In a show of confidence in the St. Louis art market, Bruno David Gallery opens its new space, Bruno David Projects, with Cindy Tower: Road Show, a collection of paintings and video by the long-time gallery artist. Formerly the private studio of Frank Schwaiger (another David artist), the new space is intended to be a less formal venue, where artists can present experimental works that are ill-suited to a traditional gallery's commercial setting.
At least, that's the theory.
In practice, however, Road Show, which combines paintings from Tower's earlier Workplace Series with more recent landscapes from the black lava fields of Idaho, could hardly be more traditional.
Tower made a name for herself in the 2000s, trespassing in abandoned buildings to create the Workplace Series — a collection of massive, dizzyingly detailed canvases that evoke the region's industrial decline. Using multiple perspectives and rushed but fluid brushwork, she augmented her paintings with performance videos, showing the artist stashing canvases in the cathedral-like ruins of the Armour Meatpacking Plant and kicking around East St. Louis with her "bodyguard," Edgar.
Tower used a similar tactic in the Idaho paintings, presenting Idaho Public Storage, an often-hilarious video that shows her squirreling away paintings underground and trying to lure truckers to a roadside exhibition she held in a volcanic cave. The lava field — barren, black, hard and desolate — is breathtaking, and Tower again braved the elements, using similar brushwork to create a series of plein air works.
But while there are some interesting canvases from Idaho — including one that incorporates actual pumice stone and another painted on stunning gold silk — this later work, on balance, is less successful than her post-industrial paintings. Part of what made the Workplace Series so rich were the teeming microenvironments Tower discovered in the dilapidated buildings of metro St. Louis. She used a variety of mediums — everything from tar to textiles — to evoke the falling-down grace of these buildings, physically connecting the paintings to a larger cultural narrative. Such elements are largely absent from these Idaho paintings, which, although visually dramatic, remain a pretty straightforward collection of wide-angle landscapes.
Organized by Bruno David Projects director Keri Robertson, Road Show does, on the other hand, ably combine the two bodies of work to articulate Tower's overarching concern: observing as these punctuated historical moments — be they man- or nature-made — are slowly erased by the march of time.
Cindy Tower: Road Show Through December 20 at Bruno David Projects (1245 South Vandeventer Avenue). Call 314-449-6438 or click here.