Currents 96: Tim Eitel The paintings of German artist Eitel draw on historical and contemporary artworks to generate scenes of extreme enigma. The four large canvases in this show isolate figures in spare environments described only by somber gray and black fields. Helicopter (2005) has the aircraft hovering motionless just above the ground in a seemingly airless environment; Lying Figure transports Edouard Manet's Dead Toreador of 1864 to a similarly empty, vaguely interior setting. The maximum scale of the large works combines with their minimal elements to make for intriguing scenes of surreal isolation. A series of small, square oil-and-egg-tempera works on linen lines the gallery's fourth wall; these scenes are more populated but just as tight-lipped in terms of what they say to the viewer. Eitel's works are simultaneously cold and oddly irresistible. Through March 5, 2006, 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.)
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.
Alicia LaChance Locally based LaChance produces paintings with dense surfaces of fresco and oil, divided into separate panels. While the imagery is clearly contemporary in design, the thick, heavily worked application of paint evokes archaic styles. Especially strong are the paintings that combine botanical silhouettes with areas of joyful abstract patterns. One or two false steps (such as a Mark Rothko redux) can be overlooked in a show that includes strong pieces like Tupelo Meadow Lark and a lovely grid of twelve square panels called Botanicals. Through February 4, 2006, at Houska Gallery, 4728 McPherson Avenue; 314-454-0959. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun.
Minimalism and Beyond This exhibition is perfect. The stacked and repeated boxes of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin's fluorescent lights and Richard Serra's stacked and leaning works cast new light on the minimalist idiom, which is simultaneously thematically connected to works by more recent artists like Felix Gonzales-Torres, Roni Horn, Rachel Whiteread and Robert Gober. OK, these connections have been drawn out before but not amid Tadao Ando's minimalist architecture. Whiteread's Untitled (Gray) (1996/2003), a cast-concrete bathtub, quietly anchors the exhibition, making sensual reference to the smooth concrete of the building's walls and floor, while nearby Roni Horn's Untitled (Yes), a block of cast black optical glass, looks positively liquid in relation to the Pulitzer's water court, and Gonzales-Torres' pyramidal pile of candy in shiny silver wrappers acts as a foil to the somber character of the small Cube Gallery. The endless, subtle surprises embedded in the exhibition's layout will beckon viewers back again and again. Through April 26, 2006, at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-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).
Max rada dada: Sideshow! Rada dada is the real deal: a kinder, gentler Dada artist for the 21st century. Where some of the Dadaists of the early twentieth century made work that was cutting, politically subversive and anticapitalist, rada dada's work is delightfully strange, utterly apolitical and imminently commodified and consumable. Which is not to say it's not worth a look; in fact, it's outlandish and fun. Rada dada is skilled with the large-format Polaroid camera, as evidenced by a few "double pull," two-part images of hybrid figures such as Grecian Beauty and Mystical Boy (both 2004). Other large Polaroid works feature tableaux of taxidermied animals dressed up and acting like people. Two extraordinary hand-painted banners, Monopoly and Flying Bad Taxidermy, evince rada dada's fine sense for archaic imagery and the absurd. Also featured are more affordably priced handpainted and printed shirts. Through February 4 at Ellen Curlee Gallery, 1308A Washington Avenue; 314-241-1299. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tue.-Sat.