Accidental Mysteries: Vernacular Photographs from the Collection of John and Teenuh Foster This traveling exhibition poses an interesting counterpoint to the splashy color photos currently dominating the gallery circuit. It's no wonder that found collections old photos, random notes, cast-offs of all kinds are so popular. They're relatively easy to come by and they've earned their art cred thanks to the hard work of luminaries like Kurt Schwitters, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp. (The Web site www.foundmagazine.com features a new "find" every day.) And there's something utterly magical about encountering an orphan object, something that once held meaning for someone somewhere but is now a free-floating non-signifier. This exhibition features dozens of found photographs from the collection of John and Teenuh Foster, who have scoured flea markets and estate sales with an eye for the particularly surreal. None of these images is titled, but some are grouped to suggest odd relationships. Still others are enlarged, which only enhances their mystery. Through January 6 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900. Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Stuart Elster: New Paintings & Drawings A small show, and a gem. The five works on view provide a nice introduction to Elster's slightly twisted take on American money bills and coinage, to be precise. One large untitled oil on canvas appears at first glance to be a coppery-gold op art offering. Scrutinizing it further, a profile of Abe Lincoln emerges on its side, stretched taffy-like, but unmistakably taken from the portrait on the U.S. penny. Two drawings, Happy and Sad (both 2005), perform related hijinks on George Washington's dollar-bill portrait, this time in ultrafine graphite scribbles. The quarter gets its own treatment in two oil paintings. There's humor here, certainly, but the work is saved from one-linerness by the remarkable, enviable skill and sophistication of Elster's execution. Through January 14 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 503 N. 20th Street; 314-575-2648. Hours: 1-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.
Aaron Karp: New Paintings Karp's style is slightly wider ranging than this show suggests. He's made a name for himself engineering complexly layered perforated forms in acrylic on canvas. These works are complex, to be sure, but all in more or less the same way. It would be going too far to say "seen one, seen them all," but there's a great deal of homogeneity here. Still, no one does this dazzling, practically hallucinogenic tour through meshes of flowers, waves and squiggles better than Karp, so for those not acquainted with his work, this show is worth a visit. Through January 14 at R. Duane Reed Gallery, 7513 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton; 314-862-2333. Hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-4 p.m. Sat.
Garry Noland: Unorganized Territory Noland's messy, dystopic paintings and assemblages are apt metaphors for the state of current American foreign relations. In one series the artist binds National Geographic magazines in colored tape and arranges the pieces to spell out messages in Morse Code. Elsewhere Noland gouges maps into impossibly thick impasto paint. Best of all his works are the TV assemblages: stacks of dusty, pre-cable TV sets adorned with various effluvia and broadcasting mostly snow, punctuated by recognizable imagery. The works read like desperate attempts at post-apocalyptic communication, witty and disturbing. Also on view is a video work by Chris Coleman and flower photographs by Gene Moehring. Through January 21 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Philippe Parreno: The Boy from Mars The fourth installation in the Saint Louis Art Museum's "New Media" series is the most exciting to date from the standpoint of contemporary art. French artist Parreno has produced a video piece that's meditative, mysterious and somehow otherworldly. A billowing, tentlike structure, glowing gold from within, stands peacefully in a swampy, verdant setting among water buffalo. As evening descends, strange lights rise in the sky. The film reads like the documentation of an advanced culture on another planet, or Earth in an enlightened future. This is not far off the mark, for the site is an artists' community in rural Thailand, where a host of artists have come to work and contribute to the self-sustaining system that supports the place. Along with architect François Roche, Parreno designed the building, a central gathering place within the community and the mute protagonist of this film. It's strange and enigmatic, while staking a clear claim for the possibility of communities this beautiful, this harmonious, here on this planet. Through February 12 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive, Forest Park; 314-721-0072. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)
Public Notice: Painting in Laumeier Sculpture Park It's a brilliant conceit: Exhibit paintings in a sculpture park, and make them billboard-size, inescapable! Whoever came up with the idea deserves a raise, because this show transports Laumeier beyond the territory of contemporary-art coolness it had reached before. The ten billboard artists on view here come from all over the world (we're lucky to claim one of them, Eva Lundsager, as our own). All have the talent to translate their idiosyncratic aesthetics to a massive scale, and each twelve-by-sixteen-foot sign/painting has something unique and engaging to say. But first check out the stunning exhibition of smaller works in the galleries; they lay the groundwork for the big statements. Through January 15 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-821-1209. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).