Featured Art Review: David Noonan The extent to which the world is a stage and all of us mere actors is wisdom darkly revisited in this solo exhibition of recent works by London-based Australian artist David Noonan. Using found imagery of theatrical performances from the '60s and '70s, Noonan creates large-scale screen prints on linen that's patched together in textures that recall Japanese Boro textiles (an intuitive patchwork clothing style from the late nineteenth century). Restraining his palette to inky black and the earthen tones of the fabric, Noonan imbues his works with a saturated, macabre character, amplified by the black-painted eyes and mouths of the sinister performers depicted. Suggesting extreme avant-gardism and occult ritual, the players in these fractured scenes are at once frozen in bizarre contortions and animated by the frayed and tactile nature of their substance: The torn swaths of linen beg to be touched, if not worn, like a costume. Abstract patterns printed over the images underscore the work's identity as fabric and artifact of the past, resembling both stitch lines and the marks of distress. A roomful of just-beyond-life-size dancers, also printed on linen but affixed to freestanding pieces of wood cut to the figures' silhouettes, is more physically confrontational in real time. The specter of the past — when experimentalists' utopian aspirations were sincere and hopeful — thickly permeates the show like a sinister symbol of misguided folly, vain indulgence or worse. Also showing: Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck In this Gothic-inspired 16mm film, British artist Emily Wardill uses the morality-tale paradigm as an absurdist analogy for the mis-education espoused by contemporary media, wherein the common phrases we use to communicate with one another (e.g., "sex and drugs and rock & roll," which is mangled and re-imagined as the film's title) are reduced to hollow rituals and empty acts of aimless devotion. Through December 30 at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 3750 Washington Boulevard; 314-535-4660 or www.camstl.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.
Out of the Box: Artists Play Chess Inaugurating the contemporary gallery in the newly minted World Chess Hall of Fame, Bradley Bailey curates a thoughtful yet cacophonous exhibit of 21st-century artworks that exploit the cerebral game's sculptural and conceptual possibilities. Drawing on chess' militaristic identity, the exhibit abounds with warring audio tracks — Liliya Lifánova's expertly stitched costumes from an interpretative live performance of the game may hang empty and mute, but video footage of the event booms with moans and growls. Barbara Kruger's Untitled (Do you feel comfortable losing?) chess set is literally chatty: When moved, the game pieces shout everything from insults to metaphysical queries. Diana Thater restages a famous 1920 match between chess showman Georges Koltanowski and conceptual artist/chess enthusiast Marcel Duchamp (the artist won): Two female chess novices re-enact the moves on four video screens, the action and audio twitching at a frenetically sped-up pace, the twice bisected image nearing abstraction. Looking on as a mute foil, Yoko Ono's all-white chess board, Play It By Trust, suggests that there's an antidote to all the heady antagonism: communication and collaboration. And St. Louis native Tom Friedman offers another pacific salve: sheer absurdity. His fantastically bizarre and meticulous set — composed of 32 unique pieces that come in such divergent forms as a can of Michelob and a booger — confounds any attempt at studied fastidiousness even as it creates the most impossible game of all. Through February 12, 2012, at the World Chess Hall of Fame, 4652 Maryland Avenue; 314-367-9243 or www.worldchesshof.org. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wed. and Sat., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thu.-Fri. and noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Exposure 14 Nature is a durable muse. So says the work of the three artists selected for this year's annual local showcase, Exposure, hosted since 2005 at UMSL's Gallery 210. Brigham Dimick's pieces are literally infested with natural life: Bees inhabit a series of observation hives in which the artist's portrait, encased in wax, is slowly devoured by the insects. The oak-framed contraptions take on the form of altarpieces — a deeply unsettling take on the notion of the iconic. Greg Edmondson's meticulous pencil-on-vellum drawings trace the microscopic patterns of plant species, distilling their self-organizing systems to undulating abstractions. A procedural dimension informs the work, which is at once taut and diaphanously delicate. This temporal aspect is explored in two videos — one consists of the slow phases of the moon; the other features various drawings infinitely interlocking — that reinforce via metaphor the elegant relentlessness of the artist's painstaking approach. Ronald Leax's medium is the common Petri dish, arrays of which he mounts on paper in grid-like fashion, dates and stamps as "specimens," and encloses in frames. The dishes contain organic cultures in advanced stages of luminous decomposition: the peculiar aesthetics of science itself, in its most minimally adulterated state. Cumulatively, the works' slippage between science-as-art and art-as-science speaks to a kind of longing: In his unstinting, solitary experiments, the artist yearns to produce something of lasting and vital utility, something less like art and more like a cure. Through October 1 at Gallery 210, TeleCommunity Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 1 University Drive (at Natural Bridge Road); 314-516-5976 or www.umsl.edu/~gallery. Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tue.-Sat.
Four Chapters in the Present We Were After interviewing a passel of Americans old enough to possess memories of World War II, the Kennedy assassination, the 1969 Apollo moon landing and 9/11, artist Lisa Bulawsky has crafted a trenchant series of prints rooted in those recollections. An ironing board and button down-shirt bear the faint residue of bloodshed; Wonder bread's primary-hued polka dots intermingle with pages from a handwritten journal and mirror the red bullet holes that dot an adjacent print; gas-rationing coupons float above piles of foil-wrapped Hershey's Kisses and Morse code messages rendered in red — here history is grafted upon the quotidian, reversing the conventional hierarchy wherein the personal becomes secondary to the national. This version of the past, etched in hand-drawn marks and collaged ephemera, presents itself like a new memory recalled, inviting viewers to revisit their own sense of the not-too-distant past. An empathetic listener and observer, Bulawsky summons images as diverse as fighter planes and the broken yellow line that divides some stretches of highway, in order to get a firmer grip on what it means to be "American." The long and deep stream of her interview subjects' consciousness places more-recent watershed events in a context less often considered — i.e., one of perpetual warfare and struggle accompanied by human ingenuity and making-the-best-of-it goodwill. Walking through the exhibit is like rerunning a dream: an unfolding of familiar tragic subtext shot through with buoyant and freshly discovered humanity. Through October 16 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.