Richard Aldrich and the 19th Century French Painting The uniform 84-by-58-inch white-primed canvases that compose New York-based painter Richard Aldrich's exhibition appear, in their close-hung repetition, like pages in a notebook. Upon each page paper clippings, splints of wood or the erratic trace of a brush's single gesture are collected, producing the effect of a most intimate journal, perhaps written by a cloud. The gestural focus is underscored by what is presented as Aldrich's historical forebears — a select four paintings, drawn from the Saint Louis Art Museum's collection, by French intimist painters Vuillard and Bonnard (with one Irishman's self-portrait added, for discontinuity's sake). These nineteenth-century footnotes, describing in obsessional detail daily artifacts such as fruit, the domestic space and the more immemorial varieties of light, place Aldrich's contemporary fixations (Syd Barrett, slide film, BAM Cinema ticket stubs) firmly in an elegant tradition. Granted, these "newer" artifacts are throwbacks in themselves, suggesting a more complex relationship to the daily — in which the present, and our most banal and intimate moments, are no longer a safe source for nonderivative authenticity but yet another space to compose the myth of oneself. Our masterpiece is, indeed, the private life. Through May 1 at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.camstl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat. (open till 8 on Thu.), 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
Featured Review: Ryan Thayer: Timemachines In this exhibit of photograms, local artist Ryan Thayer suggests that temporal distinctions of the past, present and future collapse in the tiny frames of portable devices with LCD screens. When you're holding an archival image in the palm of your hand as it's displayed on, say, an iPod, the future is essentially now. Thayer exposes cell phones, laptops, iPads — all those gadgets that have come to define how we now experience daily life — to traditional photo processing, rendering something akin to an x-ray trace. These ghostly archeological imprints of planned obsolescence, in their characteristic black-and-white severity, simultaneously recall turn-of-the-century avant-garde techniques and ultra-contemporary technology — making something wistful and timeless out of tomorrow's recyclables. Through March 25 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.Ongoing
A Dance to Jules Feiffer The career of this pioneer of Seinfeldian existential humor is as impressive as they get — his vita includes a 40-plus-year stint as a cartoonist for the Village Voice; being the New York Times' first op-ed cartoonist; authoring a Mike Nichols-directed, Jack-Nicholson-starring film script (Carnal Knowledge); and winning the Pulitzer Prize. This exhibition focuses on a series of recent large-scale water colors of long-limbed dancers, as well as a select group of Feiffer's '90s-era dancer cartoons. These serials, which feature a woman with a determined sense of positivity, mildly spoof the ambitions of avant-garde expression by plying the elegant, creative urge with more desperate content — such as the wish for more rational gun control, racial equality and higher public education standards, along with the general desire to simply be better understood by one's parents. As much as she'd have to say about recent news, she has already said it. She's a blithe soul, whose strident leaps and drooping downfalls exhibit an empathetic whimsy, keeping her message both trenchant and buoyant (not an easy bargain to strike) and always a step before her time. The show is a great introduction to Feiffer — a quiet inventor of a brand of contemporary frankness about art, politics and life — so prevalent today we pass it off as not mere wit but true-blue common sense. Through February 13 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.
The Fireworks The six-minute, twenty-second film "The Fireworks," made by British artists Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson, is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. The Rube Goldberg-esque contagion of dollar-store explosions bursts and fizzles out in a bunkerlike studio or industrial space, keeping the residues of flame and smoke and dangling fuses in stark containment. Whether the sustained focus is meant to be more evocative of Baghdad or Katy Perry is a tossup: Fireworks prove to be a durable source of spectacle of the purest form, and the film, even in its low-tech arrangement and plotlessness, proves mesmerizing. That said, the explosive sound effects and strobelike bursts of light seem not far off from footage of warfare. In the small space of the Isolation Room, the film's potential for menace is scaled down considerably, rendering it a stark but immersive projection of flashing light and hazy shadows, a weird, figureless noir — until you step into the light of the projection and see your own silhouette in the frame. Whatever deeper assessment yields, it's a piece of thorough and uncomplicated pleasure, proving once again that the best effects come via the simplest of means. Through February 10 at Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, 5723 Dewey Avenue; 314-660-6295 or www.gallerykit.blogspot.com. Hours: by appointment.