m. Nov. 21 and 6 p.m. Nov. 22

To these contemporary German artists, riffing on Cold War German artists, America is first and foremost: cowboys and Indians. Theirs is an America that has been projected through endless Bonanza re-runs and over 120 years of reading and performing the Wild West novels of Karl May. I would bet a bushel of white asparagus that fewer Americans than Germans have watched Bonanza. And as for Karl May’s beloved characters Winnetou and Old Shatterhand (represented in a light hearted installation in Chipperfield Gallery 245), find me an American who has ever heard of them. Professors of German culture studies don’t count.

Americans visiting Germany are often surprised to encounter “Native American Pow-wow” performances in public spaces with Germans engaged in very sincere roleplaying. Apparently, a common interest in German versions of Native American tropes tied East and West together during the Cold War. Stih and Schnock display a collection of “cowboys and Indians” action figures (also in Gallery 245), reporting that these could be found in children’s toy boxes on both sides of the Berlin Wall and are still sold throughout Germany.

When I mentioned to Schnock that playing “Indians” has long been taboo in the United States, he put this off as a “politically correctness” that doesn’t exist in Germany. I countered that Native Americans were a very real part of U.S. history and that Germans do not feel comfortable celebrating stereotypes of their own minorities (such as the Roma or Turkish Germans) or the subjects of their own racist genocide. He quickly agreed.

Stih and Schnock are certainly not trying to encourage the stereotypes they comment upon, but they are also not quite outside of their own culture enough to see how strangely it has framed ours.

Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, German; The Voyage of the Katzenstein Madonna, 2013; Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
Renata Stih and Frieder Schnock, German; The Voyage of the Katzenstein Madonna, 2013; Images courtesy Stih & Schnock © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Many of Stih and Schnock’s installations freshen our appreciation of familiar, sometimes overlooked, artworks. The Voyage of the Katzenstein Madonna (in Gallery 237) explores the storied arrival of a 15th century sculpture that Dr. F. C. Katzenstein brought to SLAM in 1949 in the back of a hearse. Curator Judy Mann brought the history of this wooden Virgin and Child to the artists’ attention. Prior to Katzenstein’s dramatic delivery of the sculpture it had been seized by Nazis from his German Jewish parents who were killed in a concentration camp in 1942. Stih and Schnock give the gilded sculpture new life with this tragic telling of her provenance.

In their Ich Bin Nicht Stiller – I Am Not Stiller series Stih and Schock bring to light another engrossing St. Louis story. Werner Stiller was an East German Stasi officer, who became a double agent, working for West German intelligence. After Stiller escaped from East Germany in 1979, the CIA game him a new identity in St. Louis. Why St. Louis? He’d always wanted to see the Mississippi (blame Karl May). Stih and Schnock’s Stiller series has numerous ironic twists one of which is the ex-spy’s completion of an MBA at Washington University and subsequent failure as a banker on Wall Street.

Viewing Stih and Schnock’s art interactions makes for a fun scavenger hunt through the museum, but the majority of it is in Gallery 338. That room is full of spirited play – imagining where in St. Louis famous Germans might once have smoked a cigarette, fabricating a river raft ending to the mystery surrounding a lost model of the Reichstag building...

Stih and Schnock flirt with our city and country as they trace the movement of people and objects across the Atlantic between Germany and the U.S. And their flirtation is quite charming. So, yes, it is likely that there is truth in their statement that: “We like America and America likes us.” But, like any amorous couple, this romance is for both of us, at bottom, an exercise of self-discovery.

Review: Liner's exhibit encapsulates women in upholstered eggs

12:24 am on Mon, 09.30.13

French psychoanalytic theorist Jacques Lacan used the term “the gaze” to describe the power relationship involved in one person looking at another. Lacan refers to the agency of the looker and the objectification of the human who is “gazed” upon. Pop singer Lady Gaga’s raw meat dress by Argentine designer Franc Fernandez comes from a tradition of meat wear (British artist Linder’s 1982 chicken meat dress, Jana Sterbak’s 1987 Vanitas sculpture, the list is rather long) that typically make a statement about the “male gaze.”

Wall orb
Courtesy of the artist
Wall orb

In her installation Memories of a Doomed Construction, artist Stephanie Liner has encapsulated entrancing women dressed in luxurious brocade to match the upholstered eggs that hold them captive to the Craft Alliance Gallery visitor’s gaze. Liner’s doll-like women do not elicit the disgust that inevitably comes from viewing a woman adorned by raw meat. They do, however, evoke a similar uncomfortable awareness. What does it mean for some among us to bedeck ourselves as opulent decoration while others freely gaze?

Liner has placed the objects of our gaze in gilded splendor. Photographer David Navala’s images of the models in their giant egg cocoons show them as they posed during the live performance at the exhibit opening early this month. Women dressed in a somehow Victorian-1960s style peer out of the peep windows built into their individual eggs, each wearing a pouty glare. They appear both bold and demure, a powerfully suggestive combination.

Liner’s gorgeous orbs come from a furniture building tradition. The year of labor the artist submitted to their design and creation is made evident by the material richness and sturdy execution of each. In answer to questions regarding the framework that forms these lavish eggs, the wooden skeleton of one “egg” is only upholstered to the point where the vessel meets a freestanding wall. On the other side of that wall is the gridded wood scaffolding that is under each of Liner’s elaborate ensembles.

When visiting the exhibit, be sure to watch passers-by catch Liner’s show through the bank of windows that line the Grand Center Craft Alliance Gallery. SLU students ambling to the north outpost of City Diner and families hurrying off to the Fox invariable stop and point before moving on. This was equally true of Ann Coddington Rast’s Flock exhibit that graced the gallery last spring.

The Craft Alliance gallery serves as a giant display case opening up the Kranzberg Arts Center. These optically sophisticated installations encourage dwell time for symphony and theatergoers. They also add to the grandness of Grand Center, an attribute that is no longer wishful thinking.

The basics

Where: Craft Alliance in the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd. 63101

When: through Jan. 26, 2014

Gallery hours: noon-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Free

Related Events

Glamour: Costumes and Images from the Collection of Mary Strauss

The Sheldon Art Galleries, Oct.r 4 – Dec. 28

Opening reception: Friday, October 4, 2013 5-9pm

About: The Sheldon, along with CA’s Fashion Lab, will present original costumes from designers including Bob Mackie,Edith Head, Valentina and many others. Accompanying the costumes will be a wide array of photographs by George Hurrell and other celebrity photographers celebrating New York and Hollywood glamour.

Cost: Free

Beacon story: Events spotlight fashion, costumes, queenly couture and bedazzled bras


The St. Louis International Film Festival

When: Festival is Nov. 14-24, check for showing times

About:Craft Alliance’s Fashion Lab presents a series of movies, documentaries, and lectures with a focus on fashion, including the documentary Versailles ‘73

Cost: Free

Review: Rashid Johnson's Message at the Kemper

In Visual Arts

1:42 am on Thu, 09.26.13

In Message to our Folks at Washington University’s Kemper Museum, Rashid Johnson toys with his affection for the Afrocentrism that shaped his family life throughout the 1980s and ’90s.

Johnson makes light use of heavy subjects. Smooth jazz and moon rock, chicken bones and the dashiki become cultural signifiers in his art. Johnson wryly takes on iconic modern and contemporary art practices to celebrate commonly accessible African-American voices, like comedian Dick Gregory or Public Enemy, to more obscure cultural critics, such as afro-futurist musician Sun Ra.

Rashid Johnson, Self Portrait Laying on Jack Johnson’s Grave, 2006. Lambda print, 40 1/2 x 49 1/2. Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger, Chicago. Image courtesy of the artist.
Courtesy of the artist
Rashid Johnson, Self Portrait Laying on Jack Johnson’s Grave, 2006. Lambda print, 40 1/2 x 49 1/2. Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger, Chicago.

But Johnson’s monographic exhibition is as much about growing up in a highly intellectual family as it is about growing up in a family inspired by Afrocentric ideology. Johnson’s emblems of blackness are also emblems of serious nerdiness. Just look at the book titles lined up on his shelf installations! - Neil deGrasse Tyson, W.E.B. Du Bois. The critical theory in which the Johnson family steeped young Rashid is exactly the kind of upbringing that would produce the complex, reflective critique found throughout the artist’s work.

Johnson has offered the home décor he grew up with as a setting to place the books, music and other artifacts that formed his coming-of-age experience. The mirror tiled shelving, bronze knickknacks and houseplants on display in Triple Consciousnessarticulate Johnson’s nostalgic recollection of an era. The nostalgia for that era and feelings of loss at its ending are understandable.

The basics

Where: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, 1 Brookings Dr., 63160

When: Open through January 6, 2014

Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 1stFriday of month, closed Tuesdays and Washington University holidays

Cost: Free

Johnson has honed in on something that almost everyone can understand. Discovering the malleability of one’s personal history can be disconcerting. His recollection of self-consciously enacted family Kwanza celebrations abruptly ending (as Johnson recounts when describing his childhood) is not unlike every child’s experiences of disruptions that come, one way or another, during the fast-changing years of adolescence. Every child lucky enough to grow up in a family as involved in defining itself and its place in the world as Johnson’s appears to have been experiences disturbances in that family culture as jarring.

The exhibit title refers to a 1969 jazz album, not as a statement for Mom and Dad Johnson. Though, assumptions of the latter meaning are justified. The Johnson family culture is firmly on display here; and it comes off well, not just for the deep intellectual prodding that shaped Rashid’s early years, but for the freedom and ingenuity with which adult Rashid furthers racial discourse.

The exhibit now at the Kemper displays the remarkable scope of artistic expression that Johnson employs in that conversation. The exhibit could fairly have been titled A History of Modern and Contemporary Art as interpreted by Rashid Johnson. From the gestural abstraction painting ofCosmic Slop “Black Orpheus” (in which black soap and wax are slathered in high relief) to the arcane photographic processes used to make lines of feet look like dental x-rays in Untitled, Manumission Papers, Johnson does it all. His video, sculpture, installation and painted works are all much more than technical one-offs. Each is an endearingly accessible, discrete endeavor charged with fresh optimism and conspicuous intellectual prowess.

Note: Sarah Hermes Griesbach is a graduate student at Washington University who has worked with the Kemper.

Review: Artists plumb their unconscious for Bruno David

In Visual Arts

6:11 am on Mon, 09.23.13

Shakespeare’s Romeo finds hope in the candle-lit glow of Juliet at her window: “What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” Carl Sandburg used the window to symbolize hopeful waiting, while Emile Bronte used windows to suggest a limited vision, a separation between viewer and viewed.

Matisse's Window I Acrylic, oil on canvas 31 x 44 1/2 inches (framed)
Matisse's Window I Acrylic, oil on canvas 31 x 44 1/2 inches (framed)

Leslie Laskey’s Windows at Bruno David are all these things and more.

Laskey paints windows as frames for displaying a visual tableau; windows as portals through which one can access the outdoors and boxes to compartmentalize the nature found there; windows as geometries and as conceptual devices to suggest looking. He riffs off Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali and Kazimir Malevich. All in all, Laskey presents 23 views for the otherwise windowless Bruno David Gallery.

David Wild and Lulu Gargiulo take Laskey’s tally, double it and add one. Their film, Forty-Seven Views of Leslie Laskey, reveals the artist in his garden, in his studio, at the table. Laskey has, in his 92 years of life, provided an extensive array of perspectives on the world. He seems unbound by the psychological restrictions that might tie him to a singular art practice. Wild and Gargiulo’s documentary, shot over 11 years, shows moments from the artist’s daily life like scenes before a window.

The Front Room at Bruno David holds physical evidence of Jill Downen’s art practice. Her art on display is also a catalogue of the materials she uses to construct installations such as those concurrently showing across the street at the Contemporary Art Museum.

Downen’s Three Dimensional Sketchbook offers a glimpse into the artist’s urge to line up stacks of gleaming white plaster and pile gold leaf. Gallery visitors are encouraged to open and shut a filing cabinet’s clean metal drawers, revealing uniformly shiny white, blue, gold, or wood fragments. The process feels like peeking. The drawer’s contents are both consequential in their role as building materials for Downen’s large and small installations and made precious by their containment and discovery.

The basics

Where: 3721 Washington Blvd. 63108

When: closing Oct. 5

Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and by private appointment

Cost: Free

More from the Beacon

Take Five: Director of Leslie Laskey film looks to 2013 Film Festival

Leslie Laskey: The art of life, a life in art

Review: The Good Ship CAM Celebrates 10 Years of Art Exploration

In Visual Arts

12:32 am on Mon, 09.16.13

When architect Brad Cloepfil designed the now 10-year-old Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis on Washington Ave., he had both the advantages and disadvantages of that location. It would always be in contrast to Tadao Ando’s Pulitzer building next door. One of the things CAM had going for it was a welcoming image. The panel of windows overlooking Spring Street and the glass entrance allow drivers-by to see the action inside. The open walkway at the building’s entry allows for mulling around the building before and after art openings, music events and parties at the museum.

Architect Brad Cloepfil and CAM chief curator Dominic Molon united to curate the museum’s anniversary exhibition Place is the Space. Because the museum has no permanent collection little remains to recall the many transformations of space that occur with each new exhibit. And yet, the artists engaged in celebrating CAM’s move into double digits found ways to pay homage its 10 years of art adventure.

Jill Downen
Jill Downen, Beauty Mark

CAM is an art vessel. And the years have left wrinkles and scars on Cloepfil’s building. Jill Downen celebrates them. Her two-partBeauty Mark recreates the wall damage her 2004 installation The Posture of Place had left and gilds a single crack in the otherwise seamless museum floor. That little gold rivulet conveys perfectly the trust and respect CAM directors have had for the creative explorations of their artists.

Virginia Overton’s installation serves as a confrontation with the building itself. Massive steel pipes break up spaces Overton hopes to draw attention to. Ropes tied to sandbags descend from the pipes and punctuate the space. Downen’s gold leaf fill may be needed for a new crack that formed during the Overton installation, though that may have to wait until the party in 2023.

Sound artist Dominique Petitgand’s Les Liens Invisibles (The Invisible Links) clinched my mental image of the museum as sea travel for landlubbers. Along with many ambiguous noises sounded throughout the museum spaces, Petitgand sends an occasional blast that sounds like a boat’s horn coming through a mist of ten years. I heard this noise first while standing before Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s Hütte (hut) and thought the sound was coming from within the structure. Part of the fun of these sound pieces throughout the museum is the way they attach themselves to the viewing experience, so the visual and auditory experiences change each other.

Stylized architectural rendering of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Courtesy Allied Works Architecture.
Stylized architectural rendering of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. Courtesy Allied Works Architecture.

The basics

Where: 3750 Washington Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108

When: Through Dec. 29

Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday & Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday

Cost: Free

Related Events

Panel Discussion: Architecture for Art (featuring Brad Cloepfil, Farshid Moussavi, Kyu Sung Wu) - Monday, September 23, 7pm, cash bar, food trucks on site

Feast Your Eyes (CAM presents a 4 course meal inspired by the exhibition) – Tuesday, October 14th, 1pm, $75, $50 for members

Live Performance: Jessica Baran and Brett Williams – Thursday, October 17th, 7pm, free

Hütte is a massive black box formed from charred cedar planks. The wood is burnt to near dust so that it looks more like Styrofoam than something organic. It also looks like the Ka’ba, Mecca’s most sacred site. The artist relates the structure to Heidegger’s philosophic pondering on buildings versus dwellings and not upon the one-time dwelling of Abraham/Ibrahim. Either way, it is worth a pilgrimage. Manglano-Ovalle’s Beehive Grid is as white as Hütte is black. The grid is formed by an arrangement of 30 stained white structures that each look like beekeeping hive frames.

German pop artist Thomas Bayrle’s Chrysler Tapete has made the contemporary art rounds since Bayrle first revealed it in 1970. Last year this blue and white Chrysler logo repeated like Seurat’s dots to form a Chrysler two door coupe of the period graced a billboard along the Manhattan High Line park/walkway. The addition of Bayrle to the exhibit grouping gives a nod to the pre-CAM contemporary years as well as to CAM’s role in the larger worldwide artist-evoked discourse on the meaning of life and everything.

The meaning of light is under scrutiny in Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal II. Here, too, is an artist whose origins and fame are far from local. McCall’s installation offers a sensory experience that alters the moment viewers enter it. Light beams projected through hazy mist call for hands to interrupt them. Fill the dark space with children and uninhibited adults and the art is as interactive as anything at the Science Center. Experienced alone, it threatens profound awakenings or at the least a meditative break.

Brett Williams provides a buoyant sound accompaniment for museum-goers as they walk through the hallway. His audio loop, Slow Nature Memory, could be the sound of remembered exhibits tunneling back through time. Williams’ art explorations are consistently fresh. He always manages to upturn the expected. This work, assisted by Kevin Harris, is a pared-down minimalist music, fitting the tone of the anniversary exhibition.

Enter the CAM bathrooms and the auditory art continues. Jessica Baran’s poetry is often in conversation with the work of other word and object artists. In A Direction Is Just Like That (Hisand Hers, as fits the gender organized public loo) Baran gives voice to the unnerving need to be “normal” that artist Matt Mullican deconstructs in his live art performances. Inspired by Mullican, Baran offers words, spoken by Wonder Koch (Hers) and Peter Stevens (His) to make freshening up at the mirror an even more soul searching venture than usual.

Stephane Schraenen and Carla Arocha have used adhesive vinyl printed with a moiré pattern formation to gift wrap the windows looking out on the museum’s courtyard. The effect is not unlike moving waves of water, a fitting external setting for the Good Ship CAM.

The range of work displays the fearlessness of Cloepfil and Molon in drawing together ambiguous projects that require the viewer’s effortful interpretation to make meaning. Currents of change have moved through Grand Center over the past decade. CAM is both art vessel, set for adventure, and anchor, encouraging further development in an area once known primarily for its blight.

Review: Award-winning artwork explores St. Louis' evolving horizon

In Visual Arts

4:42 pm on Tue, 08.27.13

The 2012 Creative Stimulus Award exhibit at the Regional Arts Commission is titled Within an Evolving Horizon. The horizon found consistently in the artwork, however, is that of the city of St. Louis.

Each artist’s odyssey allowed him or her to capture a personal St. Louis that could not be found on a postcard in the Arch gift shop.

Katie Ford connected swaths of sweaters and quilted fabrics to join two women as they wound around boarded, abandoned St. Louis architecture. Ford’s contributions to the exhibit are photographs of these interactions between women bound to one another and to a city’s decaying structures.

Provided by RAC
From Katie Ford's work

The basics

Where: RAC, 6128 Delmar Blvd.

When: through Sept. 28

Gallery Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; Noon-5 p.m. Saturday

About the show: Critical Mass for the Visual Arts provides $1,500 to three artists/artist collectives as a stipend to assist in expenses incurred as they produce their artworks. The contest is intended to assist the artist’s work to expand his or her personal “artistic horizons.” True to form, the artists who represented their work at an Aug. 22 gallery talk for the exhibit described intense personal journeys that brought into being the work on display at RAC.

The connective textile tissue between the women is patchwork but purposeful, while the unloved buildings they embrace are half-hazardly patterned by red brick walls, cement sidewalk squares and wood panel covered windows. The woven and stitched materials look warm and alive against the skeletal remains of a discarded St. Louis structure.

Florence Gidez’s contribution is a series of miniature models of Dutchtown buildings. Through Gidez’s careful craftsmanship, ivy-adorned St. Louis brick bungalows shift into a fantasy location that could double as part of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas set. Gidez’s simplified, stylized assemblages capture an adorableness in buildings that rarely get seen in that light. Like her Dutchtown Bungalows, her clapboard Dutchtown Garage is diminutive in reality. Then, when reduced to a child’s playset size, the impossibly tight, one car garage dimensions are shown as charmingly perfect.

Both Ford and Gidez came to the contest through Angela Malchionno’s Proper Residencyprogram, a winner of a 2012 Critical Mass for the Visual Arts award. Malchionno devotes a section of her living space and an intense stretch of time to the artistic explorations of up-and-coming artists.

She give her resident artists a list of places to explore. The Malchionno tour does not include the Zoo, Brewery or City Museum. She directs her artists to go on neighborhood “walkabouts” to view maritime oddities along the St. Louis riverfront and often overlooked buildings associated with local lore. Her destination scorecard is made up of St. Louis insider information, chockablock with history and intrigue.

Artist Travis Russell’s wily work forces the viewer to see double. Each aspect of his work has a "this, but also that," quality. To construct his large-scale exhibition work, Russell has printed a high tech digital image on aged, flimsy, faded paper. His printed image is black and white. The paper upon which he prints it is laid out in a geometric pattern of pastels, giving the viewer an opportunity to see the photographic image or the graphic design of the paper mosaic.

From the look of this large-scale installment, Russell, as with so many local enthusiasts of the built (and crumbling) environment, is drawn to St. Louis’ “ruin porn.” Ruin porn is a term used to describe urban aesthete’s attraction to architectural decay. Dilapidated houses are such a common sight to St. Louis city dwellers, fetishizing them may be a natural consequence of embracing our hometown.

In Russell’s installation a towering pile of brick and lumber rubble becomes a majestic monument. Like tourists before the Tower of Pisa, Russell places a masked couple, Owl and Pig, in front of his big heap of St. Louis blight. The couple is posed to elicit a wry Midwestern humor linked to Grant Wood’s nonplussed couple in American Gothic.

The award-winning artists’ collaborative 366 brings together three important St. Louis artists: Amy Thompson, Gina Alvarez and Jessica Baran. Thompson, of Paper Boat Letterpress Studio, acted as artistic matchmaker between the daily sky image taken by Alvarez (via cellphone and Instagram) and the daily poem contributed by Baran (via soulsearching).

Thompson united the visual and literary elements of Project 366 (titled after the days in the leap year the artists chronicled) in a Tumblr blog. She then hand printed the united pairing in its entirety with her 1903 letterpress. That entirety, laid out in a grid pattern, covers two large walls of the RAC main gallery. In its gestalt, the many separate pieces (white heavy paper printed with a small square of sky and varying numbers of typed lines) become a single, formalized, minimalist work of art, quite separate from the intricate individual printed day records.

The strange and wondrous stories of St. Louis found on the walls and pedestals throughout the RAC gallery show the city at artists’ angles. The understandings of place within these artworks are honest and accepting, if not celebratory. Like Baran’s daily task of writing something genuine and purposeful, rejecting repetition and artifice, each artist represented within this exhibition has successfully said something not yet said about the ever-evolving horizon of St. Louis.

Review: Local girl makes good -- art

In Visual Arts

11:55 am on Fri, 08.16.13

Elysia Mann,
Elysia Mann, "The Account," 2013. Mixed media.

Elysia Mann is originally from rural Nebraska. Her art career, however, is St. Louis grown. Mann came to St. Louis for Washington University’s fine art program and stayed to create (along with fellow printstar Steven Brien) All Along Press, an artisan print shop on Cherokee.

The basics

Where: Fort Gondo, 3151 Cherokee St.

When: closing Aug. 17

Hours: 12-4 p.m., Sat.

Cost: Free

An exhibition of Elysia Mann’s multimedia artwork at Fort Gondo comes down this Saturday. The exhibition title, "And the War Was Barely Considered," is a play on the title of a limited edition book of Don Welch’s poetry, "In Times of Considerable Wars." Mann designed the hand-colored illustrations, typeface and hand-marbled cover that make this tome worthy of its placement on a pedestal in the Fort Gondo art gallery.

The individually hand-laid typesetting found in "In Times" takes place in the All Along “print kitchen.” Mann’s near obsessive love of typeface is found in all of her work. The script across and around screen prints and mixed media paintings engage heavily with the interaction between word and image that form narratives of thought, memory and story telling. Her layering of image and words forms multiple storylines. Letters placed in balanced pictorial sequences or as decorative jewelry or tattoo markings tag each artwork, like the graffiti of the super-literate.

Mann’s "Table of Official Two-letter Words" and "Small, Small World" screenprints are among the smaller, subtler works of playful wit in the exhibition. Her sisters series, "The Alliance," "The Tell" and "The Account" calls to mind the stylized folk art tradition of Frida Kahlo. Like Kahlo’s "Two Fridas," Mann’s solemn, but wild, somewhat Victorian women are joined in what appears a painful solidarity.


Review: Tavern of Fine Arts serves up mixed art cocktail

In Visual Arts

6:52 am on Mon, 08.12.13

Some people seem to think that the summer is as good as over the moment that July folds into August. Some people are wrong. The good people at The Tavern of Fine Arts correctly identify the usually hot month of August, in its entirety and despite school schedules, as a month of primo summer living, and viewing, and dining and drinking.

The Tavern’s Summer Art Exhibition showcases the delightfully disparate work of Camden St. Claire, Janice Schoultz Mudd and Adam Long. Janice Schoultz Mudd’s mixed media paintings are jewel-toned dreamscapes. Adam Long puts the natural world to work in his artworks. He uses preserved grape vine tendrils, black walnut leaf stems, preserved fungus and sycamore twigs along with digital photography to create intriguing sculptures that might populate Mudd’s wild and wonderful places.

by Camden St. Claire

St. Claire paints people in the aching state of pensive pause that Edward Hopper liked to capture. Like Hopper’s quiet, lonely figures, St. Claire’s subjects exist in stilled air. They appear drained of emotion, resolute and utterly calm. St. Claire paints people whose lives are heavy to bursting, yet never explode. Her paintings could be used as illustrations for the writing of the great American novelists who specialized in deep sadness. Her figures exist in the prairies of Willa Cather, the small towns of Sarah Orne Jewett and the troubled families of Henry James and Sinclair Lewis.

With the unusually mild August that St. Louis is experiencing, the Tavern’s outdoor seating area has been in heavy use. On concert nights the indoor seating areas are often too packed to wander through and adequately view the artwork. For perfect viewing, come early in the evening.

The basics

Where: 313 Belt Ave. 63112

When: Closing Aug. 31

Gallery/Restaurant hours: 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Friday; 11 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Saturday

Cost: Free

Review: St. Louis as Sin City

In Visual Arts

12:09 am on Thu, 08.08.13

St. Louisans may be dismayed to find our fair city heralded at the top of a national top 10 list of most dangerous cities. Our murder, crime and sexually transmitted disease rates garner us labels of superlative that are generally not considered all that super.

Stuck with these grim statistics, some St. Louisans have decided to revel in the city’s ill gained status, or at least laugh about it. With such blithe intent, Philip Hitchcock’s phd gallery is playing host to three artists’ interpretations of what it means for St. Louis to be the City of Sin. Leave it to artists to turn terrifying talk of very real fear into something just short of a Greek bacchanalia.

Envy, pride, sloth and general evil are not difficult to depict or to relate to. Apparently, sin is a widely attractive theme. The tiny Cherokee Street phd gallery was overflowing with curious art, city and sin enthusiasts throughout the opening night event for the exhibit.

Photographer Mark Florida’s sexy, macabre mise en scène compositions stage the seven deadly sins in a framework of mid-20th century wild west “B” cinema. With his arch portrayals of gluttony, lust and all sorts of debauchery, Florida revels in camp and irony.

Sculptor Ruth Reese continues the homage to sin with functional ceramic goblets decorated with images modeled after the seventeenth-century etchings of Jacques Callot. Callot may have intended his illustrations of the consequences of sin to be instructive. It is with tongue firmly placed in cheek, however, that Reese depicts each vice on a vessel best used in the accomplishment of such immorality.

The animal emblems of Reese and tattoo artist Josh Chapman construe sin in a less overt fashion. Both envision composite beasts as symbolic of social depravity. Reese’s surreal ceramic hybrid creatures are sci-fi fabulous. Octopus tentacles mix with elements of elk or goat, topped by the head of a self-satisfied lion. The notion that this combination of normally separate entities represents sin recalls the role of Pan in Greek mythology as a wild half man/half goat famous for his sexual powers and occasionally identified with Satan. Through a more cultural-political lens, the amalgamated animals might address taboos placed on inter-religious, inter-racial and intra-gender love.

Josh Chapman’s watercolors are similarly fantabulous. His tattoo template artworks boldly combine graphic traditions along with animal species. Chapman’s skulls, snakes and prowling tigers are even more evocative if one considers their more common appearance in his medium of choice- etched, indelibly on human skin.

The basics

Where: 2300 Cherokee Street, St. Louis, 63118

When: Closing Aug. 31

Gallery hours: Noon to 4 p.m., Thursday-Sunday and by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: Awesome anachronisms in Bryan Haynes' paintings

In Visual Arts

7:07 am on Thu, 08.01.13

Lee's Bluff Line Storm
Lee's Bluff Line Storm

The exhibit of Bryan Daves Haynes’ paintings in the Old Courthouse Rotunda,TREES/WATER/SKY – A Walk Through Missouri conflates present and past to provide a bright new lens for viewing the Missouri region. Haynes’ awesome anachronisms show the period we live in at present as a part of an idealized history.

The exhibit reveals Haynes’ adoration for the past and loyalty to his region. His historical research and unencumbered imagination combine to form an integrated time warp. His paintings are a historical magical reality that allows for the insertion of contemporary people and events into centuries-old local legends.

The basics

Where: Old Courthouse, 11 North Fourth St.

When: Through Sept 4, 2013

Cost: Free

Through these illustrated stories, Haynes builds a new mythology that connects early frontier tales with respectful homage to Native American peoples then adds the people and developments of the past 200 years. All of this is cleverly woven together into sequential narratives that become celebrations of place.

His illustrated map of Missouri River Countryprovides a portrait of George Caleb Bingham along with a sketch of Bingham’sJolly Flatboatmen, both situated between Augusta and Defiance. A string of bicyclists wearing turn-of the-century garb as they cycle along the Katy Trail allow the bike route that was only recently formed along the path of old railroad track to exist in Haynes’ historic/magical time. The Missouri Botanical Garden, represented by the very modern geodesic dome of the Climatron, is featured as part and parcel of a landscape that also contains covered wagons trekking west.

Haynes paintings feel familiar. His heroic history works have been likened to the WPA style of the 1930s as well as to that of American Dreamers Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish. Haynes (fairly) claims himself a descendent of Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry by calling his work Neo-regionalism. His paintings build upon the early-20th century Regionalism movement by including images, events and some of the artistic innovations of the past 100 years. The physiognomy of his figures calls to mind the strong, swaying bodies found in Benton’sCradling Wheat (1938) and Curry’s The Mississippi (1935) at the St. Louis Art Museum. And like the figures in Benton and Curry’s paintings, each man and woman found in Haynes’ paintings is made noble in the face of an adversity that smacks of adventure.

Haynes’ paintings should not be dismissed as mere imitation. The Regionalism movement that was at its height in the 1930s was also backward looking. Idealized agricultural scenes did not incorporate the most recent industrial agricultural trends, but focused on traditional, already outdated, methods of working the land. Haynes’ paintings capture the mood and atmosphere of 1930s Regionalists, but disregard realities that clash with the aesthetic to emerge as a modern offshoot.

Haynes’ Augusta Herbstfest, 1867 (2013) portrays an actual event organized by German immigrants. This harvest-time festival is populated by unlikely characters. Acrobats join farmers as they dance through rows of lush vineyards. A late summer sun shines merrily against impossibly red grape vines. Haynes’ love of certain thematic motifs and for complimentary colors trumps reality to create a vision that is unexpected and beyond the bounds of possibility.

Many of Haynes’ compositions depict local traditions as grand triumphs. Shingle Maker’s Geometry presents a step-by-step depiction of the 19th century process of putting a roof on a log cabin. The story is told in a counter-clockwise zigzag: from the harvesting of large white oaks, made evident by clear-cut fields within heavily forested Missouri hills, to the sawing of the trunks into “wafer” sections and splitting of those into “bolts” before laying them out upon the beaver pelt decorated cabin. A strapping man works industriously in each vignette. Like many of Haynes’ paintings, this story of the humble shingle exalts cooperative labor.

St. Louisans can find Haynes’ paintings in an ever-increasing list of civic buildings. They grace the Gateway Arch ticket area, the Danforth Plant Science Center and the America’s Center Convention Complex (Ram’s Dome). Just as he ignores historic realities for the sake of his story, his technique for installing these stories dismisses tradition for practicality. His mural illustrations are not painted directly to the wall, but photographed, enlarged digitally and printed on vinyl then installed.

Osage River
Osage River

Review: Hurry to catch Michael Hoffman

In Visual Arts

12:08 am on Thu, 07.18.13

The Hoffman Lachance Contemporary Art Gallery in Maplewood has dedicated one week to showcase gallery director Michael Hoffman’s thick, rich paintings on wood panels. Hoffman’s secret paint concoction creates luminous swirls in high relief like wet rocks that never dry to lose luster.

Hoffman’s titles are often taken from places where he lived or visited throughout his storied youth. He spent his young adult years traveling through Spain and the south of France as a member of a punk circus group. He attributes the inspirational source for his paintings that look like a vinyl record going round to a childhood friendship with his New York neighbor Charles Mingus Jr. Mingus was an influential jazz musician known for fusing traditional and experimental musical forms. The same could be said of Hoffman’s paintings.

An example of Hoffman’s melding of traditional and experimental forms can be found in the series of three landscapes in this exhibit. Each landscape is painted with a low horizon line and exudes its own individual temperature. Roserio Strait sizzles in hot, red tones. Doe Bay’s cool greens are broken by a line of white heat. Penn Cove’s blue sky and deep green sea is shown at sunset. Crackles and swirls of paint under the glossy surface become sand, sky and water.

Blue Moon incorporates Hoffman’s signature spinning record motif on top of one of his landscapes, creating a combination of techniques that ultimately challenges interpretation. Each round spinning painting is centered with a blue circle, like a puddle of water or the bright day sky seen through a James Turrell light chapel oculus.

Hoffman’s paintings are each works of sensual deliciousness. Their intensely tactile nature makes them seductive objects. The dazzling luminescence of each lush stripe of color in his ribbon candy-like Playa Ibiza make this the most lickable looking painting you will ever see.

Two of the paintings on view offer cerebral geometric patterns that Hoffman relates to his admiration for the gridded wire found in midcentury modern chairs such as those designed by Charles and Ray Eames. Blue gridded Nite Swimming reflects light so that it glimmers like a swimming pool under a gleaming moon. Summer Seville is painted in various marbled sand tones. These inverted or collapsed dimension designs recall the work of Buckminster Fuller.

Hoffman’s paintings are not uniform, but they are perfect, complete wholes. He enjoys the minute inconsistencies that are inevitable in his work. The paintings need to be seen in person. Photographs of his paintings are misleading, as they flatten the sumptuous, glimmering details to portray simple, bold graphic designs.

The basics

Where: Hoffman Lachance Contemporary Art Gallery

When: closing July 20

Cost: Free


For postwar German art, let Richter be your guide

In Visual Arts

6:58 am on Mon, 07.15.13

Entry into the special exhibit in the St. Louis Art Museum of Postwar German Art in the Collection begins with a small gallery space holding two paintings by Gerhard Richter. Cattycorner to one another are Ölberg (1986) and Betty (1988). The close placement of these two quintessentially Richter paintings – dated within two years of one another, but utterly dissimilar in style and technique – attests to the fantastically rich diversity of artistic expression that took formation in the years following WW II, encompassing the Cold War and preceding the internet.

Ölberg, 1986, Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 118 ½ x 98 9/16 inches, museum purchase.
Ölberg, 1986, Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 118 ½ x 98 9/16 inches, Museum purchase.
Betty, 1988, Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 28 1/2 inches. Museum purchase.
Betty, 1988, Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 28 1/2 inches.  Purchased with donations.

Ölberg is a completely abstracted painting. It is massive. The brushstrokes are made not with a brush but with a spatula and other similarly indelicate equipment. Heavy uninterrupted waves of paint stripe the length of the canvas as if a superhuman with impossibly long arms created them. Richter has been quoted as saying that working in the abstract was particularly difficult for him as he was required to remove his intellectual consciousness from his painting process. This might be difficult to believe for anyone who might remain in the “a child could do that” camp of abstract critical art theory.

It is less difficult to imagine Ölbergas outside of Richter’s natural comfort zone when looking at his hyper-realistic BettyBetty is often mistaken for a photograph. It is actually a painted portrait made from a photograph taken 10 years before Richter painted it. The painting is well-loved worldwide. It is clever because it feels like a photograph but then is so obviously a painting, because it is a portrait of the back (!) of a beguilingly beautiful head and because it is a relatively ambiguous portrait to the viewer. One may assume he or she is seeing a young woman in an elegant gown, only to find that it is actually the artist’s 11-year-old daughter wearing a sweet little-girl pajama-like outfit. Betty is painted with the love of a father to reflect his delight in life and in illusion and of clever, silly fun. No one ever said about Betty, “a child could do that.”

SLAM’s Tricia Paik and Nathan Stobaugh have aptly placed these two Richter paintings at the access point to the German postwar era exhibition. One demandingly figurative and the other boldly abstract, they provide a welcome and a gentle warning regarding the larger body of work within the galleries.

The welcome is perfectly tied to Richter’s personal story. Richter was from Dresden. His childhood wartime experience was as miserable as many of his German artist colleagues. However, he has an outsider’s perspective as a onetime East German muralist, trained in his native city of Dresden to paint happy workers for DDR government buildings.Betty is painted in Richter’s playfully entitled style of “capitalist realism,” which he described as an ironic cousin to the “socialist realism” he was taught as a student in Dresden. The capitalist element, Richter, quipped, was in that he painted subjects for their personal appeal and not for the state.

The warning: By 1960, German artists were sure of only the impossibility of surety. Most of the artwork in this exhibit is focused on deep, painful analysis, rejection and deconstruction. Richter’sÖlberg is representative (albeit brightly) of the German artistic movement to reinvent painting as a way to find relevance for a medium of expression that seemed spent out and intrinsically tied to a traumatic past.

The basics

Where: St. Louis Art Museum, in the new East Building

When: closing Jan. 26, 2014

Cost: Free


Richter’s relationships with the other artists shown in this exhibit form one of many ways to tie the vast body of work together. Richter is closely tied to each of the other artists, through personal contact and shared exhibition history, but especially through his varied, shifting art practices that serve as exemplars of the numerous ways in which postwar artists managed to grapple with political events.

It was with Georg Baselitz, in Düsseldorf in 1981, that Richter first presented the monumental transparent mirrors that served as precedent for Gray Mirror (1991), found in this exhibition.

Postwar German artists worked to break down perceived barriers between art and life, discarding traditional pictorial language. They were interested not only in the manifestation of their art, but in exploring the political, social and commercial contexts in which their art was created and received.

December, 1989, Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 126 inches x 13 feet 1 1/2 inches. Purchased with donations.
December, 1989, Gerhard Richter, oil on canvas, 126 inches x 13 feet 1 1/2 inches. Purchased with donations.

In his painting, 4 Muses, Jörg Immendorff paints himself, Georg Baselitz, A.R. Penck and Markus Lüpertz all in studio settings with accoutrement that point to their varied artistic approaches and accomplishments. Immendorff’s self-conscious self-promotion provides an element of insight into the navel-gazing environment that informed these artists’ views of their role in society.

Joseph Beuys, a professor at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art throughout the postwar period, served as a mentor for the artists that form this group. Much of his personal story serves as the prequel to the movement. Immendorff’s Beuysland (1965) pays a lighthearted homage to Beuys prominence within the postwar German art scene. Beuys’ optimistic view of art as transformative is an integral component of even the darkest work in these galleries.

Richter’s greyscale landscape Townscape Sa 2 (1969) and his grim triptych January, December, November (1989) are a part of the somber grappling with events that is found again and again within these galleries. But the optimism encouraged by Beuys is there as well, in the effort to find new, genuine ways to make sense and give voice to 20th century disappointments and fears.

Review: James M. Smith brings joy of summer camp to SLUMA

In Visual Arts

6:25 am on Tue, 07.09.13


If you don’t make it to summer camp this year, the next best thing is James M. Smith’s spectacular installation in the first floor gallery at the St. Louis University Museum of Art (SLUMA).

Entering Smith’s Unscripted exhibit feels like walking through an adventurer’s scrapbook. Smith’s playful and ambitious dreamscape exists outside of time. He has created a past future just as the science fiction writer Ray Bradbury described it.

Smith’s large sculptures look like useful objects. They are formed from rope and wood and rough-hewn canvas, tied together with so many knots and stitches. His art has a Boy Scout aesthetic. Canvases along the walls hold building plans drawn and altered in succession, befitting the creation of the wondrous contraptions arranged throughout the gallery. His crisp graphics of negative images appear to be made by a blinding sun searing unfinished, impractical design plans onto color soaked canvases.

The objects throughout the exhibition space represent active lives. His Ovoo is a teepee fort of found objects that looks as if built by busy 12 year olds on a summer day. Arranged as they are, Smith’s intricate sculptural oddities inspire a soundtrack of sea gulls and fog horns, the hum of the gallery’s air conditioning unit attempts to fill the auditory void.

Zeppelins have a bold presence in Smith’s oeuvre as do rockets and scaffolded grain elevators and water towers. Speed Triple Combine offers an archive of aviation motifs including a heavily worn flight suit with a rusted scarf. Much of Smith’s iconography connotes fantastical travel. A motorcycle from yesteryear appears as if an imprint from a dream.

The burnt at the edges red drowned canvas of Red Combine is held to earth only by a long red cord attached to three red blocks. It is a tentative mooring. A sandbag holds down one of the two Streamliner sculptures as if it might rise into the air. Bright blue splotches along the flying machine suggest a recent trip through painted sky.

The basics

Where: 3663 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis 63108

When: Through Aug. 25

Museum Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday

Cost: Free

St. Louis in Barcelona: Cassilly and Gaudi

In Visual Arts

7:08 am on Fri, 07.05.13

I knew before I arrived in Barcelona that I would find Bob Cassilly there.

From left: The serpent fence around City Museum; a figure in Park Guell
For the Beacon
From left: The serpent fence around City Museum; a figure in Park Guell

Antoni Gaudi’s tile-bejeweled lizard and cement serpents in Park Güell (pronounced: Well) are close relatives to the sculptures Cassilly inserted in spaces all over the St. Louis City Museum. Mosaics made from broken tile shards cover walls, floor, ceilings and sculptures in much of the architecture designed by Gaudi (1852-1926). The decorative mosaic technique is called trencadis when employed in the method made famous by Gaudi.

Gaudi (1852-1926) is referred to as the father of Catalan modernism. His architectural oeuvre is associated with Art Nouveau, but he is not considered to have been the center of a clearly defined art movement. Yet, Bob Cassilly’s City Museum and his many other sculptures found in St. Louis, New York and elsewhere are quite clearly part of a larger group.

Austria’s famous Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) built numerous buildings in Vienna and around the world that follow a similar aesthetic. Sao Paulo, Brazil has Estevao Conceicao, who only learned of Gaudi after he had been told that his life-long building project had a storied antecedent. Jeff Lockheed’s Venice Café in St. Louis’s Benton Park and Bill Christman’s Ars Populi and Joe’s Café are also part of this aesthetic family. In each case, the artist/architect is often described as creating a “distinctly unique style.”

Functional columns become art elements at (l) City Museum and (r) Park
(l) File photo, (r) Sarah Hermes Griesbach
Functional columns become art elements at (l) City Museum and (r) Park Guell.

Gaudi wrote extensively (as did Hundertwasser) about his quest to duplicate in sculpture and architecture the ideal forms he found in nature. The extraordinary shapes that his buildings took are remarkably similar to those found in Cassilly’s art. Parabolic arches and organic curved lines mark this global style. It is a style that incurs a universal response. People everywhere love these spaces in which the basic expectations of floor, stairwell, walls… are met with completely unexpected materials and forms.

I knew before I arrived in Barcelona that I would find Bob Cassilly there. But I did not consider the implication of finding Gaudi’s great unfinished cathedral, Sagrada Familia. Like Cassily’s Cementland, this was Gaudi’s final project, a project he had barely begun when struck by a tram and killed at age 74. Sagrada Familia is still under development. It grows increasingly amazing, all due to local investment and the enthusiastic public support of tourists who flock to the site in their pilgrimage to see everything dreamt into being by Gaudi.

When compared to the 2000 years of Barcelona’s history, St. Louis is just beginning. Yet, St. Louis, in this developmental stage, manages to draw in tourists who come to see the sometimes struggling city’s diverse creative capital. The two are intrinsically linked – the inspired, fantastical vision of artists and those who will come to live, work and play in a place that is both unique and universal. Put like this, the future of Cementland can be seen as a test. Will St. Louis prove worthy and able of fulfilling this vision? As shown by the slow progress that is ongoing at Sagrada Familia, the commitment need only be made, the completion date is less important.

A 2010 image of Cementland; Gaudi's castle
(l) Fil photo; (r) Sarah Hermes Griesbach
A 2010 image of Cementland; a Gaudi "castle"


Review: I'll have what Jo Jasper Dean is Drinking

In Visual Arts

12:40 am on Tue, 06.18.13

Philip Hitchcock describes the current exhibit, Drunk on Color, at his phd Gallery on Cherokee Street as “high voltage oil on canvas.” He calls Dean’s work “intoxicating” and “amplified.” Hitchcock is right.

Dean’s paintings communicate heat and energy that is as intense and enjoyable as a top-shelf cocktail consumed on a tropical beach.

Dean’s small canvases bring single isolated subjects to the surface. An arrogant lizard looks out from his technicolor world. A tightly angled crab, a seahorse, an ostrich … disrupts a diagonal horizon line to confront the viewer. Dean’s tilted, vertical perspective gives these animal head shots a wry expression.

Her larger canvases offer a more complex orientation. They are filled with three dimensional, luscious plant life. The softly curving lines of plant plumes create deep spaces. Dynamic composition draws the viewer deep into the painting.

Dean’s compartmentalized landscapes are like looking at the world through the frame of a rolled up piece of paper. She presents a disembodied flash of nature placed against a tranquil sky. The effect is dreamlike and totally intoxicating.

Fear not the experience. You will not be hung over after indulging in Dean’s “high voltage oil.” Elements within the work are arranged in pleasing balance. Detailed images are set against a thickly textured, abstract paint surface. Wildly bright yellows and oranges that could burn your retinas are mitigated by cool purples and blues.

The basics

Where: 2300 Cherokee St. 63118

When: closing July 20

Gallery hours: noon-4 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, and by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: Marshall's 'Garden of Delights' blooms at CAM

In Visual Arts

6:42 am on Thu, 06.06.13

Garden of Delights. Kerry James Marshall.
Photos by Laurent Torno | courtesy Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Garden of Delights. Kerry James Marshall.

The front room at the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) is designed for experimental projects, the artist’s new, new thing. Curator Dominic Molon encourages the kind of transformation of a confined space that we have seen in the last several CAM front room exhibitions. Artist Kerry James Marshall has turned the front room into a portal leading to his Chicago neighborhood.

The basics

Where: 3750 Washington Blvd.

When: Open through July 7

Hours: 11 a.m.- 6 p.m., Wed.; 11 a.m.- 9 p.m., Thurs.-Fri.; 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Sat.-Sun.

Cost: Free

Marshall’s installation, "Garden of Delights," is a dramatic set designed to reflect the artist's personal experience. A theatrical faux walkway leads to an oversized, theatrical faux garden that surrounds a photograph of an alleyway view of a white clapboard family home with partially rolled up garage door and a sun-burnt lawn.

The garden is constructed from plastic. An old family photograph is at the center of each giant, plastic flower, like the capitulum of a daisy. The photograph of the house is staged as the main event around which all of the family flowers grow. The room feels like a 3D scrapbook.

Marshall’s use of photographs to represent people and plastic to represent nature suggests a comment upon the artifice of representation. Throughout Marshall’s celebrated career, he has toyed with historical forms of characterizing people, often directing attention toward racist notions of beauty.

A path of odd-shaped red, white, black and green plastic “cobblestones” leads up to the back wall installation of Marshall’s home tableau. Three empty, crumpled Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bags are arranged along the path. Marshall says the chip bags could not be left out of his Garden, as a day doesn’t go by without a couple of these rolling into his yard.

Marshall’s inclusion of these everyday things is funny but a little sad, too. Schools in New Mexico, California and Illinois have banned these “highly addictive” chips after some kids ended up in the ER with heartburn and red poop. Marshall would include those chips. He is an artist who adeptly points out the beauty present in harsh realities and refuses to accept that struggle equals tragedy.

With the installation title, "Garden of Delights," Marshall points to his own joyful experience of growing things. The voice mail recording on his home phone provides the family’s update from the garden with a report on what is currently in bloom. The exhibition is also connected to his earlier series of paintings titled "The Garden Projects" that portrayed urban public housing projects with a euphemistic “garden” in their name.

The Saint Louis Art Museum is offering a concurrent Marshall experience with a painting from "The Garden Projects" series. "Watts, 1963," which shows the artist and his two siblings in the housing authority garden where they grew up, will again go on view with the opening of the museum’s new East Building expansion on June 29.

Review: Finnish artist Mika Taanila wants to blow your mind

In Visual Arts

6:36 am on Mon, 06.03.13

Enter the Contemporary Art Museum and you will hear the work of Mika Taanila. The audio component to Taanila’s HD video installation, The Most Electrified Town in Finland, was composed by the Finnish experimental electronic music group, Pan Sonic. Its pulsing, clinking, whirling, wooshing sounds give the whole museum space the feel that Gyorgy Ligeti’s music created in 2001 Space Odyssey.

The Most Electrified Town in Finland is shown in the large open area of the museum. It is actually three separate video projections juxtaposed through synchronized panels. The video triptych documents the construction of a super powerful nuclear power plant in Eurajoki, Finland, over the course of eight years along side the beautiful countryside surrounding the rising nuclear colossus.

Mika Taanila, The Most Electrified Town in Finland, 2012. Three - channel looping HD video installation, color, 5.1 sound, 15 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Kinotar.
Jussi Eerola
Mika Taanila, The Most Electrified Town in Finland, 2012. Three - channel looping HD video installation, color, 5.1 sound, 15 minutes. Courtesy the artist and Kinotar.

The filming of the plant construction often occurs in the dark, making the action seem covert but also a bit enchanted. Of course, dark is nearly constant throughout mid winter in Finland. Shown in accelerated motion, building cranes move like giant robotic arms weaving up, down and around the developing dome of the power plant. Plant employees in their regulation suits reinforce the Stanley Kubric atmosphere as they silently move through the halls, pulling levers and pushing buttons.

Just around the corner, Taanila’s video projection, Six Day Run, plays in an enclosed space that you might miss if you don’t look for it. The run described in the title is the Self-Transcendence Six Day Race that takes place annually in New York City. Competitors run around, and around, and around and around and around (get the picture?) a one-mile track. Apparently, sleep deprivation, lousy weather, exhaustion and boredom lead to enlightenment, at least that is the premise of the race organizers and participants. The video footage of the runners, steady in their pace, has a meditative effect, and does not involve sweat or knee pain.

The basics

Where: 3750 Washington Blvd., 63108

When: Through Aug. 11

Hours: Wednesdays 11-6, Thursdays 11-9, Friday 11-9, Saturday 10-5, Sunday 10-5

Cost: Free


The two video projections that make upTwilight place toad test subjects on the gallery wall. These unlucky toads were part of a seemingly benign 1997 study at the University of Helsinki. The amphibians look to be in an alternate state not too dissimilar to that of Taanila’s transcendent runners, they’ve been at this for a long while.

Taanila’s Verbranntes Land (“burnt earth” in German) is the video version of painters making paintings about painting or painters of canvases painting images of cave paintings. Here, in a clean digital format, VHS cassettes are revealed as tragic figures, documented in their degradation. Taanila uses clips from a bazaar instructional video warning about the medium’s fragility.

Taken in their totality, these videos project a humanity that is an active agent of its own fate. The humans know what they are doing, but they do it anyway. The Most Electrified Town in Finlandtakes a long and expansive look at the humans creating technology in the hope of progress, with the looming threat of total destruction. Six Day Run explores the human machine, and the possibility of controlling it through the mind-body connection. Twilight places humans over the frog, significantly, in an academic lab. Verbranntes Land looks at an object as complex as a VHS cassette that only exists for a short window of human history, produced by us and then found wanting and quickly left behind.

The only non-video component of the exhibit is still a comment upon video. In Black and White Movies, eight stark and striking, black and white photograms appear like Rorschach test images. A photogram is a cameraless photograph. It is made by exposing photographic paper to light, creating a negative shadow image of whatever is place upon the paper.

The process Taanila used to produce these photograms is as “meta” as all of his other heady enterprises. The video artist has chosen some of his many old, grainy VHS cassettes of Finnish TV broadcasted movies and destroyed them with the glory that their scripts demand. For example, the VHS cassette for Kiss Me Deadly was reduced to bits and pieces in an explosion of consumer fireworks, in homage to the atomic blast that concludes the iconic 1955 film.

The enjoyment of video projected artwork requires a slight time commitment. It is unlike more standard forms of screen watching, in that the compositions are almost always circumspect. For this reason, gallery guests often glance at the wall and move on. Taanila’s video program at CAM is clever, well composed, and, decidedly, worth making time for.

Review: Lari Pittman at CAM is eye candy and much more

In Visual Arts

6:22 am on Fri, 05.31.13

A Decorated Chronology is the accurate but meager title given to Lari Pittman’s exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum. It is a survey of Pittman’s work, yes, but it is also a survey of a half century of visual culture and to call it “decorated’ seems a massive understatement. Pittman’s paintings are the very essence of decoration.

Lari Pittman, Seance, 2011. Acrylic, Cel-Vinyl, and aerosol lacquer on gessoed canvas over panel, 88 x 102 inches. Courtesy the artist; Gladstone Gallery, New York; and Regen Projects, Los Angeles

The basics

Where: 3750 Washington

When: Through Aug. 11

Hours: Wednesdays 11-6, Thursdays 11-9, Friday 11-9, Saturday 10-5, Sunday 10-5

Cost: Free

The interwoven visual motifs Pittman constructs offer aesthetic and intellectual delights arranged in pleasing balance. On each canvas, Pittman manages to coherently hold together a smorgasbord of figurative images with the electric energy of their arrangement and well-integrated connecting lines.

That Pittman comes out of formal art training which included a strong background in applied arts is instantly clear. His lovely streetlamps, absurd birds, poodles in party hats, 18th century socialites silhouetted in profile and flying scimitars are universally pleasing like various kinds of type face, with an Edwardian Script figure set against a background painted in Futura Font. The surprising style combinations create pitch perfect visual harmonies.

His delicious tableau, How Sweet the Day After This and That, Deep Sleep is Truly Welcomed, was completed in 1988, but eerily predicts the aesthetic desires of our moment today. The late 1960s color combinations (pink, red and orange; dulled green and gold; celadon blue with light brown) are more typical of a 2013 color palate than the late 1980s. The same is true of the lavish owl motif and the elegant curled lines of the frilly Venice-like dream scene across the base of the painting. Every aspect of the elaborate presentation seems to have been carefully designed to feature all of the best selling design elements of Right Now.

During the exhibition preview Pittman described his painting practice in ways that seem totally counter intuitive. He emphasized the lack of control that he exerts over his paintings. He reported that his painted expressions of life provide opportunities for carelessness and randomness that he would not wish to allow into his daily reality. I was not the only recipient of this comment to furl my eyebrows in confusion. Careless? Random? Pittman’s paintings are among the most edited appearing compositions I have encountered.

A short video documentary of the artist, posted online by PBS Art 21(, shows the artist engaged in the production of his exquisite paintings. Watching him in the act answered my question of how he creates such perfect lines. I was sure there had to be a mechanical element to his painting, some trick to keep fine lines flawless. But this is not the case. The video footage shows him casually applying perfectly placed marks and swirls. He talks while he works as the video progresses, as if it is second nature to compose the complex configurations of figure and design that make each of his paintings appear perfectly planned.

Pittman connects the ethereal imagery within his work to divergent source material. He references the hyperbolic violence depicted within Latin American devotional “retablo” paintings and the heightened sensations found within magical realism. There is sooo much there. And though the canvases are full to brimming with many separate yet integrated visual programs, the effect is never too much.

The extravagance of textures and images creates story possibility as deep and dynamic as Gabriel García Márquez’s. One Hundred Years of Solitude. They contain humor, pathos, sarcasm, wit, … desire, frustration, contentedness. The stories are narrated through Pittman’s rich imagination, but it is the viewer who takes these wild rumpus tableaux and derives a personal tale.

Review: Cecilia Andre brings sunshine into Belas Artes

In Visual Arts

12:23 am on Mon, 05.27.13

Brazilian artist Cecilia Andre found herself drawn to the beautiful tile that she encountered everywhere while traveling through Portugal. Her research into the Portuguese tradition of decorative tile is on display in her glimmering painted canvases, now showing for an extended period at the Belas Artes Gallery.


The basics

Where: 1854 Russell Blvd., St. Louis

When: extended through July 15

Gallery Hours: by appointment

Cost: Free


Portugal’s ornamental tiles are called azulejos (from Arabic al-zulayi, meaning polished stone). Andre was struck by the Arab tradition of tiling as an effort to bring the sun-drenched radiance of the outdoors indoors. That is exactly the effect of her paintings. The seaside, the sky, and a tranquil garden, along with musical notes and phrases, entered the gallery space along with her artwork.

Andre’s attraction to the tiles she discovered in Portugal fell into her work in the form of grid lines that imitate grout. The grid lines nearly finish the process of her painting, as a final stage of their production. Occasionally, as in the painting for which the exhibit of her work at Belas Artes Gallery is named,Saravá, the grid lines are crossed. This overlay of words or drips across formal borders adds to the visual depth of Andre’s paintings.

Saravá refers to an Afro-Brazilian expression used as a greeting of welcome. There could hardly be a more fitting name for a collection of art. Andre’s subjects suggest the intimate. She repeats forms: a comb moving through hair, vessels that she refers to as part of her personal archeology.

She engages with the materiality of the paint as she applies it, emphasizing the process of layering that helps her create richly complex compositions. Some layers of her paintings are gestural, so that the spray of color emerging from an overturned bottle creates a dynamic motion.

The warmth of Andre’s paintings is doubled by their display. Walk into the cozy, yet elegant, Belas Artes Gallery and gallery director Ciléia Miranda-Yuen’s smile and welcome will have the same effect of mimicking the sun’s rays Andre adopts from the Portuguese azulejos.

Miranda-Yuen’s passion to connect St. Louis populations through Latin American art and culture makes Belas Artes a local treasure. Her goals for the gallery space are ambitious. The warm and festive atmosphere found when attending the Belas Artes events she designs to meet those goals, such as the on-going Saravá exhibition, make participation in her efforts a delight.


Review: Burn 353 slaps childhood with irony at Hoffman-LaChance

In Visual Arts

2:11 am on Thu, 05.23.13

The artist known as Burn 353 adheres clean, black and white, stencil paintings to collaged canvases. His stencil paintings feature characters that come from vintage pop culture. Classic features from Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny are scrambled to create something recognizable from childhood, but off. The most off part of these little cartoon demons is their missing, dripping, bottom jaws.

Frienemies Diptch
Frienemies Diptch

The chin and bottom lipless animation characters are tortured in other ways. Some are tied to ropes and stretched until quartered. Others are hung. The cause of their suffering is not identified -- though there does seem to be a mildly religious theme to the pain. It is not even certain if they are the victims or perpetrators of some of the violent acts depicted, as in theFrienemies Diptch, in which one character hangs by the neck while the other holds himself up by grasping his rope. Gruesome mischief is at play.

The black and white figures that Burn 353 makes the center focus of his artwork are a formalized reminder of the graffiti art he once sprayed on walls. Many of the figures are laid upon vintage comic strip collage, which works to form its own oddly cohesive narrative. Here, again, there is nostalgia arranged as something darker.

The sophisticated layout of Burn 353’s artwork gives his design background away. The multimedia work is clever and surprising, with fun word and image play. The spray-painted canvases signal the 1980s just as clearly as the comics that come from that decade. It is easy to imagine Burn 353’s artwork on a skateboard, surfboard or wall. For now, it looks pretty “skeg” (which I’ll hope reads as “rad”) forming the exhibit,Iconic Apocalypse, that hangs for another week at the Hoffman LaChance Gallery in Maplewood.

The basics

Where: 2713 Sutton Blvd., St. Louis 63143

When: closing June 1

Gallery hours: Friday and Saturday from 12 to 3pm and by appointment

Cost: Free

You can help see the 'Whole City'

In Visual Arts

3:16 am on Fri, 05.03.13

Colin Kloecker and Shanai Matteson are the co-directors of Works Progress, a public design studio in Minneapolis. But for the next couple of weeks they are in St. Louis as guests of The Luminary Center for the Arts as a part of The Luminary’s ongoing How to Make a World That Won’t Fall Apart series. The collaborative month-long project, Whole City, puts St. Louis under the microscope as these two Minnesota artists take a fresh, outsider look in, that allows them to ask (as they put it) “naïve” questions.

Whole City: St. Louis opening reception

Where: The Luminary Center for the Arts, 2644 Cherokee St., St. Louis

When: 7-9 p.m. Saturday, May 4 (exhibit runs through May 25)

How much: Free

This coming Saturday, Kloecker and Matteson will use The Luminary gallery space to display the stories they’ve gathered while here and to activate a conversation about life in this (middle) Mississippi River City. In anticipation of the opening event, I sat down with the artists to see what they’d surmised from our city so far.

The first thing Matteson had to say about her whirlwind tours of St. Louis (they visited several venues on Cherokee, in the Delmar Loop area, the Old North and Downtown in mere days) was, “It is so different from Minneapolis.” Kloecker and Matteson look at the swelling St. Louis art scene, and they see lots of “wild spaces,” which they define as areas that beg for expansion and allow for trial and error.

Kloecker and Matteson note that St. Louis has an abundance of century-old, mixed-use buildings that allow for residents to live above where they work. A mixed-use residence, with storefront below and living quarters above - or some similar sort of arrangement - provides flexibility that encourages entrepreneurship and promotes exciting street life. Matteson thinks areas like Cherokee, South Grand and the Old North neighborhood have a leg-up on building vibrant, high-density residential communities due to this architectural boon.

Important steps can fail

There is something paradoxical about the comparisons Kloecker and Matteson make between the two Mississippi cities. They see more investment in public art projects in the Twin Cities than in St. Louis. But they think they see something unique percolating here, an art scene that is less rooted in institutional grants than in aggressive acts of genesis.

“Take Cherokee, for example,” says Matteson. “We don’t have anything like that. Just walking down the street and looking at all the storefront windows, it looks like everyone is trying to realize something new.”

Some of Kloecker and Matteson’s St. Louis volunteer tour guides expressed dismay at the quick demise of many ventures they had seen try, only to dissolve, along Cherokee and in the Grove and Downtown areas.

“Take a step back,” says Kloecker, “and look at these efforts as part of a larger process.” For the individuals involved in these ventures and for the neighborhoods that host them, Kloecker and Matteson insist, temporary efforts are not failures. “Innovators need an opportunity to try. These attempts are important stops along the way toward something recognizable as success.”

'To Cassilly'

Working with Luminary founders James and Brea McAnally, Kloecker and Matteson heard a term that means, “We’ve got something going on here, but we aren’t sure where it’s going. So let’s just see what happens.” That term is “to Cassilly” as in Bob Cassilly, father of The City Museum.

Kloecker and Matteson wonder if it is the room “to Cassilly” that makes St. Louis a uniquely nurturing environment for organic, creative expressions. In part due to a depressed urban economy, open-ended projects are possible in St. Louis. A junkyard of architectural cast-offs can be changed into an internationally acclaimed museum.

The idea that cities can be imagined differently through art has resulted in a thick network of national projects. Kloecker and Matteson became aware of the exciting socially active art scene in St. Louis when they met some of the movement’s practitioners at a Hand-in-Glove Conferencein Chicago. Their conversations with St. Louis artists Juan William Chávez, Kiersten Torrez and the McAnallys, among others, resulted in an invigorated sense of what was possible for all the artists involved.

“Many artists today are trying to live lives that are in keeping with their ideals.“ says Kloecker, “We are working to help individuals and organizations that have deep-rooted knowledge - in the environment, architecture, really any field – to move beyond standard ways of seeing and find new ways of making their ideas reality.”

'Strategic turn'

Matteson explains the motivation for their collaboration here in St. Louis: “It would be wrong for us to think that we could enter a city, for a month or for a year, and then try to shape it. We are still trying to figure out what is going on in our own city. But our outsider status gives us a special angle from which to approach St. Louis. Often, people do not talk about the place where they live until something tragic happens. We would like to help facilitate a conversation about what St. Louis has that is special -- right now, perhaps unseen, but present -- and also what people imagine when they take the 100-year view.

When Kloecker describes the artist’s role in envisioning new approaches to urban issues, he uses a term taken from Nato Thompson of New York-based public arts institution, Creative Time. Kloecker refers to St. Louis taking a “strategic turn.” Strategic turn is used to describe art practices that are not a flash-in-the-pan gallery exhibition, but long-term projects that work hand-in-hand with (not upon) the local community.

As they try to understanding what makes St. Louis tick, Kloecker and Matteson compare and contrast their experiences in the Twin Cities. Through their Works Progress collaborative, Kloecker and Matteson have, since 2008, encourage new forms of social engagement, always wary of the detrimental gentrification that can be blamed on the descending artists and their cohort, described by Richard Florida's “Creative Class.”

These concerns come up constantly, as in their own Minneapolis arts district of West Bank where they predict social disruption along with the enrichment from a new light rail line that will run through the center of the community. They are aware of the dangers that come from any efforts to “better” a place and want to place those concerns right out in the open where they can be seen and discussed.

While here they are looking for evidence and reports of what is and isn’t working in St. Louisans’ creative placemaking efforts. The results will be presented on Saturday in a printed publication of their and others’ thoughts on the St. Louis art scene. They will also organize an interactive event during which gallery visitors can offer opinions on the language that has the entered social art practice lexicon. The process is the art in the Whole City exhibition. And, if successful (that is, if you come), it is only a catalyst for further action as the conversation continues.

Review: COCA show investigates local geography

In Visual Arts

12:28 am on Thu, 04.11.13

Meredith Foster is a local artist whose subject is local ecosystems. Her Mississippi Delta exploration bounces from wall to wall to floor in the Millstone Gallery at the Center of Creative Arts.

The basics

Where: Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Ave., 63130

When: closing May 5, 2013

Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday: 9am-9pm, 
Saturday: 9am-6pm, 
Sunday: 11am-6pm

Cost: Free

Foster has printed abstracted landscape photographs upon lightweight paper and tacked them to the wall without frame or canvas. The arrangements of photographed images tiled across white paper function schematically as a single composition. She has captured geometries found in green grasses, riverbeds, cracked earth, dead fish, burning fields and their charred remains. Here Foster takes nature as she finds it, but by displaying each as part of a whole, transforms the individual images into schematized textures and patterns.

Foster’s photographic arrangements play well with her mixed media work, which mimics geographic reality. Here, Foster has created topographical representations of her natural subject, but intricately constructed them to suggest scientific objectivity. The grey, white and black textural topographies form a visual metaphor for the geography of central Illinois. Clearly demarcated gritty trapezoidal shapes are laid beside puffy or flat shapes to take the form of a map.

Foster created her 32 individual mixed media drawings (titled Acre) and her floor installation (Biography) from salt, ash and graphite. She processes her materials from indigenous and invasive plant material growing in East central Illinois.

The floor installation looks like a moonscape. A black and gray terrain is surrounding by yellow tape like a police line. Standing above it, one surveys the region spread flat against the floor.

Foster has designed a meditation on her and our environment, segmenting and parceling expansive vistas into small components. Through her photographs, vast fields are made small. Through her multi-media work, we look down upon carefully articulated land contours as if from an airplane.

The dynamic arrangement of Foster’s photograph composites, mixed media topographies and floor installation invites comparisons between them and draws attention to what is seen and what is perceived. Foster’s provocative use of materials and images combine to gives this exhibit the potential to instigate discursive engagement on the place we live.

Review: Dramatic science meets experimental art at RAC

In Visual Arts

12:11 am on Thu, 04.04.13

Environmental science and studio art teachers should all take their classes to see Shifting Groundat the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission. Artists Ron Fondaw and Michele Ryker-Owens have filled the gallery space with wondrous things while referencing environmental events and offering “for further information…” suggestions.

Ryker-Owen’s Misi-Ziibi is a large-scale wall hanging constructed from moss and other creeping plants. A Klimt-colored metallic river divides a bright, light and dark green topography. The silver river runs like tendrils, the mosses literally fall off the board base. It is lush and lovely.

Genius Loci by Michele Ryker-Owens
Genius Loci by Michele Ryker-Owens

The basics

Where: RAC, 6128 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis  63112

When: Gallery hours: Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 
Saturday noon-5 p.m.; exhibit closes April 20

Cost: Free

Ryker-Owen continues her love affair with wild-spreading marsh plants in Genius Loci. Creeping green mosses spill out from the open drawers of an antique dresser. The dark stenciled dresser suggests a bygone childhood, with the dresser, or its contents, giving off an internal light.

Ryker-Owen’s playfully, esoteric, artistic musings reference the impact of urban sprawl upon the Mississippi watershed. Her installation, Samsara, uses a half moon shaped pool of water, a few river boulders and bone white driftwood to further construct a reverential space for the outdoors within the urban gallery.

In A Ripple of Resources, Ron Fondaw addresses the increasing rate and resulting devastation of wild fires in Oregon, Colorado and New Mexico. His floor installation uses tree slivers – some burnt to blackness – to form concentric circles, themselves like rings of a tree.

Fondaw’s Human Count reports on the rate of catastrophic earthquakes and rising populations within earthquake-prone regions. Ceramic layers form an earthen crust over a glass box as a visual metaphor. His 40 Miles Per Year installation uses 20 old-school globes, arranged in a 5x4 grid on the floor below. Above each globe a metal, pointed weight (called a plumb bob) hangs from a red thread, directing our attention to the shifting magnetic north pole.

The experience Fondaw offers with his giant black box, Bias of Perception, should rouse anyone now reading. This Ka’ba like structure contains indescribable marvels. To glimpse what is in the box, the viewer must step on, and by necessity break, ceramic shards. Only through stooping and looking through small peepholes can one see the alternate dimension captured within.

Interested? Come hear the artists and curator Joan Hall discuss the exhibit tonight, Thursday, April 4. A reception begins at 5:30, the gallery talk starts at 6 p.m.

Review: Powerful photos, historical lesson

In Visual Arts

12:05 am on Wed, 03.27.13

If you've recently found yourself lost in the St. Louis Art Museum, you are forgiven. So much has changed in the old Cass Gilbert building that almost all once familiar galleries are now full of surprises, with the airing of paintings, sculptures, installations and decorative arts that were hiding in storage.

While many of the new gallery installations are likely to stay somewhat constant – with occasional outside lending, rotation or removal for preservation sake – others are only temporarily installed. The Edward Curtis: Visions of Native America special exhibit in the small hallway space of Gallery 321 is worth catching while on view. This display of 11 photogravure prints is drawn from the many hundreds of Curtis prints in the museum collection.


A Medicine Head-dress – Blackfoot, 1926. Edward S. Curtis, American, 1868-1952. Image: 15 3/8x11 3/8. Gift of Stephen Bunyard

Curator Eric Lutz presents gallery text that provides entry into the complex relationship between Curtis and his Native American subjects. The gallery text reveals a tension between Curtis’ stated intent of documenting the history of 80 tribes west of the Mississippi from the Mexican border to northern Alaska and his commercial interest in constructing a record of Western expansion.

Curtis’ pictorialist style was and is aesthetically pleasing. His photography shows him to have been a masterful storyteller.

But Curtis dressed his subjects in inaccurate traditional costume (see: A Medicine Head-dress – Blackfoot) to create an ethnographic simulation of intact Native American peoples (Acoma Water Girls). By the time Curtis found support by Theodore Roosevelt and Pierpont Morgan for his “salvage ethnology,” the posed images he’d fabricated were already nostalgic tropes. Curtis did not, however, wish to change the fate of his subjects, the “disappearing race.” He wrote, “Civilization, with its tremendous force and its insatiable desire to possess all, must necessarily crush the weaker life of primitive man.“

In, Ready for the Charge – Apsaroke, a man on horseback wears a feathered headdress, holds a bow and arrow at the ready. The scene contrasts with the reservation reality of the model photographed. Because he positioned his work as field research, Curtis’ depictions carried influential authority. Curtis used photography to make the subjective appear objective. Examining his images with a critical eye is good practice for developing media savvy. The exercise also serves to incite anticipation for the August arrival of the International Photography Hall of Fame Museum to St. Louis (link to Beacon preview).

The basics

Where: St. Louis Art Museum, Forest Park, 63104

When: through June 14, Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Cost: Free

Review: Art lighter than air at White Flag

In Visual Arts

6:53 am on Mon, 03.25.13

The Tony Matelli exhibit that opened recently at the White Flag Projects gallery is undeniably fun.

The installation is very unfussy. There are only five objects. But all are perpetually active, so giving them space seems advisable.


Walk in and you face a long black (painted bronze) rope that dances up into the air like a charmed snake. The black rope, Untitled, is forever moving upward, as doesJoshJosh is a convincingly life-like sculpted figure formed from silicone, foam and steel. His face is flushed from the blood that rushes to his head as he levitates, feet toward the ceiling. Like the rising rope, he is a perfectly impossible figure.

The other two installations in the main gallery space are a glass of water upon what appears to be a cardboard box, Glass of Water, and a mirror mottled with purple mist and dust, Hand Drag. The cardboard box should show the weight of the glass, but gravitational force is conspicuously missing and the box holds firm. The mirror reflects your perplexed face as you ponder. Curiouser and curiouser.

Around the corner, presented on a table with small tin boxes (what is in them?), burn hundred dollar bills. The American money burns only at the corner. The flame, and the threat, is constant. Lying next to the burning money are bills that await destruction. When shown in Europe, the burning currency was, of course, Euros. The title of the piece, Fuck It, Free Yourself, defines this state of constant threat as an act of release. A likely desire to blow out the flame and pocket the Benjamins gets the viewer involved again.

Matelli uses real objects (a mirror, a water glass) and representations of real objects (sculpted currency, sculpted man, sculpted cardboard box) and employs them for the purpose of illusion. He turns your world upside down and then has you peer into the smudgy mirror.

Matelli’s repurposed objects create lived moments of bewilderment. He tangles art and magic to perplex. Matelli’s five philosophical objects will put you into an Alice in Wonderland state of mind. Just try not to smile.

The basics

Where: 4568 Manchester, 63113

When: closing April 27

Gallery Hours: Tues-Sat 12-5pm

Cost: Free


Review: Sheldon show features early works of Edward Boccia

In Visual Arts

12:21 am on Fri, 03.15.13

If you visited the Saint Louis University Museum of Art and caught the Edward Boccia exhibition before it came down on March 3, you owe it to yourself to stop by the Sheldon to view the artist’s earlier works found there. If you did not have a chance to see Boccia’s powerful, overflowing triptychs and large-scale paintings when they were at SLUMA, you have even more reason to take advantage of this second opportunity to explore the artist’s work.

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Edward Boccia, Girl with Cap, 1945, oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches, courtesy of the Estate of Edward Boccia.

The basics

Where: The Sheldon, Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery, 3648 Washington Blvd.

When: Open through May 18

Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tuesdays, noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays

Cost: Free

SLUMA’s Boccia exhibit revealed the figurative expressionist work that the artist became known for in his later career. The 40 drawings and paintings at the Sheldon build toward that eventual end, but focus on a different side of the artist.

Boccia’s drawings come from the period in 1945 during which he was in Europe, serving in the US military in the final months of WW II. Boccia’s handwritten titles are scrawled on the corners of these ink drawings, French TreesGerman RootsFrenchman with Pipe,French WomanA Small Cognac. It is easy to imagine the young Boccia finding a natural refuge from the dangerous work he had been assigned by seeking out life and following his curiosity. His empathetic nature is apparent in the curled lines that bring emotive intensity to his subject’s eyes and the tenderness of his treatment of them.

That he modeled his work after Max Beckmann is clear to anyone who has seen the work of both artists. The SLUMA show paid homage to the psychic tie that binds the two artists’ work by exhibiting the easel that Boccia inherited from Beckmann when he joined the faculty at Washington University not long after Beckmann left. Themes that Boccia would continue to develop throughout his later career appear in these early works. Beckmann’s enigmatic fish makes an appearance in an abstracted portrait from 1961. The allegorical references that follow Boccia’s move to St. Louis are a direct link to that relationship and to the artist’s lifelong exploration of biblical and mythological themes.

The Sheldon exhibit couples Boccia’s art with his later poetry. These word and image pairings portray an energetic engagement with life. His clear, direct verse adds further dimension to the collection. His paintings Battle andCapture, which are abstracted into geometrical forms that are informed by cubism, require interpretation. These images are vivid and heavily laden with hidden meaning. The adjacent poem, Artist at Work, begins with a clear and humorous description of a drawing as a battleground:

I have just drawn

One long line down the page.

To divide is to conquer.

Now I’m drawing a big circle.

I have ambushed the enemy.

I cut off his supplies

With my eraser…

Such playful articulation of his fluid intellectual process explains the depth of influences Boccia mined. Like the drawings from his youth, Boccia’s poetry provides an intimate connection to the artist. In combination with SLUMA’s retrospective iteration, Boccia’s drawings, paintings, poetry and life narrative tell a rich American story of the human drive for internal exploration and articulation of what is found within.

Review: V-3 Gallery brims with life

In Visual Arts

3:55 am on Tue, 03.12.13

Brandon Barnes only opened Cherokee’s newest dedicated gallery space, V-3, last December and already the small space is brimming with life. The collaborative work of artists Sam Davis and Kate King make up the current His/Her’s exhibit.

The basics

Where: 2710 Cherokee St., 63118

When:  through March 25

Open: by appointment only, For appointments, email:

Cost: Free

The sculptural artwork on display is created through lifecasting. The technique results in three-dimensional copies of the subjects’ heads and sometimes hands. Lifecasts are remarkably realistic due to the high level of textural detail that is captured. Fine wrinkles and pores bring the sculpture such a lifelike quality that the eyes appear ready to blink.

The models’ expressions caught in theHis/Her’s sculptures are compelling. The models have posed with their facial muscles engaged and the frozen faces that result are wonderfully dramatic.

Davis and King have given their sculptures earthen color washes that add to their powerful conveyance of life. The figures look like mud and dirt people who have broken away from their maker’s clay. The hair of several is formed from grass, moss and shrub, adding further suggestion of a new plant-man life form, each viewed while deep in a forested slumber.

The process of lifecasting is, arguably, akin to photography as it requires technical understanding and practice for good results. The combination in this show by Davis and King of manipulated photographs and creatively executed sculptural work creates a link between the conceptual and technical aspects of both art forms.

Sam Davis and Kate King co-curated the POP UP project in 2012, organizing art exhibits in unoccupied spaces around St. Louis. They, and their gallery host, Brandon Barnes, are part of the larger movement of St. Louis artists that keeps coming up with novel ideas for bringing us fresh art experiences that awaken and invigorate.

Preview: What do we want? Spring!

In Visual Arts

5:37 am on Fri, 03.08.13

When do we want it? Now!


The birds are on their way. The daffodils and hyacinths are waiting just below the slush. But spring is apt to take you unawares. At the Tavern of Fine Arts Spring Art Opening Celebration,spring is happening right now.

It has been conjured from the cold and awaits art enthusiasts to make its glowing appearance. If you flee the March drizzle and snow for the Tavern’s March 8 reception for artists Terry Corcoran, Tom Hunt and Terri Shay, you will find nothing less than l’esprit du printemps.

The basics

Where: Tavern of Fine Arts: 313 Belt Ave, 63112

When: Opening March 8 (6 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.) Exhibit up through May 1

Normal Hours – Monday through Thursday (5 p.m.-11 p.m.) Friday (5 p.m.-12:30 a.m.) Saturday (11 a.m.-12:30 a.m.)

Cost: Free

Corcoran designed the installation of his mixed media work so that his brilliantly colored compositions on board emerge from the walls, glowing and glimmering. Corcoran is a St. Louisan who grew up in Dublin where he worked with stained glass. Corcoran’s mid-sized artworks draw light through gem-colored surface, like sunrays through colored glass. His work is titled Lacuna/Equipoise.

Pieces by Terri Shay and Tom Hunt line the walls of the larger gallery space, “the salon.” Shay’s work is precise but playful: Detailed drawings and mixed-media compositions made small by the grand size of Hunt’s giant canvas paintings. The interspersion of large canvas after small presents an interdependent variety further emphasized by Shay’s precise, tight lines and Hunt’s expressionist paint application. Shay’s tendriled line-drawings evoke images of a focused artist while the textural materiality of Hunt’s work seem to require an athletic approach.

Often gallery viewing is a singular activity. Good conversation and complimentary treats are expected parts of the gallery opening experience, but the enterprise rarely comes with as many extra enjoyments as a viewing at the Tavern of Fine Arts. The Tavern integrates art into a full sensory theatre of synesthesia.

The visual menu changes completely with the addition of live music. In the early days of Modernism, interaction between art and music gave considerable impetus to the development of new art forms - think of the German artist group der blaue Reiter who experimented with combinations of painters, composers, theater and dance. At the Tavern of Fine Arts, the music played is likely to change your experience of the artwork on the walls. (Article continues below Hunt's painting.)

As I viewed Tom Hunt’s paintings, pianist Marco Nuevo Valenti played Chopin’s Nocturne #20 c sharp minor, making the landscape break up into tree couples. Valenti works for a local airline and plays for audiences at the Tavern during his evenings in St. Louis, another chance arrangement that brings unexpected magic.

The Tavern salon doubles as a classroom on occasion, as it did the night I came for a sneak peak at the Spring Art Celebration. On the first Wednesday of every month, the St. Louis Drawing and Painting Group meets at the Tavern to sketch a live model. The model, wearing an orange sundress and floppy sand-colored sunhat, seemed to be gazing on a spot of the sunburned grass in Hunt’s large-scale painting of lush green trees and soft afternoon shadows, placing her in a season better fitted to her strappy costume.

Hunt’s paintings center around the Meramec River Bottom, broad waves of paint form abstracted meadow and sky, fairly called sublime. Hunt paints his landscapes in plein air tradition and refers to his truck as his easel. His work is large enough in scale and ambition to feel encompassing, even transporting.

Review: Visual effects at Bruno David - delight for eyes and mind

In Visual Arts

12:10 am on Mon, 02.18.13

Kelley Johnson’s corpus of New Paintings at Bruno David Gallery in the Grand Center arts district will make you look twice. But if you do not spend some time up close, examining what you see, you will not actually see what is there.

Memory of Hair Metal

In places the canvas appears to ripple. There are tears, gashes, bulges and depressions; all completely convincing when seen from a few feet of distance. To find the underlying processes is to uncover a portmanteau of precisely constructed visual effects.

Johnson’s work could be placed in the category of Op art in that he uses flat surfaces to produce strong optical effects when the spectator changes viewing positions. His work could also be calledLumia or kenetic art, in which motion and changes in color occur over time.

Johnson’s experimental techniques allow for alternating reads of the same image.Memory of Hair Metal appears to allow entry to another dimension that radiates patterns of bright colored light. As in many of Johnson’s paintings, the eye is convinced that tape is part of the work, rendering it a mixed media production. But the illusion of asymmetrically applied tape is an artistic trick and comes from an arrangement of overlapping that create foreground, middle ground, background on a minimalist, abstracted - but entirely acrylic paint - surface.

The paintings play on psychophysical perceptions of hue, saturation and brightness, as well as our interpretation of gloss and texture. Light appears to emerge from beneath the surface. Dark shadows and contrasts between distinct, flat strips over hazy pigments create great internal spaces.

The deceptive impressions that can be attained with direct lighting are shown to great effect in the bright white light of the Bruno David gallery rooms. From an aesthetic point of view, Johnson’s paintings are pleasing as well. The possibility for discovery and exploration abounds in this work, but time is of the essence as the exhibit closes in less than a week.

The basics

Where: 3721 Washington, 64108

When: closing Feb. 23, 2013

Gallery hours: Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Review: Let them eat cupcakes at Duane Reed

In Visual Arts

1:43 am on Fri, 02.08.13

The Misty Gamble exhibit, Abject Reverie, up now at the Duane Reed Gallery, is a treat for the eyes. The storefront installation whets the appetite with individual ceramic cupcakes, titledSucculence, hanging above and around a fete of ceramic strangeness, titled Indulgence.


And indulgent this work is. Gamble toys with her ceramic goodies, using the cupcakes and their bakery boxes to construct the splayed out bottom half of the female sculpted figure, a figure that is, in its extravagant design and scale, a confectionary wonder.

Adding to the delight, spots of shadow dance on the white gallery wall behind these many hanging inedible delectables. The exhibit is adeptly arranged to tempt and then further tempt the gallery visitor as an evolutionary process seems to occur, formed by a series of toothsome ceramic busts adorned with candy coils of hair piled high with baked goods. Ribbons of hair merge into decorative foodstuff until the figural busts are abstracted by design.

Gamble lines her sculpture display columns with French decorative wall papers that give her artworks the look of a tissue-wrapped gift from Paris’s Palais Royal.

Cupcakes are more ganache lumps than hair ornament in Delectable.Luminosity flips this as the torso of and head of this figure look like ribbon candy, rather than the display pedestal and the separation between frosting and face are lost.

A wall lined with ceramic panties, these are not underwear, is on display at the far end of the main gallery. Seemingly shrugged off lingerie are hung in a pretty pattern of pastel. From the candied women to their rhinestone-studded underthings, the delicious looking artwork is ripe for discussions of light and heavy gender issues.

The basics

Where: 4729 McPherson Ave., 63108

When: closing March 9

Gallery Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10-5 p.m. and by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: Multiple interpretations in McGrath's 'Dark Star'

In Visual Arts

7:51 am on Mon, 02.04.13

The hoodie makes repeated appearances in Daniel McGrath’s new exhibit, Dark Star, at the Good Citizen Gallery. McGrath connects this ubiquitous apparel staple with the assumption of criminal intent that many associate with a look that is appealing for comfort and low-key style.

McGrath’s masterful use of very disparate forms of artistic expression allows room for multiple interpretations of each individual artwork. Yet, the combined effect of his drawings, sculptures and mixed media works communicates a coherent message.

His LED sign, Cell Phone and accompanying clay cell phone announce this exhibit as a “meta” exploration of an idea. With references to riots in London, Paris and around the world, McGrath points toward the power this still very new, yet commonplace, tool brings to the individual in society. Many can organize as one with this tool. Then, again, to text or play games or check twitter feed in a crowd is to exit the larger environment

McGrath intends his two life-size sculptural forms dressed in identity-covering clothes to illicit associations of iconic street style. Entering the gallery, these figures could be mistaken as living, though the impression dissolves at sight of the metal pole supporting the less-realistically posed body.

The hoodie connotes anonymity and outsider status as well as casual chic – think of Treyvon Martin and the public discourse about the multiple interpretations of this clothing item that came out of his tragic death.

McGrath’s large mural installation,CCTV – 2012, is many things. It is a compelling scene - the frame is filled by hooded figures, in light and in shadow. It is also a powerful exercise in color – bright, saturated colors form a tessellating geometric pattern.

Like Georges Seurat’s popularly familiar pointillism technique, McGrath’s acrylic diamonds work through contrasts in color. The colors are sharp, but the pixelating effect of the assemblage of sharp geometric shapes obscures the scene. What is visible from a distance is difficult to see up close. When viewed in person, these systematically arranged components create an illusion of movement, so each of the figures appears engaged in activity. The affect is compelling.

Is the exhibit title taken from the eponymous 1974 B movie described by its director, John Carpenter, as Waiting for Godot in space? Or for the (again, matching title) Ray Bradbury story that sparked at least part of that strange movie script? Or perhaps for Dark Star Orchestra, theGrateful Dead tribute band, that plays at the pageant on Feb. 7? None of these seems likely, but like McGrath’s artwork, the title evokes multiple associations, each independently interesting.

The basics

Where: 2247 Gravois Ave, St. Louis 63104

When: closing Feb. 16

Gallery Hours: Friday and Saturday noon-5 and by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: Private and public reversed in Rachel Heim's quilted art

In Visual Arts

7:22 am on Thu, 01.31.13

Rachel Heim’s art quilt exhibit, Odyssey, showing now at Gallery Visio of the University of Missouri-St. Louis  reaches back through an American tradition of visual expression to make her very personal mark on the collective fiber art movement.

Top: Ripples; Below: Rachel
Photos provided
Top: Ripples; Below: Rachel

The word quilt often brings to mind colonial bed coverings that humbly display fine needlework. The quilting tradition also includes American 18th century broderie perse work created by appliqué of cut out motifs from printed chintz fabrics imported from India.

Until Jonathan Holstein and Gale van der Hoof organized the 1971 Whitney Museum exhibition,Abstract Design in American Quilts, the art form was largely relegated to places of honor in private homes, passed on as precious heirlooms.

As early as 1933, however, the Sears National Quilt Contest challenged quilters to make modern quilts featuring the Chicago World’s Fair theme, The Century of Progress,  and offered prize money that suggested a value beyond that normally attributed to “women’s work.”

Though Heim’s quilts are of a different sort than the bed-sized blankets celebrated at the Whitney 42 years ago and inspired by the 1933 Sears contest, her single panel ensembles are a result of this rich cultural inheritance.

There is an inverse relationship between quilts of yore and those of Rachel Heim. Heim describes her work as autobiographical. She is a classically educated artist who uses fabric appliqué to create individual portraits and scenes that form a private narrative and are then shown in public galleries, here backed by the authoritative nod of academia. Heim’s quilts embrace centuries of domestic work and push the medium into the public sphere, breaking or ignoring rules of template, pattern, piecing and stitching.

Heim’s fabric portraits are intense. Growth Ripples depicts a man’s expressive face, fragmented in a sea of blue. Mania II draws the viewer’s eye directly to those of the subject.

While working to express her own life experience, Heim is not alone in her vision and realization of the quilting process. St. Louis artist Edna Patterson-Petty’s quilts (reviewed here) appear to come from a similar technical conception, with subjects also taken from the artist’s experience. Both Patterson-Petty and Heim also seem to draw from some of the same fabric sources, particularly in their shared reliance upon African prints in piecework.

The basics

Where: 1 University Drive at Natural Bridge Road

When: through Feb. 27

Gallery Hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. and by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: Burton's work at Slein envelop the viewer

In Visual Arts

7:49 am on Tue, 01.29.13

To enter the beloved Nymphéas rooms at the Musée de l’Orangerie is to sit smack in the center of Monet’s water-lily strewn pond at Giverny. The experience is abruptly transporting, as intended by the artist. Visitors to the St. Louis Art Museum notice this powerful effect when they view the single Water Lilies panel in SLAM’s gallery 218.

Top: Parallels. Below: Horizontal Window Wall.
Top: Parallels, oil on linen, 72"x86". Below: Horizontal Window Wall, oil on canvas, 84"x72".

Richmond Burton’s 11 abstract patterned paintings on exhibit at the Philip Slein Gallery envelop the viewer in a similarly forceful manner. Burton’s paintings cover the canvas and surround the viewer while suggesting a domestic interior, a room covered by wallpaper or a private alcove or recess.

The silver base of Burton’s paintings provides architectural support. The trapezoidal shape of this platform signals a depth in physical space so that if you had entered a room, with this silver floor before you, vertical patterning would surround your view.

The upward pull of columns formed by triangles counter a movement inward toward the wall and away from the viewer created by internal spaces marked by alternating colors. The black triangular centers of Horizon Window Wall make a pulse. While the silver vertical lines that cut through Parallels (also the title given to the exhibit) create the curves of a curtain.

Contrasting colors are well tuned against one another. The paint’s response to the linen canvas creates a mottled texture furthering the effect of a wall surface.

If these large-scale paintings were not separated by the white of the gallery walls the effect might be overwhelming. As separate experiences within the expansive stretch of the Philip Slein Gallery, each painting provides an enjoyable entrée into an effectively developed space.

The basics

Where: 4735 McPherson, Ave., 63108

When: through March 2

Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. or by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: White Flag goes beyond 'Nothing'

In Visual Arts

12:13 am on Fri, 01.25.13

Curators arranging artworks in an exhibition space consider the ways art objects converse with one another: a sculpture of an axe leaning against an apple tree shifts its meaning when displayed in proximity to George Washington’s portrait.

White Flag Projects director Matthew Strauss uses the reflective properties within the eight artists’ work now on his Grove gallery walls to explain the concept of his new show Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.


The east walls of White Flag are lined with color field canvases. Ryan Sullivan’s coyly titled October 27, 2011- December 27, 2011 and October 15, 2012 – November 25, 2012- explore the materiality of the paint as it dries into cracks and ripples up to build craters that look like the surface of the moon, creating a simultaneously tranquil and eerie effect.

Joshua Smith’s untitled study of red is just that – red. And Markus Amm provides untitled white in two panels.

The west wall offers action, veering toward violence.

Carroll Dunham has been compared to R. Crumb. Duhnam’s Mule leaves less understood than Crumb is known for, but does appear rooted in a similar psychology.


1980s Neo-Geo artist (that’s short for “Neo-Geometric Conceptualism),” Ashley Bickerton is the big, bright splash against which the seven other artists whose work makes up Nothingare, instantly, at play. The Neo-Geo movement, which included Jeff Koons, regarded art from its commodity status. Bickerton’s over-the-top self-promotion is a major part of the product he’s painting.

Bickerton likens his South Pacific subject matter, centered on red light district imagery, to Paul Gauguin’s use of French Polynesian imagery. The focus of his license plate framed, celebrity signed production at White Flag, Red Scooter Nocturne, is Bickerton’s blue muse – a massively obese, but reportedly graceful surfer around whom cling young zombee-like nude women. The materials Bickerton uses are also apt descriptors of the world he depicts: acrylic, digital, plastic, laminated.

The basics

Where: 4568 Manchester, 63113

When: through March 2

Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Review: All That Fort Gondo Allows

In Visual Arts

12:17 am on Thu, 01.24.13

Galen Gondolfi’s Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts -- Cherokee Gallery Ground Zero -- drew a delightfully diverse crowd to Benjamin Edelberg and Brandon Anshultz’s exhibit, All That Heaven Allows. Men in suits less often seen in St. Louis’ southeasterly galleries were observed. Perhaps the creative winds will draw ever-larger crowds in future.

The Fort Gondo exhibit takes its title from the eponymous 1955 Douglas Sirk film in which (Ronald Reagan ex-wife) Jane Wyman plays a wealthy widow who falls for her young gardener, played by Rock Hudson. The gallery guide describes the film as a vividly coded melodrama, which Edelberg and Anschultz then use as interpretive muse.

The suggested art-film pairing offers inspiration for analysis of the artwork now on display and of the relationship between the overt or sometimes subtle, but still relatively accessible, messages within a movie narrative and the often difficult to read messaging of contemporary abstract art.

In contrast to Edelberg and Anschultz’s sculpture and paintings, the complex social commentary within Sirk’s film is rooted in discursive technique that today’s audiences are familiar with and can readily discern. The artistic renderings at Fort Gondo, on the other hand, require a leap into less charted territory. It is in work like this that art becomes the playground for philosophy. The coupling of these two forms of expression (the Hollywood movie; the multimedia art work) allows for a channel to be formed between a story told in a familiar way and one that requires attention because of its unfamiliarity.

Brandon Anschultz’s sculptures take ambiguous forms that could and could not be found in nature. They are constructed from combinations of unexpected materials that do not match  with any previous experience. What is it? In this case can mean: “What is this made of, its material attributes are so strange to me?” “Is this meant to be something I can recognize – animal, vegetable, mineral?” “What does this object mean -to me? -to the artist?”

Mirrors within some of Anschultz’s work create further obfuscation, transmitting reflected realities. The center gallery sculpture, Open Plain, becomes something altogether new when viewed looking down its core into the mirror on the floor below it.

Benjamin Edelberg assembles collage from what appear to be1950s black and white photographs. The themes are heady with emphasis on disjointed cut-out body parts that are made active by the presence of a leg or arm too many or the layering of patterned pieces. As within Sirk’s film, sexuality is present but obscured. While Edelberg’s imagery is not straight-forward, his formal approach is. Though, like Anschultz, Edelberg teases more from his materials than pure function, using “red tea,” a traditional stain, to create a subtle second layering element of his paper transfers.

Though Fort Gondo is open only by appointment outside of opening events, the exhibitn is always open to the public during Fort Gondo’s Poetry Series readings. Nick Demske and Stephanie E. Schlaifer will read selections of their poetry at 7 p.m., Friday Jan. 25.

The basics

Where: 3151Cherokee 63118

When: closing Feb. 23

Gallery Hours: by appointment only

Cost: Free

Review: Atrium shows off new space with 'Latin Beat'

In Visual Arts

12:26 am on Tue, 01.22.13

Atrium Gallery’s new address offers parking in a side lot, all the CWE restaurants and bars and a great deal of wall space.

The first exhibit in the new space is titled, “Latin Beat” in recognition of an origins theme that traces all the 10 featured artists to the Mediterranean area and Central and South America. Outside of this lingual bond, there is no clear connection among the artists or their work, which includes painting, sculpture, photography, prints and mixed media work.

Colombian Ruby Rumié’s 5970 is an installation of 50 small tiles (detail at right) upon which are painted silhouetted figures that seem to appear from and dissolve into a resin fog. Each component is individually interesting. Together the grid of enigmatic shadow people makes up a delightful series that is visually pleasing for its alluring palette and design.

The four works by Chilean Claudio Bravo (who moved to Morocco in 1972 and died there in 2011) provide a hint of the artist’s characteristic hyperrealism. This selection of Bravo’s lithographs is remarkably unremarkable and unlikely to spark the imagination. Perhaps Bravo’s straightforward, but successfully realized, subjects - orchids, geese, horse, curtain - should be appreciated as a foil for artists such as the (in)famous and beloved Damien Hirst who Jonathan Jones of The Guardiancompared to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi for his artistic audacity and delusion. If it is classical skill that the critical world clamors for, Bravo quietly achieves this in his sketches and painting.

Cuban Julio Larraz’s paintings are playfully appealing. His technical ability is obvious but not the main focus of his work. The effect of heavily applied paint in the creation of Cannon Ball Man makes the surface of his monotype look deceptively tactile. This and his silkscreened Corridor -which shows a heavy black steam engine progressing, impossibly, through thick green meadow – hold a through-the-looking-glass quality.

Italian Andrea Vizzini’sInstallation at Galleria Praterinsell is a study of architectural space, a devotional work in reverence to internal geometries and a meta-analysis of the curatorial exercise. Vizzini’s intriguing mixed media work calls for sustained looking that can be met in the smaller room that serves as the new Atrium’s new secondary gallery.

The basics

Where: 4814 Washington Ave., 63108

When: through March 9, 2013

Gallery Hours: Thursday-Saturday 10-5 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday by appointment

Cost: Free

Review: Conceptual Art in a Conceptual Art Space

In Visual Arts

1:38 am on Mon, 01.21.13

Bringing to mind Churchill’s description of the Russian national interest in 1939 as “ a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” (did you know where that was from?), Christopher Chiappa’s 54-minute video Hermit Crab viewed from within the 7’ x 7’ x 9’ Isolation Room/Gallery Kit is a complex experience that raises intriguing questions about the nature of art participation.

Chiappa’s film opens with scenes of the Queens skyline as seen from above his studio. Focus is on a circle penciled on the surface of a wooden board just in front of the camera. Chiappa brings in two shells, grabs his well-used glue gun and begins to adhere the shells together. Then many red-brown legs begin to emerge from the shells. The art materials are alive.

Video still provided

The basics

Where: Isolation Room/Gallery Kit 5723 Dewey Ave., St. Louis, 63116

When: through Feb. 8, By appointment only

Cost: Free

Chiappa places the two, now attached, hermit crabs onto his penciled ring and fumbles for another crab. He attaches this third shell to the first two, making certain the bond is secure and continues, on and on, until he has formed a large undulating wreath of shells. The legs emerge and disappear. The living wreath moves left across the board. The slight scurry of legs and the tapping of the shells punctuate the Queens traffic noise as Chiappa’s creation moves.

Chiappa has gained a reputation for clever, uncomfortable artwork. Discomfort viewing this film would be matched by the space in which it is viewed if the hosts, director Daniel McGrath and curator Dana Turkovic, were not who they are: distinguished experts in their field who enjoy shaping life/art experience.

To visit the Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, art enthusiasts must first unearth bravery and attach that (no glue gun necessary) to their enthusiasm. Turkovic points out that, in general, just entering a gallery – opening the door and walking into the either near-empty rooms or into the cosmopolitan clatter of an opening event – takes a degree of confidence. St. Louis galleries are generally welcoming spaces, none is exclusive. Yet, despite the warm welcome or casual nonchalance of curators and artists, planning the gallery visit and then entering does strike some as daunting.

The Isolation Room’s McGrath and Turkovic address this concern by combining the public art viewing space with their private domestic space. This means, yes, they invite you into their home to step up and into the small, closet-size space that is the Isolation Room.

To do so outside of opening events requires an appointment with the gallery hosts. An easier method of participation is to wait for the opening. The next exhibit is scheduled to run from Feb. 8-March 6 and will feature work by Yamini Nayar.

Review: U City Library offers images as transporting as literature, as elusive as poetry

In Visual Arts

12:06 am on Tue, 01.08.13

The combination show featuring three local photographers and a watercolorist now at the University City Library is titled, Solitude. This title works. No humans (or animals) are depicted in the exhibition. And, therefore, the viewer is, like someone alone on a hike in a forest or meadow, provided a sense of solitude.

The basics

Where: University City Library 2727 Delmar, 63130

When: closing Jan. 30, 2013

Library Hours: Mon-Fri 9-9 p.m.; Sat 9-5 p.m.; Sun 1-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Other titles that could have worked might be: Bilbo Baggins’ Vacation Spots or America: Wild and Wonderful or (taken from a quote in photographer Valerie Snyder’s artist biography) The World, A Seductive Place. Solitude sounds a bit sad, and this exhibit is definitely not sad.

Valerie Snyder’s digital photographs are manipulated to create visions you might have once or twice in a lifetime, when spring brings the richest colors to leaf and branch and only at dawn or dusk when the light is just right and everything looks tingly. HerRedwood Path draws the viewer inward through vibrantly colored woods. The clover and ferns are greener than green. The red earth looks warm.

Snyder heightens the colors so much within her Cypress Reflectionthat the water is illuminated in layers. Thin veils of color exist even in the atmosphere. Her camera captures violet hues in local Table Rock Lake and in spring flowers. Her lupines appear painted. Stillness would make a great setting for a beautiful film. A majestic moss covered rock rises out of silvery water as mist surrounds and makes mystery. It is a portrait of a rock, if that rock were a movie star.

Dan Esarey’s photographs also seem inspired by the movies. His scenes are from Westerns. HisChurch of San José de Graciapresents adobe from an ominous angle that makes the viewer hear a lonely wind and the clap of horses’ hooves on sand and stone.

Esarey was director of operations at St. Louis Art Museum for 30 years before he retired to devote himself to photography. He uses a Silver Halide printing process, providing his prints with a high luster that looks metallic.

In Esarey’s Rosario Strait, a tree limb stands before expansive water and a distant mountain range, bringing to mind classical Japanese painting. Esarey is the only artist in the grouping to show signs of humanity in his work. Many of his photographs bring us an old Wild West like Timothy O’Sullivan saw it, but somehow still here. The subject for his El Paso County ColoradoTool Shed is a real find. The rough wood house looks to be a century old, at least. There’s an old horse-drawn wagon under the lean-to porch, with one wall serving as a place to hang strange, out-dated metal tools (as promised by the title), none of which is easily identifiable as something you’d find in your garage.

Jennifer Meahan’s photographs make nature’s smallest features huge. A twig as subject brings our focus close in her Meditation Series. Blades of grass have zen-like qualities when made big, like trees. Meahan’s natural world is redrawn in new proportions so that the vision offered is that of an inch high being looking up at the bright sky through tufts of wheat. This is the world an ant knows.

Ella Brown’s watercolor paintings are interspersed throughout the gallery space, further blurring the distinction between photographed reality and painted landscape. Brown’s light touch makes nature modest against the work of her companions. She does not work in extremes, but suggests the shape of tree against mountain and sky. Her paintings are as if seen from a far away place where the view is just right.

The gallery space is on the second floor of the library, at the west end, beyond the children’s area. It is, of course, quiet and warm. And, there is abundant reading material available for making the most out of the visit.

Review: Quilts at COCA aren't for keeping warm

In Visual Arts

12:26 am on Wed, 01.02.13

Like the Sheldon Concert Hall, the Center for Creative Arts, offers a dedicated space to the visual arts that is well worth visiting, even without attending a dance, theatrical or musical production. Edna Patterson-Petty’s quilt exhibit, Generating the Future, in the Millstone Gallery at COCA, hangs for another two weeks.

A New Day

These are not quilts as traditionally conceived, made with repeating patterns to cover a bed. The single panel multimedia art works are more akin to a work on canvas. They are meant for display, not for practical use.

The similarity to painted works is cleverly commented upon by the parenthetical title of I Got the Blues (in a Jackson Pollack way). The piece does look very much like a paint-splattered canvas. This only makes apparent, however, the sharp difference between the two media as Patterson-Petty’s splatter drops are meticulously sewn with precise stitches that took great planning.

Many of the quilted panels make a clear statement. They celebrate African-American history and herald jazz and blues musicians. Women and friendship make a strong third theme. Several works at COCA show variations of a motif in which a central female figure is rolled into herself and surrounded by elements of support that cover her like a warm blanket.

Patterson-Petty’s multimedia quilts have attracted national attention. In 2009, her Road to Redemption was shown in the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.’s “Quilts for Obama” exhibit, celebrating the inauguration of the then-new President Obama.

Patterson-Petty is a life-long resident of East St. Louis. She studied at SIU Edwardsville, earning graduate degrees in Fine Art and Art Therapy. The 18 panels at COCA tell not just her life story, but a valuable story of life in our region.

The basics

Where: Center for Creative Arts (COCA) 524 Trinity Ave. St. Louis, 63130 (south of Delmar off the west end of the Loop)

When: Through Jan. 13, 2013 (closed Jan. 1)

Hours: Monday-Wednesday 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.a

Cost: Free

Review: Manhattan S-L-O-Ws down at SLAM

In Visual Arts

12:09 am on Wed, 12.26.12

New York City is at the St. Louis Art Museum. And it is being shown as you’ve never seen it before. Calming and peaceful are descriptions associated more often with rural settings than the city streets of bustling New York. Yet, British born video artist James Nares manages to put viewers into a time-slowing trance through his 61 minute film Street.

Still from Street
Still from "Street"

The basics

Where: St. Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park (Gallery 301, upstairs, East Wing)

When: through Jan. 27, 2013

Normal museum hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fridays 10 a.m.-9 p.m.

Museum holiday hours: Dec. 24 10 a.m.-3 p.m.;  Dec. 25 Closed; Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Jan. 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Cost: Free

The film quality is remarkable. Colors are brighter than real life can muster. The heightening effect of (very) high definition imagery makes the ordinary exquisite. People have luster. Hair and skin tones and textures are made richer, fuller. The film’s high speed powerfully transfers the actions of normal people -- walking, hailing taxis, taking tourist photos, hawking wares -- into amazingly intimate scenes in a long, unwinding diorama.

Slowed down to a prayerful dance of life, children’s movements have magic. Whenever shown, the kids appear to be the only things moving. Why? Because children spring fast and flurrious, clearly working in a different time field than the heavy-footed adults who take an eternity just to shift expressions. A skipping child, when seen at this magical pace, is caught completely above the ground, both feet in air, hovering for a while, in childtime.

Birds are miraculous, too. When everything is slowed, they are still so much faster than all that surrounds them. The wings’ movements become 100 points of action.

Small actions are made momentous – a raised arm, a wave, two hands joining, a laugh – each motion is drawn out and made potently significant.

Nares’ camera follows busy city streets with little break. The film is a constant progression of nearly every sort of person, engaged in just about every mundane street activity. The scene moves on and on from left to right, one close-up view of humanity after another. The uninterrupted viewing is so intense that the few long-reaching city views – down streets toward sky – are a respite for the eye.

The accompanying music perfectly frames the experience, pulling it further outside of normal experience. Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) plays guitar in minor keys, with odd pacing. The sound seems inspired by multicultural roots that mirror the world represented by the New York pedestrians. At times it is, like the images, too much, so that tonal shifts offer release from the tightly wound notes that went on just a bit too long for comfort.

Nares’ video shows on a constant loop in the SLAM media room gallery. Go up the stairs when you enter the building and follow the music. Make yourself comfortable on the couch or the floor and stay for a long slow while. Do stay. There are visual treasures hidden throughout. A mere quick glimpse will not be enough to bring you into the video’s intended meditative trance.

Review: Celebrate the Winter Art Opening at Tavern of Fine Arts

In Visual Arts

7:39 am on Thu, 12.13.12

This coming Friday, Dec. 14, The Tavern of Fine Arts will welcome all comers to their “Winter Art Show Opening Celebration.” The event runs from 6 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. The photographic images, line drawings and mixed media canvases lining the walls are just part of delicacies lying in wait.

By Patrick Nobles

From the moment you walk into The Tavern of Fine Arts your blood pressure is likely to drop a bit. Part of that may be from the calming effect of photos at the entry of clouds lying heavy on mountains and orange clad monks in Tibetan monasteries. This gallery-bar-restaurant also has a warm, mellow feel, exactly as a weekend winter destination should.

The first room is long like a galley, with the bar and kitchen at one end. The wall of photographs comes from St. Louis local Patrick Nobles. Nobles’ easterly travels (over oceans, not the river) are made evident in his direct, sometimes intimate, images.

Many of his photographs are portraits closely shot images of men and women in bright colored fabrics adorned by giant flowers.

A large print of a plaza in Istanbul centers on a food vender protecting his wares from the rain as countless pigeons dance about him on their little red feet that somehow resemble galoshes. Nobles’ photographs suggest that he is often a fast-friend, made welcome wherever he goes, even among pigeons.

By Galina Todorova

The wall opposite is reserved for the drawings of Bulgarian artist, Galina Todorova. These works could be confused as the product of many due to the variety of Todorova’s subjects and idiosyncratic technique. Their relatively smaller scale requires close attention, which can easily be achieved by sitting down at one of the café tables.

Art enthusiasts need not rotate through a room to see everything, but can linger with an evocative image while sipping hot chocolate spiked with espresso or laced with liqueur.

The back room is referred to as The Salon. This suits its purpose as a place for spoken-word and musical performance as well as for displaying visual art. The large, demanding canvases on the salon room walls come from recently deceased St. Louis artist Robert Lombardo.

By Lombardo

Lombardo’s creations are not so much painted as constructed by applying paint and other elements to canvas. Some include lettering, the letters often join to form worded messages, like “NO TIME,” which Lombardo has stamped into an endless pattern over a white painted surface to create a black barbed wire fence out of repeated block letters. “No Time” and his “What Everybody Wants and Nobody Needs” series are dryly humorous instruction. Lombardo’s other, larger works appear as camouflaged landscapes. Without too much imagination one can see a cold winterscape hanging beside a summer field. Each canvas is a discrete environment.

The Tavern salon is luxurious but not formal, like a Roman dining room in which everyone reclines on eating couches and philosophizes. By 5 p.m., opening time, the atmosphere is already inviting. The lights are soft and low and your host knows music.

Photography, drawing and paint on canvas are but a fraction of the tableau The Tavern will offer at Friday’s “Winter Art Opening Event.” Pete Lombardo, son of Robert, will provide jazz along with his quartet. Anyone outside The Tavern’s windows looking in will see what looks like a raucous private party full of friends whose cheeks are red from the well-chosen house wines.

And though the culinary arts are not my beat, it is not possible to keep from remarking upon the many greatly underpriced epicurean delights prepared (well) with classic top-shelf ingredients. Vegetarians and connoisseurs of fine cheeses be warned, you’ve been planned for, too, and decadence awaits.

The basics

Where: Tavern of Fine Arts: 313 Belt Ave. 63112

When: 6 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Dec. 14 (Art will be on display through the end of February.)

Regular hours: Monday through Thursday (5 p.m. – 11 p.m.) Friday (5 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.) Saturday (11 a.m. -12:30 a.m.)

Cost: Free

Review: Bruno David fails to control artists -- and that's good

In Visual Arts

8:05 am on Tue, 12.11.12

The Bruno David Gallery announced that the artists exhibiting their work in Blue – White – Redwould be restrained by the limited palette. It also asked the artists to stay away from the political pairings these colors connote, undoing that association so that they could get to the “very essence of the three colors.”

Artists often do not do what they are told. If the current exhibit can be used as evidence for an artist’s disposition, they appear to comply only contrary-wise.

Joan Hall
Joan Hall

The main gallery image shown prominently on the gallery website shows the obedient artists. Joan Hall’s work fits the theme. Her sea-blue paper formed with help from the ocean itself lays beneath a rope with a sailor’s knot inJohnson’s Bayou; her White Netlooks as if it just gathered the shells from a dream you once had. Once you’ve seen a Joan Hall you will always know (and enjoy) her work.

Wend your way through the three gallery rooms; and it becomes clear that red is also pink and orange, add blue and you have purple until color is made free and the artists have taken over the spectrum of what is usually available. As artists are often at their best when they transgress, we might assume that Bruno David intended his chromatic-censure as an artful muse. Whatever the intent, the theme brings us more works from many artists we often see in this space.

White is at least that basis for Olynk.
White is at least that basis for Olynyk.

Among the decidedly disobedient, Patricia Olynyk gives us light boxes that are frightfully, but delightfully, irreverent. Titled, The Cold Open, these two objets d’artdisplay anatomy textbook illustrations: one of a man, one of a woman. The figures shown gaze directly at the onlooker as their bodies are opened for the sake of the lesson, a lesson that apparently takes place as birds look on and flowers entangle their body parts.

It is likely that many Bruno David Gallery visitors miss the New Media Corner. A black tunnel leads to a TV monitor offering a video contemplation. This time two US flags billow (no politics Bruno David?) as their colors shift and suggest, possibly, a rainbow nation? A fitting image, for if these incorrigible artists have their way, a rainbow nation we will surely be.

The basics

Where: 3721 Washington Blvd. 63108

When: Open through Jan. 19

Hours: Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Review: Small gallery holds vast universe

In Visual Arts

7:50 am on Mon, 12.10.12

The Good Citizen Gallery is a modest art venue that is worth finding. It is just east of Jefferson on Gravios, close enough to the South Grand, Lafayette Square, Benton Park, Soulard and Cherokee neighborhoods to be a good follow-up destination after a dinner out or pre-event before drink and dance.

The basics

Where: Good Citizen Gallery: 2247 Gravois, St. Louis 63104

When: Open through Dec. 29

Hours: Friday, Saturday (Noon-5 p.m.) and by appointment

Cost: Free

Heather Patterson’s current exhibit, Deconstruct, is less modest and makes the storefront gallery even more worth finding. Of course the billboard above the gallery adorned with a huge print of Patterson’s Through should make it easier to find.

Nothing is overtly representational in Patterson’s work unless you count the flora that finds its way onto some of her mixed media panels. I find geometry, biology and physics in her work. And titles such as Pixel, Bio, Flo and Angle Graph suggest I’m not too far off in my appreciation from the artist’s intention.

Earthy masses, clouds and mist connote landscape but dissolve into fields of floral pattern or waves of single cell organisms with traffic lines crossing over it all, drawing the viewer into a vortex. Patterson’s cosmologies occur in a universe in which the life is not pulled toward any planet by gravity. If Patterson’s art works were Star Trek special effects, you’d be entering a wormhole-like structure in which a species much more complex than ours dwells, using senses our bodies don’t hold.

Patterson gives into beauty completely. The contrasts within her work are delightful: line against curve; sloppy, shiny, luscious sculpted lumps of paint on matte geometric shapes. These contrasts and the use of interrupted patterns keep the viewer guessing. Images come in complex configurations of colors you never thought could create such peaceful cohesion. The compositions work much like a musical number that switches chords and stays away from hooks. Your mind cannot create a whole from the pieces, leaving room for the viewer to sit with the work.

Review: MOCRA goes there ... again

In Visual Arts

6:10 am on Mon, 11.19.12

The Museum of Contemporary Religious Art of Saint Louis University is notably fearless. Is a Catholic university in a Midwestern state allowed to host the work of an artist whose canvases are gashed, torn and made bloody from emotional traumas visibly rooted in the Church? Apparently, yes. This show’s organizers argue that art and faith follow a shared purpose of radical transformation that is not meant to be entertaining, but is serious and disconcerting. So, such internal confrontation may be necessary.

A panel discussion earlier this month organized by MOCRA director Father Terry Dempsey really put Patrick Graham - Thirty Years: The Silence Becomes the Painting in context. Jack Rutberg, Graham’s friend and gallery representative, presented the artist’s life as a young man in Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland.

Rutberg reports that, as a child prodigy in the acutely restrictive culture of the Irish Midlands, Graham’s chalk portrait of Pope Pious XII brought the neighbors round to his house, complaining to his mother of his sacrilege. Rutberg quotes Graham as saying, “I started in controversy.”

Graham’s struggles to express his talents continued. When home from the National College of Art in Dublin, Graham’s mother burned his sketches of classical nude figures drawn from marble statues. Darker days followed. Graham had trouble with alcohol, sending his life into tailspin.

Cold and Fatal Heroes
Patrick Graham, Cold and Fatal Heroes, 1988, Mixed media on board, 32 x 44 in © Courtesy of the artist & Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA)

Peter Selz, University of California Berkley art historian and curator of the Graham exhibit, finds in the artist’s work a poignant intensity that one rarely sees, “forcing the viewer to look beyond surface reality to see the dark spaces lurking below.” Selz finds that Graham deals not only with loss, but also with redemption and transcendence. Graham brings his son, Robin, into his work in moving ways. Cold and Fatal Heroes is a father’s version of Madonna and the infant Jesus.

Along with references to personal histories, allusions to religion thread through most, if not all, of the work. These take the shape of haloed figures and an intricately formed vagina that resembles a crucifix.

The panel speakers describe Graham as both reviled and beloved in his native Ireland. There, until the last decades of the 20th century, all panelists emphasized heavily, literary freedom far exceeded the possibility of visual expression. SLU professor of Irish Studies and the Literature of the American South, Ellen Crowell links Graham’s work to William Butler Yeats and gives a convincing case for their common bonds. Crowell points to text, tokens and signs in Graham’s cognitive topographies as symbolist mechanisms paralleling signature properties of Yeats’ poetry.

 (Courtesy: Jack Rutberg Fine Arts) Work By: Patrick Graham1998-99 Oil and mixed media on canvas diptych 72 x 132 in. Dead Swan / Captain's Hill
Dead Swan / Captain's Hill  Work by Patrick Graham1998-99. Oil and mixed media on canvas diptych 72 x 132 in. Courtesy Jack Rutberg Fine Arts

Formally, Graham’s work has been likened to that of Jackson Pollock and Anselm Kiefer. The Kiefer comparison seems apt, not only formally, but in terms of emotional intensity. Graham may begin with a single canvas, but his creations become sculptural as he builds out, using thickly tactile elements, sometimes sewn on. Like Kiefer, Graham’s work addresses taboo as it comments on spiritual and psychic pain.

Kenneth Baker, chief art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle offered encouragement to those at the panel discussion to accept the invitation to view Graham’s intimately painful and painfully intimate paintings. “You may experience some resistance to this work,” warns Baker. “We spend much of our lives swallowing fear. Permission to experience fear is provided through Graham’s art.”

After these dark, foreboding warnings, the work itself might appear buoyant in places, as inDead Swan, Captain’s Hill, that is fun in the way that Bellefontaine Cemetery is the perfect place for a picnic.

The basics

Where: Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) 3700 West Pine Blvd

When: Through Dec. 16

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Cost: Free, 314-977-7170

Review: Mad about 'Famous Fiction: Places and Things'

In Visual Arts

3:58 am on Fri, 11.16.12

The Mad Art Gallery is calling you. Why? Because it is, by its very nature, one of the coolest places around. Housed in a 1930s Art Deco police station, positioned just north of the historic Anheuser-Busch brewery in Soulard, the gallery is better designed than any set for theater or film noir.

Most Mad Art visitors go to an exhibit’s opening event, which tend to be happenings of the first order. The opening event for the sixth(!) installment of the annualFamous Fiction art show was a typically heady affair.

Peter Pranschke’s brilliantBullwinkle the Moose and Rocky the Flying Squirrel is assembled from found plastic bottles and wooden dowel rods. And “Holy Smoke! Bullwinkle!” those two Cold War comedians are perfectly, uncannily recognizable.

Among the seriously unserious artwork is Chris Roettger’s fictional map of the land in the 1987 film, The Princess BrideAs you wish” is embroidered across the snow, sand and water between the lands of Florin and Guilder, just as every fan of the movie would wish it.

The Famous Fictional Prosthetics by Matt Ready are delightfully clever with the visor of Geordi Lafarge from Star Trek, Next Generation plus devices identified as having once belonged toBaron ÜnderbheitDr. Klawn and Edward Scissorhands. Monica Heitz’s “Beetlejuice scene in a shadow box, The Last Sandworm, is another celebration of 1980s cinema classics that hits its mark.

Anchovy Sciarrino’s TRON series - Pink Light Cycle, Green Light Cycle, Orange Light Cycle - uses neon spray paint to illuminate perfectly banal landscape lithographs that Sciarrino found at thrift stores. Sciarrino’s work, like many of the odd offerings of this marvelous show, reminds us that, at least in our fictional futuristic creations, the future will contain all sorts of things you have forgotten from the past.

Because Mad Art Gallery relies largely on private events, visitors are admitted only by appointment. Don’t let that deter you. This exhibit is just too fun. Get a small group together or just be bold and go it alone, but go! And keep an eye out for the next Mad Art Happening. These are not to be missed.

The basics

Where: Mad Art Gallery: 2727 S. 12th Street 63118

When: Through Dec. 4

Hours: By appointment: Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.  (call before visiting, but visit!)

Cost: Free 314-771-8230

Review: eARThworks, because earth without ART is just eh

In Visual Arts

12:20 am on Thu, 11.15.12

Of the many nonprofit organizations that hold some sort of gala party and auction to raise funds for their good works, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment’s eARThworks exhibit at the Regional Arts Commission is unique in character and offerings. This is not a stuffy affair; and the auction items are worth seeing even if you do not intend to buy.

Dome of the Rock
Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall

Luckily, the opportunity to view the work for free can be part of any trip to the Delmar Loop throughout the remainder of the month.

This year’s eARThworks boasts the work of 60 regional artists. Several names will be familiar. Some that aren’t, should be. The watercolor by the late great Bill Kohn, Dome of the Rock and the Wailing Wall, reveals Kohn’s ability to transport the viewer to places far and local. Vibrant greens, purples and blues bring Kohn’s signature lushness to the canvas.

Hilary Hitchcock’s photographs are just as likely to be splendid regional roadside oddities and fanciful angles of state fairs as her own locally grown produce.

Anna's Radishes
Anna's Radishes

This year she has submitted to eARThworks a delectable portrait of her watermelon radishes,Anna’s Radishes. Her radishes, like her wonderfully strange Midwest photographs, create a nostalgia you don’t expect from a root vegetable.

The local angle is covered with graceful humor by Sheldon Helfman whose Madonna will be a familiar site to anyone who lives in or has ever driven through St. Louis’ South Side. Helfman’s front step tableau shines with brightly lit detail. Cary Horton’s otherworldlyDevotion picks up Helfman’s religious statuary theme, though to a very different effect.

The giclee print of a painting by Nancy Newman Rice, Blue Rockwall, makes intricately patterned layered color out of luminous rock face. The print is an example of Rice’s striking many-planed paintings, a selection of which are showing concurrently just east of RAC at the Duane Reed Gallery in the Central West End (through Dec. 9).

The basics

Where: Regional Arts Commission 6128 Delmar Blvd.

When: Gallery hours - Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Gala Art Party & Auction - Saturday, Dec. 1, 6 p.m.-9p.m.

Cost: $35 a ticket


Review: Artist incubation working at St. Louis Artists' Guild

In Visual Arts

7:39 am on Tue, 11.13.12

The Oak Knoll Park parking lot filled to the last spot on the opening night of the current Louis Artists’ Guild exhibit.

Eugene Ruble
By Eugene Ruble

The event featured Tate Foley and Will Arnold’s dual From Sea to Shining Sea; Denise Schilling’s photographic coming-of-age exploration, On the Cusp; and Eugene Ruble’s crowded curio works, Absolute Abstracts.

Also taking place was an award ceremony for Humenagerie 2012; Containers of Uncertain Ancestry. Entry into this juried exhibit was open to all high school or community college students. The theme of the work is taken from the art historical theme: the Human Menagerie. Teacher/artist Bill Perry curates the show.

The award winning works, as announced by ceramic sculptor Susan Bostwick, are three of many surprising and delightful entries on display (follow contest blog linkto view images of winning and other entries). Alicea Jennings, a freshman at St. Louis Community College Florissant Valley, was a student at Hazelwood Central High School when she created her larger-than-life acrylic on stoneware sculptures. Jennings’ playful Freshly Squeezed shiva green paint tube and stoneware head eating an anatomical heart,Purification, are masterfully lighthearted.

I encourage parents to double a trip to the Oak Knoll Park playground and to the galleries to see Mary Swaine’s (of STLCC, Meramac) wondrous wooden drawers framing tiny porcelain babies and baby heads to awesome eerie effect (Dream Sequence). Another onlooker cried out, “Ewwww … I love it!” as the same visceral repulsion-love for Swaine’s mixed media constructions struck me.

Adjacent to the student work is a gallery space largely dedicated to Tom Dykas’ stoneware used as sculpted canvas. His paint surface is, in most work, what would be the underside of a platter or plate. The disorientation caused by this unorthodox use of ceramic continues in the chimerical surface designs. Dykas’ Diver series look to me like sci-fi flying saucers above haunted landscapes, though my son saw birds, fish and seascape as better suggested in the titles.

The Artists’ Guild has proven to be a place where young, ambitious artists come to be inspired and to inspire.

The basics

Where: Two Oak Knoll Park, Clayton 63105

When: Through Dec. 30

Hours: Noon – 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday

Cost: Free and

Review: Sparkling, dry, with hints of newsprint - Vino serves up Gaucha Berlin and Langley

In Visual Arts

7:02 am on Fri, 11.02.12

Even teetotalers should plan a visit to Vino to see the work hanging on the walls. The married artists known as Gaucha Berlin and Langley, along with their enchanting many-layered mixed media canvases and sculptural work, can usually be found along Cherokee. Their current show at Vino brings some of that good Cherokee Street creative impulse to the comparatively established Central West End art scene.

We The People, Mixed Media, 165 cm x 244cm x 5 cm.
We The People, Mixed Media, 165 cm x 244cm x 5 cm.

This show of intelligently constructed print and paint collage is winsome and wily. The viewer must look long and hard to find all of the hidden storylines embedded in newsprint and, sometimes, shrouded behind surface paint. First glances reveal only the dominant graphic image painted against a patterned comic strip background. Closer inspection reveals loaded statements constructed out of clever picture and word play.

The work builds on a rich history of artists’ use of photo and word montage to create multifaceted visual narratives. It is a bit reminiscent of the technique that was used with great success by artists within the Dada movement.

The largest and arguably most striking work within the group, We the People, depicts playing children and their puppy. Intricate overlays of enigmatic messages make up neat composite pictures, so that from 10 steps back you see a romping scene of childhood. The composition oozes 1950s naivety that the modern viewer is trained to link with political irony. Slightly wilted newspapers are cut strategically so the coat of the faithful puppy reveals a cryptic commentary.

Shot Value, Mixed Media, 107 cm x 61 cm x 20 cm.
Shot Value, Mixed Media, 107 cm x 61 cm x 20 cm.

Cut into the shape of picture elements - dress, shoes, tree branch, leaves - yellowed newspaper advertisements come across as omens and social observation. Doleful words pasted over buoyant 20th century cartoon fantasy combine to provide a form of history covering much of the last century. Nostalgic scenes blend with Cold War themes when the forms are drawn from Mallinckrodt, Standard Oil and promotional military advertisements.

Political assertions born out of combined media will jump out at you. In Open and Shut Case, the artists have taken potent cultural characters, some well known by all ages like Snow White, and dressed them in poignant messages. The amalgam of carefully chosen and missing words spell out subtexts and reshape visual narratives. This is true for the sculptural pieces as well as for the works on canvas.

The artworks are delightful and they are worth seeing more than once. I’d go so far as to say the looking is addictive. Luckily, Vino plans to hold on to them for a while, because like a fine wine, these canvases and sculptures need decanting. Gaucha Berlin and Langley reveal, through their work, a history that requires re-evaluation. And, like a perfectly balanced bottle of Tuscan Bordeaux, our responses to the subjects depicted are likely to continue to mature and develop depth with time.

The basics

WhereThe Vino Gallery
 4701 McPherson

When: Oct. 20-Jan. 5, 2013

Hours: Monday-Wednesday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. | Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. | Closed Sunday

Cost: Free


Review: Well deserved buzz for Juan William Chavez

In Visual Arts

7:30 am on Tue, 10.30.12

Juan William Chávez has done something remarkable at Laumeier Sculpture Park. With his outdoor sculpture and indoor gallery exhibition, Living Proposal Pruitt-Igoe Bee Sanctuary, Chávez has managed to connect north St. Louis to the County, reference our region’s Cahokia ancestors and link us to our French colonial heritage all in one fell swoop.

Photo by Shaun Alvey
"Untitled (sacred real estate)," 2012. 14 lampposts.

The centerpiece of the Laumeier exhibition is a series of fourteen wooden posts that form a 1:1 scale representation of the architectural footprint left by a typical tower block building from the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project. The failed housing development (1954-1976), which was at Cass and Jefferson, is the subject throughout Chávez’s most recent work.

The splintered wooden posts used to create this sculptural installation, Untitled (sacred real estate), come from an Ameren program for the repurposing of old streetlight posts. Laumeier curator Dana Turkovic notes the irony of using the lampposts as a building material for the piece, as the only current tenant on the Pruitt-Igoe site is Ameren.

The installation placement is bold. Turkovic speaks of the interruption in view sacred real estate creates between Alexander Liberman’s massive steel construction, The Way, which has become emblematic of the park, and the main park building. Cahokia Mound enthusiasts may see the Mississippian sun calendar, Woodhenge, reflected in the piece.

The change that Chávez’s outdoor installation brings to the Laumeier landscape is comparable to the change this young recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship is bringing to local conversations about how our city can and should work to address the needs of our abandoned communities.

Provided by Chavez

Inside the Laumeier gallery space, Chávez presents photographs and artifacts that trace his on-going efforts to replace the long-demolished hive-like Pruitt-Igoe with productive and usable green space. While building a bee sanctuary in that now wild lot, Chávez began to see our sharply diminished St. Louis population as analogous to the alarming collapse of the world’s bee colonies.

In Laumeier director Marilu Knode’s introductory remarks regarding the new work by Chávez, she commented on the value of taking the conversation regarding old north St. Louis out to the suburbs. Chávez’s work, both at Laumeier and in Old North St. Louis --where his Northside Workshop functions as an art space dedicated to addressing cultural and community issues in north St. Louis -- does more than just comment on city/suburb truisms. His work takes action.

For more about Chavez and his work, see aPost-Dispatch article by Diane Toroian Keaggy.

Chávez’s efforts to make meaningful, fruitful connections are, while intensely local, also international. Within the Laumeier gallery building Chávez has placed a video of a conversation on beekeeping that he filmed in Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. There, he discovered a beekeeping school that has thrived in the storied Paris park since 1856, three years after that French city began a total make-over known as Haussmann’s renovation.

Chávez’s ability to envision possible futures for St. Louis and the creative energy he devotes toward making it happen allow even a dour St. Louis skeptic (and we have one or two) to see the bees for the trees. 

The basics

Where: Laumeier Sculpture  Park, 12580 Rott Rd., Sunset Hills, 64127

When: Oct. 26-Jan. 20, 2013; Park: 8 a.m. to 30 min. after sunset. Indoor Gallery: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. M-F, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday

Cost: Free

Review: The Luminary offers unique vantage for viewing St. Louis

In Visual Arts

7:36 am on Wed, 10.24.12

Is Cherokee the pounding heart or the soul of St. Louis? Is it the clever, turning mind or the third eye gazing at our arch/navel? However you parse it, Cherokee is a vital part of our city anatomy. 

The art scene on Cherokee is local in the best sort of way. Artists originally from Bosnia, Brazil, Germany, Jefferson County often turn toward their adopted city for inspiration. They are not looking for signs of the 1904 World’s Fair or fabled Gaslight Square. Cherokee people are too absorbed in their own creation stories to look backward. Right now you can see this clearly in the work of Brea and James McAnally.

exhibit card

Note: US English is what Brea and James McAnally call their collaborative artistic endeavors.

The basics

Where: 2644 Cherokee (Brea Photography)

When: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 12-6 and Thursday, 11-6 through Nov. 12, 2012

Cost: Free

How to Build a World That Won’t Fall Apart, part 1 presents a visual manifesto against the demolition of landmark buildings. It is a public declaration born of St. Louis hopes and problems, but the message can travel. A written treatise accompanies, in the form of an exhibit brochure, and those lucky enough to spot them can take home an almost invisible plexiglass calling card inscribed with a karmic message.

Words are often part and parcel with the artwork. Sculptural arrangements --  such as the shiny chrome plated ceremonial shovels lined up before a red line of brick sand -- make good design sense. They are pleasing to the eye. The engraved message upon each shovel is easily missed so that, at first glance, the work, You Cannot Wait for a Tool without Blood on It, appears to be a straightforward display of patterned objects organized as composition. Such subtle clues are like winks and nods. In the words of my 8-year-old son, “These artworks are like brain teasers, everything is smart and strange.” He then smiled with approval to find feathers holding up stone in Strike Work.

The artwork was active throughout the opening night.

While standing before a vinyl #Occupy banner in the storefront window of The Luminary’s temporary space, Brea McAnally broke her frozen pose to explain to my son the process she used to create the cement galoshes she was standing in for art’s sake. This husband and wife team got a real workout as the evening went on. The two switched places between the window pose and a seat set before a tarp-covered heap of red bricks that had been taken from the Pevely Building site. There the artist on duty pounded away methodically as red brick dust fell to the floor at the foot of the black tarped mass. The piece is titled, Father Biondi Is A Liar.

The show is charming and elegant more than it is relentless. But there is message found throughout. Like the blood red paint slashed across white boxes in Myth of the Pelican, each aesthetic pleasure is tinged with something solemn

Preview: St. Louis Art Museum's Barocci show will transport viewers

In Visual Arts

7:01 am on Fri, 10.19.12

A visit to the St. Louis Art Museum right now will lead to discovery even for the diehard museum-goer who knows the collection better than many museum personnel.

The reason for SLAM’s current placement as St. Louis’ New, New Thing is partially due to the sudden rearrangement of more than half the gallery spaces. This includes refreshingly novel presentation of Dutch and Flemish works in the European Art to 1800 Gallery and the presence of a considerable wealth of Native North American art works situated within the rest of the newly organized American Art (go to Bingham’s Election Series if you are looking for a historical voice on the pratfalls of democracy).

Federico Barocci, Italian, c.1533–1612; Self-Portrait, c.1595–1600; oil on paper mounted on canvas; 16 5/8 x 13 inches; Istituti museale della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino; photo: Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY
Federico Barocci, Italian, c.1533–1612; Self-Portrait, c.1595–1600; oil on paper mounted on canvas; 16 5/8 x 13 inches; Istituti museale della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino; photo: Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY

Second, and with much greater fanfare, you will findFederico Barocci.

The son of a watchmaker, Barocci became so famous during his lifetime that he was allegedly poisoned by jealous rivals after his participation in a fresco project for Pope Pius IV.

The trope about location as prime predictor of success is a fair explanation for the relative obscurity of this innovative and highly influential Renaissance painter. His work was largely hidden away in off-the-beaten-track central Italian churches and private collections until a revelatory show of his work in Bologna and Florence in 1975.

Barocci’s star is on the rise, evidenced in this unique display of traditional subjects seen through a fresh, arresting vision conveyed alongside studies that promote his remarkable technical expertise and innovative compositional form. His stature as an excellent draughtsman makes him one of the most important, though little known, painters of his time.

Federico Barocci, Italian, c.1533–1612; Study for the Head of a Donkey for the Rest on the Return from Egypt; chalk heightened with white on buff paper; 6 1/8 x 4 inches; Istituti museale della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino; photo: Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY
Federico Barocci, Italian, c.1533–1612; Study for the Head of a Donkey for the Rest on the Return from Egypt; chalk heightened with white on buff paper; 6 1/8 x 4 inches; Instituti museale della Soprintendenza Speciale per il Polo Museale Fiorentino; photo: Scala/Ministero per i Beni e le Attività culturali/Art Resource, NY

The visitor’s entry into the special exhibition space offers a brief orientation to 16th century Urbino. Compositional studies are the highlights of the first room. The Nude Study of Saint Joseph for the Rest on the Return from Egypt demonstrates the technique Barocci employed to create disarmingly naturalistic dynamic movement. His Study of a Donkey, for the same painting, is delightful in its own right as is the delicate chalk and pastel drawing of the head of a cherub made in preparation for theImmaculate Conception.

Barocci draws on many sheets horizontally and vertically. This poses a problem for hanging. Which image should be privileged? The dilemma was demonstrated for members of the press whose admittance into one of the rooms was delayed by a last minute request from a curator from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to re-hang one such work with an alternative image right side up.

The real transportive experience begins in the second room of the exhibit. With effective use of the doorway as a second frame to the major work of this space,Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John, visitors begin to feel as if they have entered a sanctuary. This feeling increases in the following area where studies line the walls like Stations of the Cross around what is, in its original context, an altarpiece. Benches lined up like pews make this connotation impossible to resist.

Federico Barocci, Italian, c.1533–1612; Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, 1566–67; oil on canvas; 113 3/8 x 63 3/8 inches; Soprintendenza per i beni Storici Artistici ed Etnoantropologici della Marche Galleria Nazionale della Marche, Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, Italy; photo: The Bridgeman Art Library
Federico Barocci, Italian, c.1533–1612; Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist, 1566–67; oil on canvas; 113 3/8 x 63 3/8 inches; Soprintendenza per i beni Storici Artistici ed Etnoantropologici della Marche Galleria Nazionale della Marche, Palazzo Ducale, Urbino, Italy; photo: The Bridgeman Art Library

Each room develops a theme that takes the visitor further into Renaissance Italy. Sensitively executed, rose-flushed figures bring playful enchantment to rather morbid subjects. A table laid with Jesus’ blood-tinged crown of thorns, crucifixion nails and tools painted into the lower left corner of The Entombment of Christ have a remarkable tactile quality, so that his area of the painting becomes a still life. The upper quadrant of the painting holds an ephemeral landscape with the recurrent theme of Urbino in the form of a castle alongside the three crosses at Calvary. Even Barocci’s Last Supper is a raucous, festive event with happy children and a friendly dog.

The curators have provided text panels worth reading. A photographic image of The Entombment of Christ over the main altar for the Chiesa della Crose in Senigallia makes the need for creating a reference to church space apparent. These works were commissioned to elicit awe.

Without the accompanying gilded majesty of church architecture, Barocci’s painted works are perceived as individual masterpieces. The photographs give a nod to the intended view of the artist, in which frames and decoration diffuse focus, and the combined effect is to fully encompass the churchgoer. The faithful attending churches adorned by Barocci were offered intimate images of domesticity looked over by a kind and gentle god who believed there could never be too much of a good/gilded thing.

Sequencing the Barocci figure studies along the sides of the gallery spaces creates a visual lesson in the process of the artist, as form, movement, depth and gesture are articulated and finally adorned by abundant garments painted in luminescent colors. The fabrics are lush with vibrant hues, the light reflected upon their folds, “It almost flickers on the wall when you look at it” says St. Louis Art Museum curator Judy Mann

To visit the exhibition is to partake in an old world experience. It is a journey across time and space as well as into the mind of the artist. And the territory is largely untread, making this prime ground for discovery. See if you, too, place Barocci in the esteemed company of Michelangelo, Titian and Tintoretto.

The basics

Where: St. Louis Art Museum

When: Oct. 21, 2012 through Jan. 20, 2013

Cost: Adult - $10, Seniors & Students - $8, Children 6-12 - $6, Under 6 – free Entry free on Fridays (advanced ticket purchase recommended)