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In the Galleries - The Longshot CLOSES April 7 at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing

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As the title suggests, St. Louis artist David Burns Smith saw little hope for anything above dross in his 365 project, in which he snapped a digital self-portrait every day of the past year. Upfront self-deprecation can be a shrewd approach, particularly with a project that threatens to come off as a narcissist's dream. A smart choice along similar lines: culling the crop. Smith supplies a quantity large enough to get the point across without bludgeoning the empathy out of you. The result is the eyeballing equivalent of walking a mile in a man's shoes. Follow the zigzag path of enthusiasm's inevitable vicissitudes: Staged portraits thrill for a time, then grow tiresome to the artist, exhausting his (prodigious) ability to mug, scowl and otherwise contort his face. Limbs have their day(s) — feet dangling, feet elevated on a stool — tripping merrily along until they find they have nowhere else to go. Then the light bulb of PhotoShop flicks on, bringing an onslaught of digital mutation: Burns as a lurching, Golem-like crone; Burns caped, goth and Poe-ish; Burns as a pale Victorian girl-child, clutching a stuffed bear. The theater of one's imagination has only a single seat, but the show must go on. And on. Burns is the Contemporary Art Museum's exhibitions manager and registrar, and his installation savvy is on full display here. A salon-style froth of eclectic frames and vitrines proliferates, leavened with improbable props — a toy dinosaur, a plastic skull, a plush Fraggle — giving the modestly scaled exhibit the feel of a Buster Keaton short, self-knowingly pantomiming an entire mind's worth of aspirational heroism and lovingly curated fantasy. And sure enough, it all adds up to more than the sum of its absurd parts — like Sartre said, loser wins. Through April 7 at PSTL Gallery at Pace Framing, 3842 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-4304 or www.paceframing.com. Hours: 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.

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