Of Spirit and Form: The Monuments of France in Photographs by Èdouard Baldus and Médéric Mieusement Photography was born in France, in the first half of the 19th century; its first image was architecture. In 1851 Édouard-Denis Baldus became one of 40 founding members of the Société Héliographique. That same year France established the Commission des Monuments Historiques to document the noble heritage of architecture on French soil. Yet the work produced for the commission regularly transcended documentation and comes down to us as art. Why? Photographs of structures in their context, produced by men and women of deep visual sensitivity, convey more than documentary evidence; they allow viewers to respond to buildings as vessels of personal, universal and universal memory. More than 80 individual images and portfolios in this show at the Sheldon Galleries represent Baldus and Séraphin Médéric Mieusement, who revived the work of the commission in the 1870s. To say it is arresting and beautiful is to praise it only lamely: Of all the photography exhibitions of the past three decades in St. Louis, this stands as one of the most indelible. Kudos to David Hanlon, art department chair at St. Louis Community College-Meramec, who culled these photos from the Russell Sturgis Collection at Washington University. Through January 27, 2007, at the Sheldon, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 (www.sheldonconcerthall.org). Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Mel Watkin: Insurgency Mel Watkin was one of the smartest of the bright, dedicated crowd that shaped influential exhibitions on next to no money in the good old days of the old Forum for Contemporary Art. She now directs the Public Policy Resource Center's Gallery and Photography Project at UMSL, but she continues to make art on her own. This haunting exhibition of drawings is a deliberate subversion of the folding road maps that even in the Internet era find their ways into glove compartments. Some are worn to the texture of chamois by frequent handling; some after a hundred refoldings acquire the enigmatic qualities of palimpsest. Watkin draws on them, and what she draws corrupts the map's established function: Geography is erased, redefined, overgrown with the flora of the draftsman's compass and the artist's fecund imagination. The commercial road map so deliberately informative, so thoroughly artless and commonplace thus becomes anarchic. Watkin's work will challenge your notions of time and space through February 3, 2007, in the Nancy Spirtas Kranzberg Gallery of the Sheldon, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 (www.sheldonconcerthall.org). Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue. and Thu., noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.