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Ivy Cooper encapsulates the St. Louis art scene

Along the Mississippi: Photographs by Jo Ann Walters Road trips have produced some of the most valuable documentaries of American life we have, from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi (in which the river stands in for the road) to Jack Kerouac's On the Road to photographic projects such as Robert Frank's The Americans and Alec Soth's Sleeping by the Mississippi (which was featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial). Alton native Jo Ann Walters has been taking road and river trips since the 1980s (a lot longer than Soth), and she has amassed a formidable and fascinating collection of photographs -- a medium-size collection of which is on display here -- that speaks volumes about who we are and how we live along the Mississippi and the eastern seaboard. Don't miss the photo of the girl in St. Louis curling her eyelashes; it's an unforgettable coming-of-age portrait. Through September 4 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington, 314-533-9900. Gallery hours 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

Dystopic Visions What this exhibition lacks in size, it makes up for in theoretical and critical ambition. Curated by artists Jason Hoeing and Cary Horton as part of the Critical Mass exhibition program, it brings together works by six artists who criticize, contemplate and/or caricature facets of contemporary consumer culture. These visions are dystopic indeed -- particularly the installations by Jason Wallace Triefenbach, faux-scientific studies on preventing beach erosion on the fictional Isle of Confusion; and Khanh Le's prints and tiny books, which pose spiky questions on efforts to modernize Vietnam. Daniel E.C. Nunez-Shown's Home-Less and Tim Waldrop's Model Homes are quiet but devastating statements on the vacancy of the American Dream; Amy Harmon's Unnatural Selection offers up beauty accessories from consumer hell. Through July 31 at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar, 314-863-5811. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.

Exposure VII: Mind Games Ron Laboray has made his reputation as a smart local artist who takes on sites, maps and psychological characteristics of place. Here he takes on a dual role as artist and curator; Mind Games is a quirky collection that features a group of Laboray's paintings that populate maps of Springfields throughout the U.S. with creepy abstractions of The Simpsons. Also included are DVD works by Brian Goetz, including the brilliant Nosey Parker effort "Radiation Always Wins." Rounding out this little show -- which just might be the exhibition of the year -- are Brian Burnett's scary photos of big-box storefronts with names digitally scrambled like criminals' faces; Michael Keller's superb text paintings; and other works. Through September 11 at Gallery 210, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Building 44 (TeleCommunity Center); 314-516-5976. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

Showcase 2: St. Louis Painting and Sculpture Invitational Increasingly, St. Louis galleries are featuring exhibitions of local artists, and it's a very good thing. This show, curated by a panel of St. Louis arts professionals, is the second in a Sheldon series to mark the city's 2004 celebrations. These are some of the area's strongest artists, particularly the painters. Brandon Anschultz, Keith Bueckendorf and Erik Spehn turn in large, sleek abstractions; next to them, Kelly Chorpening's two small ink works on panel brilliantly hold their own. Andrea Green's untitled wall installation is quiet and poignant. The only weak point is the Founders' Gallery, where the show is installed: It's the oddly shaped, narrow area on the first floor, so unremarkable you might walk right past it. Through August 21 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington, 314-533-9900. Gallery hours 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tue., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.

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