Featured Review: Jimma! Los Angeles-based painter Jay Lizo makes a present-day icon of the much-maligned former U.S. president — and 2002 Nobel Peace Prize recipient — Jimmy Carter. What does it mean that cerebral, considerate and ethical U.S. public figures require rock-star makeovers in order that we celebrate them? Centered amid the comic book-like lines and bright hues of Lizo's portrait, the erstwhile peanut farmer's eyes are dark and rimmed with gray, and his mouth, lipsticked a pale pink, appears to be forming an agonized plea. But the gallery spotlight that beams down upon him — a neon-silver ether, unapologetically glam — is veritably disco-worthy. In fact, this lone track light is solar powered, a sly nod to Carter's progressive environmental advocacy and far left-leaning spirit. The portrait is from a series titled "A Song from My Hero Collection," in which the humble humanitarian shares space with Andy Warhol, Billie Holiday and that more familiar long-list of "cool" innovators who have long since been enshrined in the college dorm poster hall of fame. As the curators say: "Peace out Jimma!" Through April 7 at Isolation Room/Gallery Kit, 5723 Dewey Avenue; 314-660-6295 or www.gallerykit.blogspot.com. Hours: by appointment.
William Kentridge: Two Films The animated shorts Weighing...and Wanting (1998) and Journey to the Moon (2003) embody South African artist William Kentridge's signature stop-motion technique, in which single charcoal drawings are erased and redrawn to form atmospheric narratives of a post-apartheid culture. Moving between the personal and political, Kentridge's invented alter-ego, the industrialist Soho Eckstein, rises and falls in from the small heaps of charcoal detritus, allegorizing attempts to resurrect personal integrity, if not a fresh national identity. Also showing — Visual Musings: Prints by William Kentridge Two recent series of hybrid aquatint, drypoint and engraved prints are also on view, one inspired by Nikolai Gogol's short story "The Nose"; the other, Thinking Aloud, a fantasia of personal imagery. Other prints explore Kentridge's long-time relationship to theater and, in this case, opera, with themes from Mozart's Magic Flute and Shostakovich's adaptation of "The Nose" putting in frequent appearances. Through May 22 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.)Ongoing
Brutal Truths Printmaker Tom Huck plumbs the dark night of America's soul via his back-roads hometown of Potosi. Filtered through Huck's pitiless gaze, pregnant strippers hustle, marauding hillbillies heedlessly brutalize, elderly couples curl contentedly into bed with the bones of several generations of pet dogs and spiritual and moral bankruptcy resound as the implied favorite T-shirt slogan. This survey of 40-odd prints from the virtuosic woodcutter's major series remind us how low our friends and neighbors can go. And how persistent Huck's skills are: Nobody does vomit, cows' brains, monstrous lawn ornaments and the grotesqueries of the unbridled democratic appetite better. Through April 17 at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art, 3663 Lindell Boulevard; 314-977-2666 or www.slu.edu/x16374.xml. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
Dreamscapes This exhibit subtly trains the viewer to navigate the Pulitzer's inimitable space as though it were an exquisite dream recalled. De Chirico's Transformed Dream sets the stage: a train in the painting's high horizon line directing one to unforeseeable locales. Nearby sits a piece by Janet Cardiff: a black rotary phone you pick up to hear the voice of the artist relaying her dreams. A golden, recumbent Brancusi head rests on a plinth, while at the gallery's far end, Magritte's Invisible World hints at a watery vista beyond its French doors and the imposing gray stone that blocks them. Here is where you reach the hinge in this surreal sonnet: Arriving at the Pulitzer's water court, you see Magritte's stone in solid form: Scott Burton's Rock Settee, which overlooks the narrow, placid reflecting pool and a swath of city beyond. Only now do you pause to consider the multitude of portentous cues inhabiting the masterworks curator Francesca Herndon-Consagra has assembled, transforming the museum into a dreamlike tableau vivant. Highlights include Do Ho Suh's diaphanous fabric staircase to nowhere, two late, dark paintings by Philip Guston, an early suite of Max Klinger's Glove etchings and the nebulous Wolfgang Tillmans forestscape that marks the dream's end. (A series of programs exploring the exhibition's theme will unfold though the spring and summer, on Saturdays at 1 p.m.) Through August 13 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.
Ghost: Elizabeth Peyton Like one of her closest forebears, Andy Warhol, Elizabeth Peyton made a name for herself as a noted barometer of ultra-contemporary culture painting diaphanous, unapologetically sentimental portraits of (in her case) '90s-era pop figures, from artists to musicians to gallerists and friends. Now Peyton serves as a marker of how rapidly trends age and of the unforeseeable patina they acquire in the process. In this first museum survey of the artist's print-based work, Ghost casts Peyton in a slightly new light as an inheritor of the deeply historical tradition of portraiture. While depictions of Eminem and Julian Casablancas, to name two, locate the work in the timeline of hype, those of Robert Mapplethorpe and Georgia O'Keefe widen and deepen the range of Peyton's amorous gaze. The technique of printmaking seems to complement her craft, drawing out the delicacy of her brushwork while, thanks to the medium's inherent reproductive element, underscoring the more conceptual aspect of her practice as a meditation on fame. Mass-produced icons can be intimately reclaimed alongside personal heroes and dear friends. This may not be entirely new "news," but in the sky-blue galleries it inhabits, Peyton's work appears dreamily revelatory, a timeless reflection on the past and the ghostlike traces culture leaves upon us. Through April 18 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.).
Grab grassy this moment your I's It is difficult to create a sense of cohesive inevitability from a music stand, fluorescent light, electrical cord and a metal can and to make these materials convey sculptural and painterly sophistication. But such are the materials and their miraculous, galvanizing effect in artist Jessica Stockholder's pioneering craft, once again made startlingly apparent in this exhibit of recent work. Presaging the contemporary "unmonumental" aesthetic of repurposing disparate consumer materials to poetic ends, Stockholder has been mining this space between conceptual and traditional practices since the onset of her career, finding her forebears in Rauschenberg, Picasso and Judd. Each assemblage here creates a giddy, self-sufficient landscape complete with its own lighting scheme, its parameters dictated by the familiar living-room logic of a rug. While the elements included are discrete and stark (an orange extension cord that powers a neon light fixture dangles down and snakes into a wall socket), they combine to create an intractable whole at once sculptural and painterly in which a raw stroke of paint will move from the rug to an end table to the bulb of a lamp. It's a maniacally determined world of high-end formalism colliding with blue-light specials that, amid its cacophony of plastic, neon hues and shag, manages to communicate a clear, intuitive utterance not unlike the Dylan Thomas-like directive of the exhibition's title. Through May 29 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, 12580 Rott Road, Sunset Hills; 314-615-5278 or www.laumeier.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Fri., noon-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun. (outdoor grounds open daily from 8 a.m. to a half-hour past sunset).
Poems by Bobby Thiel In this elegant suite of collaborative works on paper by local artists Gina Alvarez and Jana Harper, a too-often-lost sense of innocent wonderment is harnessed and safe-kept in line, color and texture. Inspired by a child's notebook made in the 1940s by one of Alvarez's distant relatives, the artists used the titles of Thiel's poems to generate new imagery, combining their own photographs with found images, along with shapes and hues drawn from Japanese prints and Indian miniatures. Beginning with digital prints, they applied printmaking techniques and handwork to each unique piece, drawing, stitching and collaging elements into to the imagery. An aerial image of plotted land, as one would see from an airplane window, is punctuated by inset rhinestones, washing those squares of fields in emerald and yellow. The blurred impression of a figure behind a shower curtain turns spectral, with the dappled mist punched through with multicolored dots. A rain cloud hovering over a cityscape swirls with minute circular gestures, emitting a dotted-line rainfall, as a child would render it. Memory, here, is embodied in the impressionistic mark, amassing a gestural journal of days defined by changes of light, shifts in weather and all-but-ephemeral glimpses of the modestly sublime. Through June 4 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.
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 19th-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.
Saturday the Birds Fell from the Sky The End of Days will arrive in spectral hues straight out of Repo Man. So sayeth the local duo of Cameron Fuller and Travis Russell. A car patched together from cardboard, sporting a wood-grain motif, seems to have fallen, along with the birds of this exhibition's title, from somewhere lofty and dystopic, depositing a neon-colored faux oil spill at its point of impact. The gallery walls are papered with images of the gorgeously bombed-out buildings so familiar to St. Louisans, which loom not with menace but with punk impunity. No one here is pointing a finger at urban decay, but at those who fail to see its majesty. Faceted mock-Brancusi columns made of cardboard and painted black punctuate the space, their angularity echoed in trompe l'oeil "drawings" (made with tape) and in a cardboard nook tucked into a corner. In this grotto's black-lit inner sanctum, neon handprints and meaningless hieroglyphs aglow on the walls, it's nearly impossible not to experience the kind of heedless, unaffected happiness a childhood fort once brought. Think of this show as a diorama depicting joy's brazen revolt against lost youth and the world's imminent collapse. Through April 9 at Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Avenue; 314-348-4587 or www.goodcitizenstl.com. Hours: noon-5 p.m. Fri.-Sat. and by appointment.