The Michael Jackson Series Cut-out portraits of fresh-faced, Jackson Five-era Michael Jackson hover amid painted patterns of stars and stripes in this homage to the recently deceased King of Pop. The work, by St. Louis-based artist David Langley, lines the display window walls of Gallery Proper, the street-side exhibition space of All Along Press' impressive new headquarters on Cherokee Street. Jackson's portrait, repetitively presented in eternal adolescence, is bitten away by small cuts that variously devour the image. Flanking this series are two other pop-star portraits — of Sid Vicious, haloed, razor-lacerated and downcast; and of Twiggy, her mournful, large-eyed face looming over a slender torso that is half popsicle stick, half paper doll's tabbed attire. The storefront display of rock-star martyrdom sets a ruminative tone for local passersby, functioning like a visual anthem to lost youth. Through April 3 at Gallery Proper, 2712 Cherokee Street; 314-827-6185 or www.allalongpress.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
The Pangaea Project In this series of predominantly oil-on-panel abstractions, St. Louis-based Jeremy Rabus deepens his distinct call-and-response approach, crafting a suite of images that catalogue the nuances of pure gesture and color. While vaguely evocative of landscapes (the titles are amalgams that call to mind fictional place names), the work is most successful when it trades in its most elusive elements: the ridges of brushstrokes, a bold sweep of red down the canvas' center, sanded-flat layers of indistinct but confidently fluid marks. More illustrative moments — wavy, pastel-hued lines that resemble plankton or water — feel too deliberately overworked. But all in all the exhibit marks a step forward in the artist's craft — with deeper color, more refined surfaces and a bolder painterly facility that permits itself to take uncalculated risks. Through March 27 at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, 2713 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-960-5322 or www.hoffmanlachancefineart.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat and by appointment.
What Pictures Want Local artist and Webster University professor Daniel McGrath offers an ironic response to art theorist W.J.T. Mitchell's question "What Do Pictures Want?" McGrath has assembled a miniature salon-style exhibition of text-based paintings that spoof the haute-elite culture of the art world. Precisely lettered in Helvetica and other museum-grade fonts, the white-on-black texts read: "Attracted to me? You probably possess all the properties of the upper class minus one: money"; "Don't read books, read magazines. You learn more from them anyway"; or (in French and English) "It's dangerous to wear Prada in here. You might get caught in the same outfit as one of the staff." A lumpily sculpted iPod and contact lens sit on a museum bench next to a bottle labeled "Really Cold Water." These awkwardly handmade objects are telling: The story being narrated here is not simply about high theory, the stereotypical fashion-conscious cosmopolitan upper crust and the nuances of auction-house repartee. Rather, the work seems to expose the handcrafted-ness of us-and-them tensions, how our distillations of others are distinctly thumbprinted with our own perceptions and desires. Through April 24 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.
Allison Smith: Needlework Hand-sewn replicas of gas masks and other forms of head coverings worn in military, terrorist or personal crisis are photographed in disconcertingly straightforward and unsentimental images. The rough fabric textures and imprecise stitchwork — misaligned eyeholes, rendering mouths and head shapes amorphous — create a tension between the intimately handmade and brutally subjugating. Parachutes, printed with the images of masks, hover throughout the gallery with cloudlike buoyancy. They offset the stifling effect of the photographed objects and create yet another elegant disjunction — as though conflict can be lighter than air. Through April 19 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.).
BIRDHOUSEINCATTREE During his recent winter residency at Boots Contemporary Art Space, German artist Wilhelm Neußer painted this suite of images, which explores the peculiarity of birdhouses, cat condos and other human dwelling spaces miniaturized for animals. The project furthers his interest in domestic architecture and its way of subtly dictating our interaction with the world — setting limits (walls), framing perspective (windows), organizing movement (the layout of interiors, the segregation of activities to discrete rooms). The tension between a firm sense of place and dreamlike disorientation — where one's trust in space is always on the brink of being subverted — recalls de Chirico but with less illustrative symbolism. Rather, the logic of these images is purely painterly, portraying an abstraction of life, and an orderly strain in animal impulses. Through March 31, at Boots Contemporary Art Space, 2307 Cherokee Street; 314-773-2281 or www.bootsart.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed. and Sat. and by appointment.
Interface This survey of projects created at Amanda Verbeck's shop, Pele Prints, explores the dialogue between an artist's approach to printmaking and his or her studio practice, with an emphasis on the importance of collaboration in the process. A selection of studio work from each participant is juxtaposed next to pieces they produced at Pele; a text accompanies each suite and reflects on the experience they had with Verbeck and the connections they draw between their solitary and collaborative processes. Beyond the dialogic aspects, the exhibition presents an impressively rich body of work by artists who complement one another's aesthetics: The dense strata of Lora Fosberg's intricately introspective word-based work speaks to Gina Alvarez's intricate collection of marks, material nuances and fibrous effusions; Laura Berman's spectrum of organically shaped saturated hues speaks to Brandon Anschultz's formal abstractions, equally saturated with dense chromatic fields. And an impulse toward patterns emerges between Alicia LaChance and Grant W. Miller, whose works indebt themselves to the flatness of print-generated image making. Through April 25 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.
Mark Newport: Self-Made Man Upending familiar caricatures from superpowers, spinsters and Mr. Moms to high and low art, this exhibit of limp, knitted comic-book-hero costumes marks the definitive end of the Bold Man of Action. Superman, Batman — they're all here, hanging like molted skins or discarded fruit rinds. While meticulously handcrafted, this collection of full-body woolens, emptied of form, is less suggestive of self-sufficiency than gentle dependency — that precious, humble concession necessary for maintaining family structure. Newport, then — seen in a video knitting (and wearing knitted suit) — could be super-normal, at ultimate peace with his domesticated role. The work speaks more to the truer root of the comic-book mythos, which was not about brawny power but the condition of being a misfit — socially dispossessed, precocious but alienated, scarred by trauma and hell-bent on being needed. In the loose musculature, flaccid ears and drooping emblems of Newport's pieces, comic-book luminaries are perhaps laid bare; having finally found human acceptance, they can be as vulnerable as they please. Through May 9 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278 or www.laumeier.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (Outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).
In the Manner of Smoke A plug-in Zen water garden; canvas shoulder bag; piles of emptied Morningstar and WestSoy products — all the signs betray that a leftist/vegetarian/animal-rights activist was here in this wonderfully strange installation by Pittsburgh artist Jerstin Crosby. Coop/Co-op, a gritty, ad-hoc studio of sorts that dominates the gallery, houses these clever items that aptly slip between meticulous handicraft and punk irreverence. Then there's the video montage of a goth restaging of Seinfeld, in which the action revolves not around Upper West Side neuroses but rather the hair-splitting of what comprises the truly politically correct. For all of the direct allusions, this is a highly atmospheric exhibit, which is what makes it so trenchantly intelligent: The humor is never mudslinging, the critique not prescriptive. This is the work of a sympathizer, recognizing, with wry affection, the oddity and illogic of beliefs. The artist's billboard sign, above the gallery, sums it up: "You Cannot Control What Is Wild." Through March 20 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.
Old Media/Old News Yesterday's headlines are re-presented in traditional (old) media by a group of local and international artists in this inventive elegy to the death of print journalism. Idiosyncratic, methodical processes seek to replace or reclaim the generative grind of tangible print: Martin Brief fills in all the O's that appear on the front page of the daily newspaper in hyper-minimalist maps of dots that suggest a concealed but perhaps arbitrary code. Writer Austin Kleon uses a Sharpie to black out the majority of text on a page, suggesting that what's left reveals poetic insight into otherwise prosaic reportage. And in the ultimate feat of sustained meticulousness, Xiang-Yang's Newsreel employs entire rolls of Scotch tape to peel off the printed faces of celebrities and other media-saturated notables, creating reams of ephemeral, repetitive portraits that resemble unspooled film stock of pummeling propaganda. Fact, here, becomes marginalia, while emotional and personal experiences surface as all that's most articulate, memorable or worth remembering. The exhibit also includes work by Michelle Forsyth and Jihoon Park. Through March 27 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Sean Landers: 1991-1994, Improbable History This survey of relentlessly self-dissecting and blogosphere-portentous paintings, videos, sculptures and photographs by the New York-based conceptual artist Landers makes every attempt to get a hold of that elusive quality known as sincerity. Covering massive canvases, full legal pads and several years' worth of calendar pages with hand-scrawled text, Landers iterates himself as a desperately ambitious but ever-human everyman, a kind of modern-day St. Augustine confessing his trials with art and life in a mode of unedited profusion that traditional social courtesy was established to discourage. There's a sense of rigor in Landers' ability to tolerate himself, which is mirrored by the viewer's tolerance for the work — a rigor that most have perhaps become accustomed to through the sudden ubiquity of social media, modern memoirs and all the other contemporary variations of self-advertisement/acceptable voyeurism now available. In light of this "new normal" (term courtesy of Dick Cheney), Landers comes across as less transgressive than strangely classical — he uses paint and canvas, he's apologetic, and he references Blake, Narcissus and the lyric impulse. But is he sincere? He doesn't even claim to know. Critical to motivating his furious desire to excavate earnestness is Landers' fraught identity as a working-class Irish Catholic, a fact that makes him incapable of escaping the crushing guilt of having committed the ultimate transgression: becoming an artist. Also showing: Stephen Prina: Modern Movie Pop, an elusive multimedia installation that's half snow-drenched, half-rainbowed, with flickering images of winter and bright, wavering watercolors that suggest an encrypted message continually slipping between blithe naiveté and the fiercely cerebral. Through April 11 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.
Sharon Lockhart: Lunch Break This suite of large-scale photographs and two film installations is a sustained meditation on the ecology of the industrial working class. The product of a year spent at General Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine, Lockhart's exhibition catalogues a world of intimate ritual and discretely elegant detail. Lunch boxes stand in as portraits of the assorted workers, the well-worn items bearing emblems of their owners, their photographic presentation having all of the poise and saturated symbolism of Dutch still lifes. The films extend that observational attunement; Lunch Break follows the main artery of the factory at a pace slower than breathing, the immersive effect of which renders the space nearly abstract. Equally atmospheric, Exit follows the workers daily leave-taking on five consecutive days — a world punctuated by lunch pails, swinging in primary hues from obscured hands as they march beneath the ironwork of an underpass, the mass but unhurried movement suggesting exodus and elegy alike. Through April 19 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.).
Solberg/Cruzen Recent Washington University MFA grads Dan Solberg and Jake Cruzen inaugurate their new gallery space with new work that strives to deny all traditional forms of aesthetic gratification. Cruzen's bleach-on-raw-linen triptychs and diptychs erase what would have been the picture plane for mimetic rendering, forcing the viewer to focus on the ravaged materiality of the non-paintings and their eroded and stained surfaces. Solberg's large-format digital photos position you as a kind of fastidious voyeur of banality: a red-painted French door looks out onto porch-lit potted ferns, the pictures cut out at the edges to resemble the lunette shape of binocular lenses. The repeated imagery of both artists' work — for all of its denial of literal content, figure, depth of field and aesthetic pleasure — evokes a kind of narrative (for Solberg, suburban entrapment; for Cruzen, economy and expressionism) but also accretes to a material and aesthetic lushness of its own. The linen fibers become tactile, the bleach stains abstract and emotive; and the windows onto nothingness, repetitively, read almost like a Robbe-Grillet novel, as if they're the site of a nearly imperceptible crime. Through March 20 at Craig Elmer Modern, 3194 South Grand Boulevard; 314-517-6150 or 636-368-7069. Hours: noon-4 Sat. and by appointment.
Tim Curtis: See How My Mind Works Small handmade chalkboards bearing chalk-written personal proclamations wallpaper the gallery space and accost the viewer with the artist's internal monologue. The elementary-school visual vernacular, combined with the puerile effusions of the unedited mind, make for a vexing experience. Maybe it's the myriad generalizations working in concert to craft a voice of plainspoken authenticity — from the schoolhouse aesthetic to the cynical wit of bumper-sticker clichés — but the show manages to engender a sense of disgust for all things popularly deemed "common." If the raw truth is that we Americans are petty, porn-loving, sexist, self-pitying, materialistic, superficial, depressed, addicted and fundamentally uncourageous — well, then, perhaps we deserve to perpetuate such anti-heroics by chuckling at our "humanness" and applauding ourselves for our tough but cute honesty. Through April 18 at Craft Alliance (Grand Center), 501 North Grand Boulevard; 314-534-7528 or www.craftalliance.org. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Trailways St. Louis-based photographer Barclay Hughes presents a two-part exhibit of old and new work that re-enacts the classic existential tale of isolated travelers contemplatively aware of their situational entrapment. In one half of the exhibition (the artist's 1999 master's thesis), commuting New Yorkers are caught in mid-stride; the images are taken at close range with an obtrusive traditional camera, but the subjects betray no indication they notice. In the second series, a truck stop serves as the setting for a mute nighttime narrative that calls to mind the 1940 Bogart noir They Drive by Night, updated for the 21st century. In its cinematic quality and method of digital composition, the recent work owes a significant debt to Gregory Crewdson, Hughes' mentor at Yale. There's a twist, though: A weathered and forlorn diner waitress is in fact a psychoanalyst; an equally timeworn truck driver is a lawyer. The undisclosed overlapping of these seemingly incommensurate worlds — the generalized and the private, the blue- and white-collar — adds a necessary friction to work that could otherwise disappear in its cool, facile referentiality. Through March 20 at Schmidt Contemporary Art, 615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-575-2648 or www.schmidtcontemporaryart.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
Urban Alchemy/Gordon Matta-Clark The late New York-area artist who used entire blighted buildings as his sculptural material could not have found a more apt (temporary) home. The architectural stock Matta-Clark repurposed finds innumerable analogues beyond the Pulitzer's walls; each instance serves as a brief visual lesson in the aesthetics of simple dwelling spaces. Like archaeological strata, the layers of linoleum, plaster, wood beams, shingles, wallpaper and paint attest to the intricacy of the quotidian and the accretive elegance of all things driven by necessity. The message seems to be: Look closely and let nothing be taken for granted. Beyond the diffusions of daylight so scrupulously choreographed by the museum's celebrated architecture, siting this survey in St. Louis does a service to both artist and city. Matta-Clark was an innovator in the synthesis of architecture, activism and art — a catalyst of exactly the sort this town could use. Through June 5 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.-4 p.m. Sat.
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.)