Best Gallery Exhibition

Kit Keith, Gallery 210 and William Shearburn Gallery

If nostalgia is a disease, then Kit Keith's art is the cure. She takes old, even seedy objects -- paper from yellowed accounting ledgers, box springs, faded images from magazine advertisements -- and skews them anew. To a photograph of two adorable white kittens -- the kind a little girl would have cut out of a magazine and pinned beside her bed -- Keith adds a small pen-and-ink drawing of a buxom bimbo -- the kind the little girl's dad kept in his workshed. For the last two years, Keith delighted St. Louis art watchers with many such perverse juxtapositions. To call her artistic stance ironic would be too obvious and lead to easy judgments. Talking about her work, Keith reveals herself to be much more interested in a certain style or look than concept. She is drawn to the idiosyncratic fashion of pre-television America -- when style was local -- long before the homogeny of Gap. Then, as much as she admires the integrity of that image, she has an intuitive ability to find the shadow of that image with which to juxtapose it. A favorite is the collage "Loaded," which shows an avuncular grandpa in his rocking chair, cleaning his shotgun as his faithful hunting dog looks on in anticipation of the upcoming season; scribbled in the midst of them is another one of those fantastically sensual pinup girls: the dream that underlies the whole scene. At Gallery 210 last fall, Keith painted the walls of the exhibition space crimson for Some Girls, a more campus-friendly title than her original idea, Pussies, Chicks, Beavers, Foxes and Bitches. Keith manages to point at the associations made between women and animals in the male-dominated culture with a degree of tact that does not lesson the impact. At Shearburn's last spring, Keith's farewell exhibition (she moved back to New York City this summer) included a suite of prints she made at UM-St. Louis, again the faces of women from another era rendered as delicate, and strong, as tapestry. This mini-retrospective again allowed us to enjoy her ribald, offbeat seriousness. Her work is missed, as is she, because they were both so damn much fun.
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