Featured Review: Uncommon Objects/Personal Views: The Collections of Rick Ege and John Foster Canvas carnival "punks"; a galvanized steel bucket riddled with rusty nails; a massive cross crafted in sharp-faceted bits of scrap metal; a miniature steam boat scrupulously assembled from old linoleum tiles, painted wood pieces and swaths of window screen: This exhibit of folk art and anonymously crafted or found oddities is a study in looking closely at the world, with an eye for incidental splendor. The two local collectors featured — Rick Ege, a noted antiques dealer, and John Foster, a graphic designer at TOKY — have together amassed a peculiar museum of regional wonders, from geodes that resemble intricately weathered marble busts to assorted hands, roughly wrought in steel or elegantly detached from turn-of-the-century haberdasher's models. A painting of Hell's layered firmaments by Howard Finster and a stacked assemblage of yellowed napkins detailing plane crashes by savant George Widener, among other pieces of notable American outsider art, suggest alliances between meticulous, if unwitting, aesthetic brilliance and what might otherwise be overlooked as bizarre detritus. But detritus this is not: The objects here are not merely uncommon. Their wondrous beauty equals or exceeds that of more deliberate, schooled and cerebrated "art." A rare gem of an exhibition, beseeching you to behave like the artists exhibited: lean in, get lost in details and overlook nothing. Through January 8, 2011, 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. Ongoing
A Day Like Any Other This mid-career survey by 42-year-old Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander features a suite of works that function like trenchantly clever pop refrains. The media are wildly diverse — installations, video, drawing, painting — but the constant is a core engine of simple play. In Rain Rains, silver buckets filled with water hang from the ceiling, dripping into buckets placed below. Holes punched from the text of 1001 Arabian Nights are scattered on black pages of paper, creating constellations made to mark every day of the exhibition. A soap bubble is filmed as it eludes bare light bulbs, hallway corners and kitchen cabinets in an empty urban apartment, in a poetical homage to Roman Polanski's paranoiac 1976 film The Tenant. Viewers are invited to make an appointment with a police sketch artist to whom they can describe their first love and have that love rendered, in a piece after Samuel Beckett's early novella First Love. And in Involuntary Sculptures (Speech Acts), the twisted tin labels and paper straw wrappers wadded in the hands of nervous bargoers are displayed in white vitrines. Time, perception and the bare inevitability of gravity, weather and idle hands are the operable mechanics, here, creating an elegantly blithe portrait of the weighty elements that encumber us. Through January 10, 2011, at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Forsyth and 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.).
Elad Lassry: Sum of Limited Views Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based artist Elad Lassry repurposes our collective sense of stock photography to bizarre and uncanny effect, creating still lifes and portraits that straddle popular advertising and surreal conceptualism. With their intimate, domestic scale, the pieces inhabit a snapshot realm even as they swerve away from the familiar. A series of open, pink lipsticks set on small green pedestals are presented against a green background within a green-painted frame. A well-groomed young man with a large white smile appears poised for product placement, but the image is double-exposed, giving him four eyes. The works appear simultaneously static and shaken — or on the verge of some subtle movement — an effect Lassry explores further in a series of sixteen-millimeter films. Also showing — Richard Artschwager: Hair A former furniture maker, Artschwager has employed rubberized horsehair of the type used in upholstery to create works that exist in a realm of inconclusiveness like that of Lassry's photos, where hard lines of exclamation points, thrones, tables and figural silhouettes blur in the frayed surface of their hirsute material. These pieces, made over the past three decades and rarely exhibited, expose a new dimension of this elusive artist's large and varied canon: an effort to soften the cerebral nature of the principal mid-century art movements. Through January 2, 2011, 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., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
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.
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.
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.
stylus Ann Hamilton's poetic and site-specific installation addresses the history and scope of modes of communication. Upon entering one is invited to choose a record drawn from the St. Louis Public Library that plays in concert with the otherworldy soundtrack (composed by Shahrokh Yadegari) that otherwise consumes the installation. Mumblings of words, some of them discernible, echo through the wide gallery corridors, many of them recited by Hamilton (a printed transcription is available) and integrating words from William James' Varieties of Religious Experience and phrases from contemporary news RSS feeds. The liturgical and the political (or the spiritual and the pragmatic) could be described as the conscience of this exhibition, which envelops you with sound, implicates you with participatory choices and confronts you with engrossing but temporal imagery. In short, Hamilton has created a kind of weather, one whose stormy ruptures and angelic calms are both within viewers' reach to affect, and, simultaneously, to be subjected to. A table covered in jumping beans resides in what becomes the Pulitzer's choir loft, the sound of the beans amplified by microphones that hover above them. Their wordless chatter feels as elemental as the soaring crescendos of a classical soprano voice, which occasionally intervenes in the soundscape. As the signal and noise of today's news streams past, verbally and in visual projection, the viewer is moved to reflect on all that can't be said. Through January 22, 2011, 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.
Tiny Content "Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It's very tiny — very tiny, content," said Willem de Kooning. Taking its title from the epigraph to Susan Sontag's pivotal essay "Against Interpretation," this small group show, sensitively curated by Bevin Early, explores art's capacity for earnestness and failure. And an essay it is, in the English sense of the word — a small exegesis on a subject — and the French, meaning "an attempt." Recent Washington University M.F.A. graduates John Early and Dan Solberg contribute works that mine the aesthetics of inconclusiveness. Early's Swivel Swing invites viewers to sit, take a pencil and draw a parenthetical arc around themselves on the gallery wall, describing their arms' reach. Solberg displays a series of failed faxes from a colleague, who was attempting to send him the text of a lecture by Michel Foucault. Half-eaten by digital noise, the pages are an apt analogue to the heading from beneath which they were extracted: poststructuralism. Peter Pranschke displays a suite of delicate sculptures wrought in used erasers, meticulously wadded dental floss, cut-up notebooks and the detritus of other "ordinary materials" used to correct or improve upon aspects of daily human well-being. The small pieces are meaningfully laid out on a shiny white tabletop that resembles the blank expanse of a dry-erase board, suggesting a quixotic diagram or an abstract solution to an abstract problem. Mike Schuh inhabits a small alcove of the gallery with pieces of linoleum tile torn out of his studio in Banff, Alberta; the rough-edged and worn-out squares reaffirm the artist's absence and the objects' displaced use. Taken as a whole, the collection of spare artworks seems to function as a mumbling chorus of stripped-down materials, most of them commonplace, estranged from their typical purpose and made elegant by their simplicity. Through December 5 at Snowflake, 3156 Cherokee Street or www.snowflakecitystock.com. Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.