As I Only Can...Belong Reviewed in this issue.
Fi Jae Lee Seoul native and Art Institute of Chicago graduate Lee installs two mixed-media sculptures, two videos and three back-lit drawings in this solo exhibition of new work. The aesthetic is a mix of traditionally iconographic and high kitsch, with symbolic allusions to Shang Dynasty myths blending together beneath a materially contemporary artifice of glitter, plexiglass, plastic beads and mannequin parts. Artifice feels key to understanding this mysterious work, its sense of otherness being alternately pushed and dismantled by the use of, say, fake flowers and dyed-red water pouring from plastic tubes. The viewer must always be on alert here: While the sound of water pooling may have the lulling effect of a contemplative garden, you're always aware it's sitting squarely in a gallery, and that the icons to be mused upon — with their supplicating, outstretched hands — are bored through with aggressive creatures, bead-covered but befanged. Through March 20 at Webster University's Cecille R. Hunt Gallery, 8342 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-968-7171 or www.webster.edu/depts/finearts/art. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri. (open till 8 p.m. Tue.-Wed.) and by appointment.
Claudio Bravo: A Bestiary A sought-after society portraitist living in Madrid in the late '60s, Bravo traded the bourgeois good life for a self-tailored monasticism in Morocco. In Tangiers, where he has resided since 1972, he has devoted his post-portrait years to painting exquisitely crafted, hyper-realist still lifes in the contemplative tradition of Chardin but flamboyantly updated with magentas, turquoises and kitsch artifacts like rumpled blue jeans and hard-pack cigarettes. This new series, traveling from the Marlborough Gallery of New York, consists simply of fine-line-rendered lithographs of native Moroccan animals standing starkly on bright white paper. What makes these radically minimal images compelling is both their sense of life-narrative conclusiveness — their simplicity's a painstakingly honed decision — and their way of evoking a kind of maturated perspective, one that's satisfied taking stock in the close observance of what's at hand and in no hurry to discover anything more. Through March 14 at the Atrium Gallery, 4728 McPherson Avenue; 314-367-1076 or www.atriumgallery.net. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun.
Tony Fitzpatrick: The City Etchings 1993-2003 This series of line renderings of imaginary cartoon icons haloed, Virgin of Guadalupe-style, in carnivalesque heaps of urban artifacts has the intimate, serial quality of daily entries in a notebook and the imagistic content of an illuminated manuscript drawn by a dime-store comic-book artist. With its raw emotional breadth, the work, which negotiates the passing of Fitzgerald's father, defies this Chicago-born artist's tough-guy persona. The specter of Philip Guston looms large here, manifested in a spirit of wryly internalized loss, Piero della Francesca compositions, and the form of tragicomic characters like hooded Klansmen and blank De Chirico-esque faces. Fitzgerald adds to this surreal cast with representative symbols of a personally fabled Chicagoland — teetering skyscrapers, water towers and tangles of train track — and that region's immigrant, working-class Catholicism and weather-worn survivalism. Hands clasped in prayer and wrapped in barbed wire float above a clip-art goose or a weeping robot against a shallow backdrop of iron bridges and piled brick. Despite the proliferation of imagistic references, the cumulative effect is honorific, nostalgic and ultimately Fitzgerald's: a small riff-raff world trying to hustle away the irrevocable with the eternal promise of art. Also showing: Bale Creek Allen: Selected Works from Empire, Tumbleweeds and Tire Treads, a complementary exhibition of gritty American detritus cast in bronze or gold and elevated to icon status. Through May 23 and March 21, respectively, at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Boulevard (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Ideal (Dis-) Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer This exhibition of canonical canvases of slain martyrs, pious virgins and other grand dilemmas borrowed from two encyclopedic museums and replaced in naturally lit contemporary galleries is a reaffirmation of the human scale. The minimalism of Tadao Ando's building design is diffused by ornate, gilt-framed compositions that date from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century, the two historical extremes meeting precisely at the fragile effects of daylight on the predominantly figural pieces. Contemplative and reverent, the show fulfills its premise so well that it seems capable of providing a discretely intimate experience for each and every viewer. Through June 20 at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Boulevard; 314-754-1850 or www.pulitzerarts.org. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat.
Locusts & Honey: New Work by Jennifer Angus In a kind of alchemical transformation, Wisconsin-based Angus pins locust, grasshopper and other bewilderingly large and intricate insect specimens in floral geometrical patterns on the walls of Craft Alliance's Grand Center gallery space, to produce delicately beautiful wallpaper patterns. The effect is something aesthetically marvelous of the purely decorative variety — trumping all the more topical curiosities that the bugs, the process of their acquisition and application and the installation's biblical allusions, evoke. With the other domestic-decorative accents of early-20th-century dark-wood occasional tables, jewelry drawers and display vitrines punctuating the space, what remains is a work less about fear, plague and/or bounty than about the peculiar mystery that old Americana holds. Or, more simply, how certain rooms in a home seem to have a spirit and life of their own. Through May 17 at the Craft Alliance Gallery (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 (www.craftalliance.org). Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future A traveling exhibition that comprehensively surveys the work of this key midcentury architect, best known — locally, at least — for the Gateway Arch. A Finnish immigrant, Saarinen came from a family of diverse architectural, artistic and decorative talent and imported this totalizing approach to his work, notably diverse in style and scope, which came to ultimately define the forward thrust of the Modernist American ethos. Little more need be said here, as this show is abundantly informative — proliferating with timelines, videos, furniture pieces, models, large-scale photos, architectural models and in-depth textural addenda. It successfully adds up to an advanced education in Saarinen, but also, with timely importance, Modernism — asking important questions of this highly contestable progressive spirit, whose lingering influence has been alternately that of hope disastrously dashed or freshly, if desperately, invoked. Through April 27 at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth & Skinker boulevards (on the campus of Washington University); 314-935-4523 or www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (closed Tue., open till 8 p.m. Fri.).
Gedi Sibony: My Arms Are Tied Behind My Other Arms Reusing discarded carpet, Sheetrock, brown-taped drop cloths, and freighting crates and blankets — the material language of contractors and art installers alike — New York-based Gedi Sibony creates a poetical site-specific installation that dismantles and exposes the intricacies and immediacy of installations. Leaning against walls or draped over partial partitions, his neutral-toned assemblages softly and economically recompose the main gallery space in a way that feels newly austere but fundamentally domestic. Narrow halls lead to larger rooms, which, in turn, are sectioned off into smaller, more intimate quarters. The engineering is basic cause-and-effect — gravity roots a freestanding door to the gallery floor; the conceit is unassumingly modest — two carpet pieces curl up to touch at their far corners like a pair of hands. Art formalism, here, is discussed in the global vernacular of fray, wrinkle and shadow. Underscoring Sibony is Bruce Nauman: Dead Shot Dan, a selection of classic photos and videos from the '60s, '70s and '80s in which Nauman plays an Everyman documenting the self trying to make plain sense of the self — a quixotic quest that amounts to a series of slapstick pratfalls shrugged off then compulsively re-attempted and perhaps summarized best by the image of the artist's arms roped to his back, entitled Bound to Fail. Altogether, a perfect exhibition. Through April 19 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.