Featured Review: Alex Gene Morrison: Black Economy Two small oil paintings by London-based painter Alex Gene Morrison have found a singular venue for intimate scrutiny: a seven-by-seven-by-nine-foot white box in the home of curators Dana Turkovic and Daniel McGrath. In the dining room, to be exact. The experience of the space — a homemade and radically compressed version of a contemporary gallery — is as much of a focal point of the exhibit as the works themselves. An apt analogue for the reductive abstraction depicted in the paintings, the act of considering work in this space is an extreme distillation of what it means to closely observe art: One becomes all too aware of that expectant act of awaiting some kind of revelation or impact. In Alignment a dark pyramidal form rises from the edge of the picture plane, above which a skyline of thick orange paint hangs like a post-nuclear sun; in Slab a brown rectangular hunk sits reticently in shallow space. The two works are, respectively, the ur-forms of the landscape and the still life; protracted inspection reveals their tactile execution — varying brush widths, gradations of gloss, thickness of paint application. The imagery becomes surreal and portentously symbolic, nearing occult signification (a refined version of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album cover; a psychedelic Chardin?). But maybe that's too much observation. Whatever the reality, viewing Black Economy in the "gallery kit" succeeds in applauding visual sophistication and, just as succinctly, indicting it. Through November 9 at Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, 5723 Dewey Avenue; 314-660-6295 or www.gallerykit.blogspot.com. Hours: by appointment.
Perfectly Fucked Up for You Locally based painter RJ Messineo inaugurates Los Caminos — a new apartment gallery co-run by Cole Root and Francesca Wilmott — with a suite of abstract works that speak directly to the space's hybrid identity as a home and an exhibition venue. Stacked, a sculpture comprising three mirrored sides on a plywood base, stands roughly at human height and confronts the viewer upon entry; its edges are painted with primary-color enamel in hues reminiscent of children's blocks or jungle-gym equipment. A swath of window screen hangs adjacent to a row of street-side windows, its center carved out and stapled with white-painted poster board. An assemblage of wooden lattice, also painted white, divides the living room from the kitchen. Messineo's work communicates in a language of absences and presences, extracted from each piece's composite parts and reconfigured within it and among its neighbors. The works' material grammar of household items resonates as a fractured abstraction of domesticity, a homage to the elemental, familiar comforts of home and their more lurid Freudian subtexts. Through November 20 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; 314-629-8769 or www.loscaminosart.com. Hours: by appointment.Ongoing
Exposure 13 Concise and spare, this year's annual exhibition of notable local talent focuses on the work of Martin Brief, Joe Chesla and Asma Kazmi. Brief's pencil drawings trace the bare outlines of the entries on dictionary pages revealing empty shapes reminiscent of bar graphs or, perhaps floor plans. Joe Chesla's installation involves a gridwork of small plastic bags filled with water and affixed to a massive, transparent plastic sheet; the sheet is bound at its lower corners with rope, which peels the piece partially from the wall and toward the ceiling, revealing an underlayer of watery light. Asma Kazmi crafted several dozen clay pinch pots — or kashkol, hand-formed ceramic begging bowls — that rest on an unfinished pine table like a collection of autumn leaves or discarded half-shells. Taken together, the three artists amplify one another's interest in absence, resulting in a suite of frames for words, substances or currency that isn't there. Through December 4 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. Gallery hours 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Jill Downen: (dis)Mantle Local artist and recent Guggenheim recipient Jill Downen has transformed the former chapel inside the Luminary Center for the Arts by way of an all-over application of white plaster. In removing doorways, outlets and other visual excesses, Downen exposes its subtle asymmetries. A plumb line dangling from the ceiling emphasizes the space's subtle but numerous misalignments — and the vertiginous seasickness they combine to produce. Here Downen has taken her exploration of the relationship between body and architectural space to its most metaphysical, breaching the realm where faith and its attendant absolutes collide with human flaws and limitations. With all electrical fixtures spackled over, natural light is all that's left to illuminate the room, and the effect is transcendent: Transfixed, the viewer is made to feel peacefully contemplative and physically uneasy at the same time. Through October 30 at the Luminary Center for the Arts, 4900 Reber Place; 314-807-5984 or www.theluminaryarts.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.
Mary Jo Bang: Until Was Mickey Mouse and his ragtag gang of dogs and ducks are the Everymen of poet and photographer Mary Jo Bang's debut exhibition of delicate collages. Angular swaths of truncated comic dialogue appear amid bits of leafy, illustrative foliage and Mickey in sweat-beaded exasperation, while Alice, of Lewis Carroll's surreal children's book, slyly intervenes. It's a world of pratfalls underpinned by the unsettlingly bizarre — more like Beckett than Walt Disney. Assembled with the same incisive precision as Bang's poems, these small works portray a pantheon of comic and vintage characters that slip in and out of their familiar roles. As one piece — entitled For Freud and foregrounding a medical dissection of the brain — suggests, here the seemingly innocent rustles with the darkly trenchant import of memory and dreams. Through November 6 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.
Not Coming Home Playing the role of the trickster — or, in this case, summoning his memory of being (briefly) a child runaway — local artist Jon Cournoyer crafts an exhibit that unfolds like an illustrated fable of youthful self-exploration. In expertly composed collages, prints and mixed-media assemblages, Cournoyer presents a chronicle of revelatory bewilderment in psychedelic-patterned paper swatches, faded flour sacks, bingo pieces and cross-country commuter train schedules — the collision of chance and planning. The artist statement that accompanies the exhibit informs that the summer of '69 was one of leaving the Midwestern nest for the wilds of the West Coast, where anarchic theatrical troupes and other fringe collectives briefly brought Cournoyer under their wing. He depicts this bohemian epoch as a starry heaven full of whirl-a-gig astronomy unfettered by the familiar star patterns. A delicate gold stitch follows these swirling lines, as a kind of honorific nod to the artist's enthrallment with nostalgia; significant keepsakes — an arrowhead, a velvet-lined glasses case, a bell jar in which turned cabinet knobs form a tiny fantastical skyline — affixed to the pieces serve as similar memorials. While an illustrative finesse keeps everything in storybook order, the frayed edges of the found materials fondly anchor the work in marginality and what would be conventionally perceived as trash. Through October 30 at Hoffman Lachance Contemporary, 2713 Sutton Boulevard, Maplewood; 314-960-5322 or www.hoffmanlachancefineart.com. Hours: noon-3 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.
Smarter/Faster/Higher A clutch of wire-woven human forms crawl, run and gaze at their own images displayed on video screens in Elizabeth Keithline's site-specific installation. Wire-formed trees sprout from the hexagonal white tiles that carpet the areas on which the figural armatures pose. It's a skeletal world of reductive shapes and symbolic forms, suggesting a kind of Darwinian attrition from wildlife and infancy to the technocratic and ostensibly "adult." In this case maturity equals self-reflection, which is either an act of heightened consciousness or narcissism. Either way, whatever these characters discern in themselves must be yet one more reduction of humanity, like the hollow and de-gendered objects they are, despite their finely knotted nuance. Which is to say that this is one direly cynical diorama, lovingly handcrafted. Through January 16, 2011, at the Craft Alliance Gallery (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.