If you read the blurb on the back of Jerry Wennstrom's autobiography, The Inspired Heart: An Artist's Journey of Transformation, you'd think the man is a crackpot. This truly talented New York painter gave away all his work and his possessions in the late '70s and became a full-time Zen wanderer. He dropped out in order to find himself and commenced to contemplating the universe, often going for long periods without speaking a single word. Along the way he was groped by a dirty old man, scolded a violent Mafioso, claims he was directed to hidden money by God, invited a street gang into his studio, coaxed a teenage troublemaker into a supposed interlude of clairvoyance and surrounded his schizophrenic friend with a pack of friendly wild dogs. These are the kinds of things that can happen when you leave behind modern hubbub and decide to bob along helplessly like a cork in the ocean. These days, Wennstrom's art resembles life-size humanoids carved from wood, with secret chambers and working machinery inside. Hear him read from his book and also screen a film called In the Hands of Alchemy, while artists Marilyn Strong and Judith Adams read poetry and perform music, at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid Avenue. Call 314-367-6731 for more on the free event.
Thursday, May 1
Connections: Explorations of Art and Community gives young sculptors the chance to inflict their work on a group of University City parks. The annual program allows nine Washington University art students to place outdoor sculpture in the community, and the results are unpredictable. Years past have seen a decrepit old-fashioned library card catalog decaying in the shadows of trees of Heman Park and a bizarre collection of painted shopping carts marooned on the shores of the River Des Peres. For the locations of this year's works, pick up a guide at University City City Hall (6801 Delmar Boulevard) or the University City Public Library (6701 Delmar Boulevard); tomorrow is your last chance to experience Emily Church's "New Fossil" near the U. City Post Office, Jeffrey Lancaster's "Reclamation" atop Market in the Loop and Morgan Matens' "Dragon Project" in Lewis Park. Call 314-863-3208, ext. 385, for more.
Friday, May 2
To a certain kind of person, muddy tent stakes, dented backpack frames and old fishing lures are heaven. You'll find these scavengers of used outdoor equipment at the annual Bike, Boat and Camping-Gear Swap and Sale at the Alpine Shop (440 North Kirkwood Road). The sale begins with a $5 preview tonight (funds collected benefit the bike-lovers and tree-huggers at Trailnet); admission is from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Reps from local outdoors concerns will man info booths, and some shoppers will stick around for hours, just waiting for that banged-up but beautiful used bike, canoe or kayak to come through the door. Call 314-962-7715 for more details.
Saturday, May 3
What's the state of dance in St. Louis? It's vibrant, it's bold and, man, is it diverse. The St. Louis Dance Festival Showcase proves the point with a daylong series of performances by dozens of local troupes. The 2 p.m. show features performances by the Alma-De-Nen Mexico , the Aalim Dance Company, the Atrek Dance Company, the Cohan/Suzeau Dance Company, the Eclectic E Dance Company, St. Louis Irish Arts, Lindenwood University Dance, the Sheila Rabbit Dancers, the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville University Theatre and Washington University Performing Arts ensembles. The 7:30 p.m. show spotlights an entirely different group of troupes, including the Anoa, Ballet Midwest, Colombia Folkloric, Dances of India, Dimensions Dance Company, MidAmerica Dance Company, St. Louis Academy of Dance, St. Louis Ballet, St. Louis Cultural Flamenco Society, Simone's Seventh Veil Dance Company and Viva Flamenco outfits. Go to the afternoon or evening shows at the Edison Theatre (on the Wash. U. campus, Forsyth and Skinker boulevards) for $17 per ($15 in advance) or $25 for both. Call 314-997-0911 to hear more.
Sunday, May 4
The Mural Arts Project at the St. Louis Casa Loma Ballroom (3354 Iowa Avenue) is an example of what St. Louis could be like if more people took an interest in neighborhoods other than their own. A collaborative project between the Southside Catholic Community Services Hispanic Youth Group, local artists Sarah Paulsen and Eric Repice and Washington University volunteer coordinator Virginia Braxs, the mural has a "world music" theme that was originated by the youth group. The project expanded to include volunteers from outside the neighborhood, and now anyone who helps becomes a part of the project and the local community. The mural will be dedicated around 2 p.m. today (or when the paint dries) during the Cherokee Street Cinco de Mayo festival with a presentation by the youth group and the artists, but only if they get enough help to finish painting by then. (If you feel like painting on Saturday, be there at 10 a.m. Then you can be a part of the dedication in more than just spirit.)
Monday, May 5
A new space, Gallery Urbis Orbis (1409 Washington Avenue) is participating in the Washington Avenue Art, Culture and Tunes Festival (see Urban Experience) with an exhibit of paintings by gallery co-owner Alan Brunettin. His The Road to Redemption: Washington Avenue Landscapes elevates the views along the street with some beautiful renderings of the buildings. He captures the former Sporting News Building at 2020 Washington in all its faded yellow glory, with broken windows aplenty, before an apocalyptic orange sky. Brunettin depicts shadows, dirt and decay in all these paintings with curious, charming daubs. "I've discovered the palette knife," he deadpans. Meet him at a 5-9 p.m. Friday, May 2, reception or during gallery hours from noon-8 p.m. Friday, noon-6 p.m. Saturday or noon-6 p.m. today. You can also call Urbis Orbis at 314-406-5778 for a private appointment; the Washington Avenue series remains on view through May 31.
Tuesday, May 6
Gary Shteyngart's novel The Russian Debutante's Handbook is the story of Vladimir Grishkin, a mostly Americanized Russian man in his early twenties who fails to meet the high expectations of his successful parents. Shteyngart's protagonist is a familiar character to everyone under the age of thirty who feels no urge to strive, claw or sacrifice for the Eisenhower-era American dream beloved of parents everywhere. Were he native-born, Vladimir would be a slacker; as an immigrant, his disdain for work and his casal acceptance of life's little failures make him a borderline traitor to everything America stands for. Vladimir also has the benefit of excellent repartee and a skewed sense of humor to go with his fictional life, which is the sort of three-way combo most of us wish we had during family get-togethers, such as Thanksgiving dinner. Shteyngart comes to Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue) at 7 p.m. Monday to read from Vladimir's life and offer solace to every underachiever in earshot. Call 314-367-6731.