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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

1984-2004 Twentieth Anniversary Celebration at Elliot Smith This exhibition of work by 79 artists from Smith's stable could have been a chaotic melee. Instead director Bruno L. David has turned it into a sparkling, coherent show by asking artists to reference the number 20 in their works, and by hanging the show brilliantly according to medium and/or theme. The large group of two-dimensional works in the main gallery is simply radiant, with knockout pieces by Cheryl Wassenaar, Cheonae Kim, a string piece by Amber Slater and a gouache and pastel by Paul Shank. Sculptural pieces by Kim Humphries, Christina Shmigel and Jill Downen -- more recent Smith exhibitors -- take their rightful places among longtime St. Louis favorites such as Ken Worley, Michael Byron and Albert Pfarr. More than a love-in for Smith, this is an homage to a gallery that has launched dozens of careers and had a profound effect on the arts in St. Louis. Through October 16 at Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, 4729 McPherson Avenue; 314-361-4800. Call for gallery hours.

Afterschool Special: Artworks Completed Since Finishing My Undergraduate Degree Peter Pranschke's new exhibition at the University City Library is the perfect introduction to his work for those who don't know it. Pranschke's cartoon narratives revolve around his life experiences, which are at turns mundane, comical (bagging at Schnucks) and gut-wrenching (undergoing dialysis). Pranschke's collaged stories literally sprawl all over the pages; one gets the sense that his personality is probably similar -- all over the place, goofy and engaging. His wit is especially keen when he reflects on life as an undergraduate art student; disaffected young artists everywhere, take heed. Through September 29 at the University City Public Library, 6701 Delmar Boulevard; 314-727-3150. Gallery hours 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun.

Currents 92: Anna Kuperberg After receiving her BFA at Washington University, Anna Kuperberg spent much of her time in south St. Louis, cruising the streets and snapping images of neighborhood kids. These astonishing photos show the kids playing, crying or lost in their thoughts; they reveal moments of sheer joy, straight-faced seriousness and -- quite often -- disquieting ambiguity. Like street photographers of the 1950s and '60s -- Helen Levitt, William Klein and Garry Winogrand, for example -- Kuperberg works the old-fashioned way, with a 35mm camera and without cropping the negative, which means it's all in her eye. And but for the stray contemporary logo or soda can, these photographs could have been made 50 years ago. Some things, thankfully, never change. Through November 28 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072. Gallery hours 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Tue.- Sun., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.

Local Women and Exotic Places Women have long been associated with nature, the exotic and even the "primitive" in Western civilization, and since the rise of feminism in the 1970s it has been fashionable to revisit, complicate and subvert those associations in the discipline of art. This latest attempt is an exhibition of art by six w omen whose work deals with nature and the exotic, either implicitly or explicitly. The show is too small to make much of a dent in this mighty topic, but there are some outstanding works nonetheless. Olivia Lahs-Gonzales once again proves to be one of the best photographers working here (or anywhere); her close-up digital prints of trees, bushes and flowers verge on the hallucinatory. Jeri Au brings in another of her ti-leaf wall compositions, which is lovely but light in the content department. Jane Birdsall-Lander's Divining Harp (2001) is visually poetic but a little lonely, perched on the wall outside the exhibition proper. Also exhibiting are Nanette Hegamin, Sandra Nickeson and Adelia Parker-Castro. Through October 2 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Boulevard; 314-863-5811. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon- 5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Keith Piper: Crusade British artist Piper had never been to St. Louis, hadn't heard of Lewis & Clark and was vaguely aware of the Dred Scott case when the Contemporary invited him to town. It's a testament to his keen eye, intelligence and wit that he has put together one of the most striking artistic commentaries on St. Louis' complicity in the slave trade and the Underground Railroad (among other striking moments in the city's history). Using the crusade as a pliant metaphor for Manifest Destiny, slavery, colonization and subjugation, Piper combines in stunning historical tableaux high-resolution moving images and digitally collaged photographs of the city and its surroundings. Also on view is New Video, New Europe, video works from 39 artists from Eastern Europe. Through November 21 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.

Radiant Forms in Contemporary Sacred Architecture Its name conjures visions of bad church art or Sunday-school crafts, but a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) once again rewards one with a graceful, fascinating show. Models, photographs and drawings of two extraordinary buildings -- Richard Meier's Jubilee Church in Rome and Steven Holl's Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle -- occupy the museum's central space, while Daniel P. Ramirez's haunting etchings, 20 Contemplations on the Infant Jesus, are hung throughout the side chapels. Meier's design introduces a new element into his normally straight-edge geometry, in the form of billowing concentric sails. Holl's chapel is a jewel. And don't miss the photographs of southern Illinois sculptor Steven Heilmer's remarkable marble work, Gratia Plena, which graces the chapel's interior. Through December 5 at MOCRA, located on Saint Louis University's Connelly Mall; 314-977-7170. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun. -- Ivy Cooper

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