Roger Ackling Using rescued pieces of driftwood collected during ocean-side walks, British artist Ackling crafts intimate minimalist sculptures whose presence far exceeds their small scale. Softly weathered but sharp in form, the pyramidal, cubic and rectangular wood pieces are etched with meticulous burnt striations, created by training the sun's rays through a magnifying glass. These lines, which cover the diminutive items' full surface area, move steadily over and between the occasional bent and rusted nail. The work speaks as much in its finished form as it does of its means of arriving there: distilling a habitual communion with nature — from ritual walks to the studied harnessing of the sun — the small sculptures are products of the elements as much as they are of the artist's hand. Jewel-like, the ten pieces appear as relics to moments perhaps otherwise quantified as trivial, when nothing was uttered and no greater action occurred than the lapping of waves and the clearance of a cloud layer. Through January 22 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. and by appointment.
Maturity and Its Muse The only two traits shared by the artists in this wildly eclectic show of sculpture, painting, drawing, photography and then some is that they're based in St. Louis and on the other side of age 70. And they wear these aspects well. As the first exhibition by the new, locally based nonprofit of the same name (which aims to support positive and productive aging through creativity in the arts), M and Its M has managed to gather a deeply accomplished group of individuals whose biographies and personal accomplishments alone could have provided substance for an exhibition. But the art does not fail to deliver, ranging from quilts made of neckties to drawings of roaring orangutans to beak-shaped ceramic pitchers to colorful pop collages to gold chain-mail chokers. Confident diversity is apparently at the heart of growing old gracefully — a message that addresses art's durability or its importance in keeping us young. Through February 5 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.
Overpaper This selection of works on paper features both local and national artists, including Carmon Colangelo, Jill Downen, Ann Hamilton, Judy Pfaff and Buzz Spector. Hamilton's Carriage is a handcrafted version of the pleated seventeenth-century collar known as a ruff; in this version the frills are the product of fanned-out paperback pages, which have been diced into thin strands and rebound at the neckline. Knowledge, it's suggested, is an awkward freight, or a conspicuously outdated adornment. Jill Downen has translated her white-on-white plaster installations into elegant two-dimensional forms, where bright white paper subtly ripples with an undulating (and fleshlike) surface texture of white gypsum. Judy Pfaff's piece is "paper art" at its most opulent extreme: In a large wall-mounted shadow-box, silk flowers, paper boats, scraps of newspaper and other seeming detritus cluster to assemble a kind of faux terrarium, where the most unnatural elements play the role of nature at its most wild. Also showing — Leslie Laskey's Portraits: Artists and Friends, which reimagines the gallery's entry space as a lamp-lit reading room, in which drawn and painted portraits of the artist's favored forebears hang in gilt frames or lean in piled decorative arrangements. The effect is unapologetically nostalgic and, as such, charming — endorsing full throttle the romantic myth of the golden age of avant-garde "genius," from Picasso to Giacometti to Stein. Through January 15 at the 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.
Pae White: Dying Oak In this cosmos-like trip through the inner strata of an 800-year-old oak tree, Los Angeles-based Pae White creates a digital approximation of her dangling, delicately handmade mobiles and tapestries. White's work, which has previously focused on the details of traditional craft and the minutiae of nature, here takes on the medium of video with the same obsessive, patient eye. Each pixel in this animation appears, like White's mobiles, to dangle from invisible strands; the viewer is drawn in and through the impossible space of the tree's interior as though it were simultaneously solid and penetrable. Striking a mesmerizing balance between the urge to deeply and pragmatically study a subject and simply absorb the intangible qualities of its aesthetic presence, Dying Oak draws something tactile out of the virtual ether. Through January 16 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.).
Violence Not the interpersonal kind, but the conceptual variety, in which materials, traditions and methods are roughed up and reimagined in ways that express certain antagonistic impulses. Noting a broad cultural current of "violence that is not violence" — perhaps better known as passive aggression — Violence gathers the work of six artists from St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago who perform all-but-destructive acts through or upon their work. Molly Zuckerman-Hartung affixes torn strips of thrift-store jeans to a small stretched canvas that hangs adjacent to a jagged swath of raw canvas. Justin Gainan scrupulously frames small discarded pieces of dirty paper salvaged from the framing process itself, resulting in what appears to be memorialized detritus. And Brandon Anschultz severs two paintings and conjoins their four halves in a work that elegantly bears the scars of otherwise brutal deconstruction. Also included are photographs by Natalee Cayton that bear accompanying subscripts describing all they failed to capture, and a video by Michael Sirianni called Blanks, which repeatedly captures the burst of a moment when a television is shut off. Through January 15 at Los Caminos, 2649 Cherokee Street; www.loscaminosart.com. Hours: by appointment.