Currents 104: Bruce Yonemoto Recent Washington University Freund Fellow and notable LA-based multimedia and conceptual artist Bruce Yonemoto presents a new video piece and two suites of photographs that repossess history on behalf of the oppressed, villainized or deliberately omitted. The video, Before I Close My Eyes, re-creates a pivotal sequence in Igmar Bergman's 1966 film Persona, replacing the female protagonist with three different Southeast Asian males. In a stark room, the new protagonists confront a television screen that broadcasts iconic 1963 footage from Saigon, wherein a Buddhist monk self-immolates. In its mute contemplativeness, the brief looped sequence heightens the immediacy of the nearly 50-year-old scene. In one photographic series, Yonemoto re-imagines nineteenth-century cartes de visite (an early form of popular portraiture) in full color, again with Southeast Asian men replacing American Civil War soldiers. And in the other photo set, Asian actors play lead roles in re-creations of portraits by Caravaggio. As it asserts the truth of alternative histories, the exhibition challenges and underscores the complicated subjectivity and visual rhetoric that belies "objective" documentary history. Through July 11 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.)
Erik Spehn: Tape Drawings Strips of masking tape used in the creation of this St. Louis-based painter's signature woven-pattern acrylics on canvas are reused in this series of small works on matte board. While calling these pieces "drawings" may imply that they're not as formidable as their painted counterparts, the exhibit proves otherwise. Arranged in chromatic groups, crosshatchings of red-, then maroon-, then blue-flecked strips appear to explore different approaches to pattern. Wide swaths of tape overlap in loose diffusions, while minute, finely cut pieces interweave in tight grids. As one moves through the gallery, the palette brightens, opening up to a full room of yellow- and golden-hued pieces that seem to be uttering among themselves a complicated language in lines, layers and other distinct and serial marks. Through September 18 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.thesheldon.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Focus on Photography: Recent Acquisitions This exhibit of new additions to the Kemper's collection concisely and powerfully charts the development of photography from its early, documentary-inflected use to its transformation into a contemporary expressionistic medium. The sepia-toned historic portraits in Edward Curtis' North American Indian series presage the medium's impressionistic capacity, its subjects appearing less objectively culturally situated as romantically (and exotically) framed with a foreboding sense of nostalgia. A collection of 1970s and '80s-era Polaroids by Andy Warhol functions somewhat similarly: Lesser-known luminaries can be seen as instantaneously vulnerable and self-consciously postured. Christian Jankowski, who in 2005 photographed Washington University students at the annual campus poster sale, doubles this sense of photography's capacity to capture its own late-capitalist commodification as an image-making device. Artwork appears as both a witless and poised subject in Louise Lawler's Not Yet Titled (2004), wherein Gordon Matta-Clark's raw building fragment, Bingo, is institutionalized in the renovated galleries of New York's Museum of Modern Art. Finally, the photograph becomes an abstraction in itself in Wolfgang Tilman's Silver 71 (2008), ushering in an era in which photography is an artistic medium, nothing more and nothing less. Also showing: 2010 MFA Thesis Exhibition; this year's survey of graduate work includes notable pieces by John Early, Ryan Fabel, Joel Fullerton, Dani Kantrowitz and Mamie Korpela. Through July 26 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.)
Great Rivers Biennial A consciousness of art's ability to speak to issues beyond itself pervades this triptych of large-scale installations by the three recipients of this coveted regional honor. In Martin Brief's Amazon God, scrolls depicting what appear to be EKG or seismography charts betray, upon closer inspection, meticulous handwritten lists of books culled from an Amazon.com title search for the word "God." The lists run the gamut of categories, from Religion to Fiction to Food: "God" proves to be ubiquitous, elusive and highly marketable. Sarah Frost's Arsenal is a cascade of firearms, crafted out of white paper, that dangle from transparent strands and look alternately like an onslaught of bones and a static snowfall. The guns were constructed from instructional videos made by children and uploaded onto YouTube, revealing a peculiar community that has an eerily playful (and sophisticated) notion of firearm mechanics. Cameron Fuller's From the Collection of the Institute for the Perpetuation of Imaginal Processes is a world unto itself, a pastiche of modes of museum display and a homage to creativity: A diorama of taxidermied wildlife moves between environmental realism and theatrical camp; vitrines of cardboard masks are interspersed amid a sepia-toned video of a dancing bear, a salon-style display of mid-century photographs of disasters and a bright carnival trailer that imbues the entire work with hints of hucksterism. All three artists have moved beyond physical aesthetics to the realm of social commentary and the use of art to explore and expose cultural sub-currents. Through August 8 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.
Nothin' But the Blues: Art and Writing by Area Students A latticework of blue and rainbow-hued stripes rendered in wavering crayon lines; pencil sketches of Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry and Tina Turner in wild pencil lines; a blue steamboat on a sea of lips, eyes and blue trains — this collection of grade schoolers' artworks inspired by blues music is an oddly sophisticated and emotionally honest display. The Airport Elementary School students' homages are interspersed with their own blues lyrics, plainly and repeatedly lamenting "I cried and cried" or triumphantly asserting "Don't let nobody drag your spirit down" and "I am confident in myself." The simple-seeming sentiments ring of unaffected truth — wisdom, even — in equal measure to the awkward sincerity of the drawings and paintings, all of which appear to be excavated from bold inner sources of maturity. Viewed another way, though, such moments of poetic and visual invention are perhaps unattainable with the poise, self-consciousness and the wearied finesse of age. Through August 14 at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or www.sheldonconcerthall.org. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Tue., noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Scott Hocking: New Mound City Reviewed in this issue.
St. Louis Point of View UMSL's Public Policy Research Center Photography Project enlisted local community groups to document neighborhoods in photos, focusing on historic preservation, adult/youth enrichment and community revitalization. Culled from six years' worth of photographs, the resulting exhibit is nothing short of astonishing. Melva Taylor's Untitled (It Looks Like New York) depicts an angular corridor between high-rise housing complexes in JeffVanDerLou. Preshis Mosley turns a dislodged water fountain in a forlorn park off North Skinker Boulevard into No Water at All (What We Don't Like). Tanya Long captures Granite City's neglected downtown reflected in wavering glass. In After Keita and Sidibe: Ralph Tyler, Jenele Brooks poses a youth in the manner of mid-century African studio photography. One unsigned work, a self-portrait, consists of an image of the photographer's sole possession: a corduroy jacket. Again and again the "amateur" eye strips an environment of the usual aesthetic appeals and distills it to crucial essentials and unexpected details. Through August 22 at the Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Boulevard; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (open till 8 p.m. Tue.).
Vatican Splendors: A Journey Through Faith and Art This traveling exhibit of papal artifacts is a tour de force of high kitsch. Multimedia displays selectively detail the grandeur of the Catholic Church in a manner that alternately suspends and dismantles disbelief. Genuine items from the Vatican's collection are outnumbered by simulacra intended for spiritual transport, including a full-scale reproduction of Michelangelo's Pietà, a walk-through re-creation of the scaffolding used to paint the Sistine Chapel, a cast of Pope John Paul II's hand (which you can touch), a plaster cast of a fragment of the "red wall" from the sepulcher of St. Peter and innumerable digital reprints of immersive building environments, historic documents and artwork. There are moments of true beauty: fragments of Roman and Byzantine-era mosaics; two gold chalices and other papal liturgical items; a maddeningly intricate reliquary containing minuscule bodily fragments of Saints Peter, Paul and Anne; and Deposition in the Sepulcher, painted by the first art gossip, Giorgio Vasari. Strangest of all is the section devoted to global proselytizing; depictions of the conversion of non-Catholic cultures would seem to be something to shield one's eyes from. Suffice to say it's a trip, complete with gift shop. Through September 12 at the Missouri History Museum, Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (open till 8 p.m. Tue.).
Yinka Shonibare: Mother and Father Worked Hard So I Can Play Placing his signature life-size mannequins, clothed in Dutch wax-printed cotton (otherwise known as "African print"), in the period rooms on the museum's lower level, the notable British-Nigerian conceptual artist re-illuminates these fossilized moments of material history with fresh paradoxes. It is not Shonibare's figures — child-size, eerily static...and guillotined — that are the focal curiosities here, but rather the cultural incoherence of the historic rooms they inhabit. You suddenly notice how the quintessential American, English and French living spaces here are in reality odd collections of cultural artifacts: an ancient Greek krater in a British country manor; Qing dynasty vases and a Russian carpet in a South Carolina parlor. Ethnic authenticity is a fallacy, it seems, and social status a mere material import — validated by stuff made or acquired from any place (and time) other than one's own. The installation's multicultural theme may feel tiredly familiar, but the exhibit succeeds in making its point fresh. Household furnishings never appeared more bizarre. Through July 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive (in Forest Park); 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (open till 9 p.m. Fri.)