John Armleder and Olivier Mosset Making good on its new curatorial team's promise to present more artist-centered exhibitions, the Contemporary has handed over its main gallery space to two European heavyweights. Though their styles are wildly different, for this show, custom made for the Contemporary, John Armleder and Olivier Mosset have adopted the notion of art as obstacle and obstacle as art. The Swiss-born Armleder, who splits his time between Geneva and New York, has created a 45-foot wall painting as well as several new paintings and an installation of Mylar Christmas trees piled together pell-mell. Mosset, also Swiss born but now living in Tucson, presents a series of his 60s-era "circle paintings" along with an enormous installation of Toblerones, large cardboard sculptures that recall the anti-tank structures used by the Swiss army. Though both are better known in Europe circles than America, they remain two of the most influential artists working today. Through August 3 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.contemporarystl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 p.m. Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks What more can be said about the work of famed African-American photographer Gordon Parks? Well, this collection of photographs, hand-selected by Parks before his death in 2006, represents some of the iconic photographer's finest work. The show includes many of Parks' best-known compositions, such as American Gothic, a portrait of a black cleaning woman standing before an American flag with a mop in one hand and a broom in the other that was viewed as a forceful indictment of race relations in America. Parks, who worked as a staff photographer for Life magazine from 1948 to 1972, selected other iconic works, such as his haunting profile of an aged black woman titled Mrs. Jefferson, but also several that are less familiar, such as a portrait of a young Muhammad Ali and a stunning portrait of Ingrid Bergman being warily regarded by a klatch of Italian grandmothers. Through August 3 in Gallery 222 of 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.)
Alex Couwenberg: Working Space Raised in Los Angeles and Orange County, painter Alex Couwenberg is deeply influenced by the cultural touchstones of the region: custom cars, surf and skateboard culture and the rigors of mid-century design. But it is Southern California's graphic tradition that seems most deeply to inform Couwenberg's paintings, which display a fine use of color and composition. St. Louis artist Shawn Burkard occupies the gallery's project room with his show Over and over and over, a body of work that reinterprets commercial objects. In the New Media room is "Cornerstone," a short video by installation artist Jill Downen, in which the artist explores the relationship between human bodies and the buildings they inhabit. Through May 31 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. and by appointment.
Currents 102: Sarah Oppenheimer The Saint Louis Art Museum has given over to installation artist Sarah Oppenheimer one of the galleries that houses its modern collection. With an undergraduate degree in semiotics, Oppenheimer explores the notion of "mutable architecture": Rather than viewing a room or a building as a fixed space, she seeks a fluctuating architecture that is socially engaged. Here the artist has constructed plywood tunnels through several of the museum's walls. Each tunnel, smooth and tapered, provides a view to a piece in the museum's modern collection. Some portals use mirrors, others open onto artworks that are several galleries away; each has a vaguely filmic quality that allows the viewer to reframe and re-engage with the museum's collection. Through July 6 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.)
Discerning Palette: Jerry O. Wilkerson Retrospective Like many of his contemporaries in the pop art movement, Jerry Wilkerson, who died of cancer in 2007, took his inspiration from the world of consumer goods. Painting in a neo-pointillist style that was more influenced by the technological world of printing than the ghost of George Seurat, Wilkerson tackled consumer culture in the most literal way. He painted that thing we consume directly: food. Boiled lobsters, hot dogs, potato chips. Wilkerson did not confine himself strictly to painting. He was also a sculptor whose three-dimensional creations tackled similar themes. Like the best pop art, the relationship of Wilkerson's work to the material consumer world is ambiguous: It celebrates the riot of product variety while simultaneously highlighting its disposable nature. Through August 15 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.slu.edu/x16374.xml. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
FastX2 Take your time here, bro: If a baboon and a crocodile were to meet in a death match on the beach, which would win? Need more information? Well, you won't find out who prevails in this epic battle of beasts, but you'll get an addled sense of the fight in the work of Fontbonne University painting student Brian DePauli. DePauli, whose oeuvre includes such works as Ninja Goose (goose battling fox) and Throw, Bite, Throw (a triptych of intergenerational bovine struggle), is part of White Flag Project's second annual FastX2, a juried exhibition of undergrads and grad students at St. Louis area colleges and universities. The show also features photographs by SIU-Carbondale's John David Corson and Webster's Mandie Steiling. Washington University's Jake Cruzen, an installation artist, and Ian Weaver, a painter, also made the cut. Through June 21 at White Flag Projects, 4568 Manchester Avenue; www.whiteflagprojects.org or 314-531-3442. Hours: noon-7 p.m. Wed., noon-5 p.m. Sat. and by appointment.
Dan Flavin: Constructed Light Limiting his palette to mass-produced fluorescent tubes of varying lengths and colors, Dan Flavin, who died in 1996, made a career distilling these ubiquitous artifacts of bureaucratic life into their purest form. The result: a body of reserved, minimalist work that at once extracts these relics from their workaday commercial context and reformulates the sites they inhabit with their refulgent glow. As installations, many of Flavin's works are site specific, leaving the stewards of his estate with the thorny question of whether in re-creating his works they are, in effect, creating new works of art. For this show, Tiffany Bell, director of the Dan Flavin catalogue raisonné project, and Steve Morse, who worked as Flavin's chief technician for many years, have chosen several works that rely more on architectural situations than on specific sites. The result is a meditative show that both accentuates and quarrels with the natural grace of their setting. Through October 4 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.
Hello Masterpiece Like some garden gnome swiped from Ladue and taken on a whirlwind European tour, Hello Kitty seems to be everywhere in this exhibit of postcard-size paintings by Leslie Holt. But unlike a gnome-napper whose abductees turn up in snapshots beside the Eiffel Tower or Buckingham Palace, Holt interpolates Hello Kitty into miniature reproductions of some of the most iconic images in the history of Western art. Here Kitty nabs Heraclitus' seat in Raphael's School of Athens. There she's standing en pointe in Degas' Dance Class. It's a clever little show that's a mash-up of highbrow and popular culture and that directs our attention, yet again, toward the idea of art as a commodity. The operative word here, though, is little: At four by six inches apiece, Holt's paintings refuse to take themselves too seriously. Through June 21 at phd Gallery, 2300 Cherokee Street; 314-664-6644 or www.phdstl.com. Hours: noon-4 p.m. Thu.-Sun.
Journeys Traveling in the United States, Europe and North Africa, for most of his life St. Louisan Peter Shank has been interpreting his journeys in oil paint. The title, then, of his current exhibition, which draws on more than four decades of painting experience, is fitting. Spanning from his days as a student at Yale to a stint in Paris and the Arab-dominated regions of North Africa, Shank's paintings show a remarkable consistency of technique. Consistency, however, does not translate into uniformity. Many of the paintings are reminiscent of the pre-surrealist painter Georgio de Chirico, incorporating such disparate images as a fish over a house topped by a mountain range. Many incorporate collage, while still others present simplified landscapes or nude portraits. Shank's range as an artist is hardly surprising. As the son of modernist architect Isadore Shank and famed illustrator Ilse Shank, he's one of three brothers, all of whom are artists. What is surprising is the scope of the show (more than 40 works) and the unmistakable impression it gives that an artist's vision, no matter the time and place, can remain intact while, simultaneously, it matures. Through June 20 at the Millstone Gallery at COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, University City; 314-725-6555 or www.cocastl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
Quilts in a Material World: Selections from the Winterthur Collection Yes, bedding. But these quilts, dating from the 1700s to 1850 and on loan from Delaware's Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, are historical artifacts. They are examples of the materials and technologies that were available to their makers and bear witness to the evolving cultural lives of women. One represents "The Deserted Village," a poem by Oliver Goldsmith celebrating rural life. Others were status symbols whose imagery reflected their makers' worldliness or whose content more blatantly referenced their well-placed acquaintances by simply listing their names. Also showing: A Stitch in Time: Images of Needleworking, 1850-1920, images of women engaged in knitting, sewing, embroidering, etc. Quilts shows through May 26 in the main exhibition gallery, Stitch through June 8 in Gallery 321 of the Saint Louis Art Museum, 1 Fine Arts Drive; 314-721-0072 or www.slam.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sun. (10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.).
Things That Matter: Art by Children with Autism The premise: Artistic creation can help children with autism to better express themselves. The disorder, which affects a person's ability to communicate, often includes intense fascinations with things: stoves, Hello Kitty, dinosaurs. Harnessing this fascination, coordinators Bevin Early and Nancy Pierson asked children to make art about their obsessions. So we have a video of a teenager dancing to Willy Wonka's "The Golden Ticket," a collection of found objects from a boy who collects everything he can and repeated self-portraits of a young boy. Also showing: the work of Don Koster and Jen Maigret, the 2007-'08 Cynthia Weese Teaching Fellows at Wash. U.'s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. Through September 6 (Koster and Maigret) and September 13 (Autism) at the Sheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Boulevard; 314-533-9900 or 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.