Featured Review: 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.
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, 5700 Lindell Boulevard; 314-746-4599 or www.mohistory.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily (open till 8 p.m. Tue.).
Cause + Time Minimalist in design, maximalist in content, this group exhibition explores the intersection of art and technology through work that records, transforms or reacts to the onslaught of the information age. Eric Souther's Digital Mandala is a stark black-and-white projection of densely intersecting lines; their ultimate, circular shape and accretive tangle are the result of informational excess, which elicits each projected mark as well as the buzzing din of half-mechanized sounds that permeate the exhibition space. Arnold Wedemeyer's two video "still lifes" — glacially slow time-lapse depictions of nearly mundane space — eerily capture the most subtle and suggestively digital changes in real objects over time. Andrew Cozzens' "growth" sculptures include a kind of canvas sling, through the bottom of which a ridge of wheatgrass sprouts; the grass will eventually turn toward the gallery's minimal light source — and, ultimately, die from lack of light. A work by David Bowen tracks the growth of an onion plant through a mechanized rendering device usually used for collecting scientific data. Another Souther work creates an abstracted visual space via search-engine data for the word "chair." Both nature and computer-driven science are marveled at here for their capacity to manipulate or be manipulated — a kind of aesthetic being found in the function of data collection or, even more simply, the mere compulsion to collect it. Through June 26 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Clint Baclawski/Caleb Taylor: Recent Works This luminous two-person exhibit of Santo Foundation grant winners, curated by Ashley Kopp, distills the forms, colors and motifs of advertising into an abstract language. Taylor's gouaches on paper obscure bright swaths of yellow, red and blue that resemble tangled flags hidden beneath the white of overcast skies. Baclawski's large-scale photographic light boxes are staggered on the gallery floor in a staccato maze of handsomely slick obstructions; the double-sided, mirrored scenes they portray are whitewashed by fluorescent light that gleams within, dimming and then intensifying the cold tones depicted: ski slope, urban winter, antiseptic gymnasium. Each locale is punctuated with consumerism — bag-toting crowds, national or corporate flags, the ubiquitous print of a corporate logo — the bold, primary palette of which finds an elegant analogue in Taylor's painterly works. At night the exhibit throbs with the after-hours glow of a commercial storefront, promising something unquantifiable to passersby. Also showing: Neither Night and Day; Gabriel Slavitt's installation — prismatic painted pyramids, ceramic dishware, a chart of local birds, a video of daily commuting — sees a kind of ceremonial rite in the movement and signs of the everyday. Through June 6 at Snowflake/Citystock, 3156 Cherokee Street; www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.
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 carte de visites (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.)
Dry Bones and Other Parables from the North 2010 Whitney Biennial participant Theaster Gates presents a series of paintings inspired by the Book of Ezekiel and St. Louis' north-side neighborhood of Hyde Park. Organized in conjunction with the Pulitzer Foundation's current exhibition and curated by Juan William Chavez, the project involved a collaboration with students from Holy Trinity Catholic School and ACCESS Academies. The long, rectangular works, executed in gold leaf and acrylic on found wood, appear like primitive illustrations of the contemporary housing crisis, imbuing decaying brownstones and other urban artifacts with biblical attributes — and, perhaps, the hope of revival. Paired with the works is a walking tour of Hyde Park, complete with imaginative plans for revitalizating the area. Thrones made of discarded wood siding and other housing refuse punctuate the gallery spaces, acting as both an invitation to the viewer to engage in activism and a memorial to the neglected communities to which their constituent parts once belonged. Through June 5 at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Boulevard; 314-531-3030 or www.brunodavidgallery.com. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. on the first Sun. of every month and by appointment.
Eden Harris: Out of the Woods This delicate suite of works on paper focuses on the intricacy of leaf and floral growth and the natural geometry of the hornet's nest. Pieces of white paper are cut into porous, repetitive patterns and dangle on pins an inch from the wall, allowing the hand-tailored scrims to lightly shiver at the viewer's passing and cast a duplicate pattern in shadows on a blank sheet behind it. Other pieces are cut into hivelike shards, the removed hexagonal shapes smeared with a webbing of paper pulp and hung like a flat constellation of semi-abstract shapes; an enormous (and dormant) hornet's nest sits menacingly on a pedestal beneath them. The work vacillates between rawly tactile and severely pristine — a tension that reflects back on its natural source, which is as wild as it is algorithmic. A Theodore Roethke poem, "The Manifestation," prefaces the show; one line reads like a declaration of purpose for the elegantly simple work: "What does what it should do needs nothing more." Through June 5 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.
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.)
Marks of Absence Curated by Marie Heilich, this three-person, two-venue exhibition presents another group of recent Santo Foundation grant recipients. At Good Citizen, Caleb Cole's photographic series "Other People's Clothes" depicts the artist in outfits and environments borrowed from friends, acquaintances and strangers. Cole appears in ill-fitting suits: in an empty parking garage; cross-legged and wearing duct-taped high heels in a cramped automobile; staring blankly from behind the desk of a veterinarian's office. His "drag" performance is of the most nuanced variety — no makeup or wigs; he embodies his adopted personas through the slightest of gestures, a mutably gendered Buster Keaton armed with sidelong glances, parted lips, subtly betraying props. At Fort Gondo Lily Cox-Richard's plaster sculptures resembling small, draped obelisks stagger the gallery amid Lori Larusso's shaped acrylic paintings of stark suburban interiors. In both exhibits the viewer apprehends the notion of absence as a motif in the form of unrequited empathy: Larusso's lobster boiling, menacingly unattended, in an empty kitchen, Cox-Richard's sculptures reticent under their shrouds. The same, in a way, goes for the owners of Cole's costumes and reconstituted personas, casually leading their lives out of the picture — if they even exist. Through June 6. Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, 3151 Cherokee Street; 314-772-3628 or www.fortgondo.com; hours by appointment. Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com; hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.
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.
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.).
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.)