Monday, November 24, 2008

New Works on Paper & Splatter Pattern

by Betsy Bolen

"New Works on Paper" and "Splatter Pattern"
Morton J. May Gallery, Maryville University St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
November 6-December 5, 2008

St. Louis artists Gina Alvarez and Nick Nihira are exhibiting new work at the Morton J. May Gallery at Maryville University St. Louis. Located in the University's library, the Gallery has recently been expanded from its former one room to two spacious rooms.

New Works on Paper,” a print, collage, and fiber based show by Gina Alvarez, occupies the front room. The two largest works in the show, Migrating Flora and Farell Blue, are composed of six elongated monoprints hung side by side. These works, which face each other on opposite walls, call to mind Japanese multi-panel screens. In them, groupings of quiet-hued, sausage-like shapes are strewn across the six prints. In Migrating Flora, the monoprints are spaced about an inch apart and the shapes flow in a continuous stream across the panels. Farell Blue on the other hand, has spacing about two feet apart. Here, the shapes coalesce within each print creating a visual pause between panels and an emphasis on the long, individual sheets of paper.

Gina Alvarez. Farrell Blue. 2008. Edition various 12.
Woodcut, Relief, Collage on Paper,
Printed at Pele Prints, St. Louis.

Alvarez also shows six rectangular collages that are pinned directly to the wall. These pieces employ various elements such as print, paper cut-outs, weaving, and stitching. As in the two larger works, significant areas of the white paper ground are left open. In this way, a “space” is achieved in which the viewer can focus on the individual process of each collage.

Nick Nihira.

Exercise in Patience, a series of six small, white framed mixed media pieces completes the show. Three of these use old, yellowed book pages as ground for painted images and cut-outs. The small pages of text offer a subtle contrast to the larger, white papers in the rest of the show.

Several of the works in Nick Nihira’s show, “Splatter Pattern,” have titles that refer to the economy such as Real Estate Bubble, Trickle Down, and Recession Sketch Series. Pencil on paper drawings in allover field patterns alternate on the walls with acrylic paintings on canvas, and mixed media works.


"New Works on Paper" & "Splatter Pattern" remain on view through December 5, 2008. The Morton J. May Foundation Gallery is located on the campus of Maryville University St. Louis in the Library Building, 650 Maryville University Drive, St. Louis, MO 63141. 314/529-9381. Gallery hours are Monday-Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thanksgiving hours; Closed November 26-29; open November 30, 3-10 p.m.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury

by Jeff Farris

"Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury"
Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St. Louis, MO
September 19, 2008-January 5, 2009

"Birth of the Cool" is a broad retrospective of mid-century California culture ­ art, architecture, design, music, and pop culture ­ named after Miles Davis’ 1949-1950 jazz-music compilation. Using elements of interior design, paintings, architectural photographs, and the audio-visual media of contemporary pop culture, this exhibition immerses the viewer in the artistic and cultural milieu of mid-20th century California. Although it might have been easier to separate the disparate parts of “cool” culture and display each aspect of the show in its own gallery, the curator has wisely chosen to intersperse the diverse elements of the show throughout the exhibition and thus envelope the observer in a complete sensory experience.

Karl Benjamin, Black Pillars, 1957, oil on canvas, private collection. © Karl Benjamin, courtesy Louis Stern Fine Art, West Hollywood.

Hard-edge paintings by noted California artists serve as anchors for the show and set the tone with their straight lines and bold geometry. The curators have selected works by Karl Benjamin, Lorser Feitelson, Helen Lundenberg, Frederick Hammersley, and John McLaughlin. The show devotes one gallery almost exclusively to outsized, vibrant works by Lorser Feitelson and equally large, but subdued pieces from Helen Lundenberg. Of special note are two works by Karl Benjamin, Black Pillars, 1957, and Small Planes: White, Blue and Pink, 1957. These works illustrate the clean lines embodied by the architecture and interior design of the period and illustrate how straightforward form can have an outsized impact.

Charles and Ray Eames, LCM Chair, © 1951. Manufactured by Herman Miller Furniture Company; molded birch plywood, chrome-plated steel, rubber. Boyd Collection.

The creations of Charles and Ray Eames dominate the retrospective with furnishings and two video presentations, Kaleidoscope Jazz Chair, 1960, and Tops, 1957. Both of the Eames’ film loops present spinning visions of light infused with the cool jazz sound of the era. While neither film has a storyline, both films, according to Charles Eames, “get an idea across.” A wide-ranging selection of the Eames’ furniture is shown, including an extensive collection of chairs, early cabinetry, and the California-inspired “Surf Board” coffee table. Eames’ iconic chairs are displayed on an imposing three-level platform giving the viewer the opportunity to view the pieces from all angles.

Julius Shulman, photograph of Case Study House #22 (Pierre Koenig, Los Angeles, 1959-60), 1960. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute.

Complementing the clean-line aesthetic of the hard-edge paintings are Julius Shulman’s photographs of the Case Study Houses. Shulman highlights the angular form of the homes while showcasing the furnishings and fashions of their inhabitants. Special attention is given to architect Pierre Koenig’s Case Study Houses #21 and #22, with wide-angle interior shots and expansive views of the houses’ exteriors. Shulman captures the openness of the interior spaces and their connectedness to the outside world by focusing his camera’s attention onto Koenig’s extensive use of floor-to-ceiling windows. A hallmark of Shulman’s work is to feature people and furnishings, thus making the pictures more visually interesting. These photographs serve to include the related, mid-century architecture in the exhibits as well as showing the context in which the other elements of "Birth of the Cool" were displayed during the era.


"Birth of the Cool" was conceived by the Orange County Museum of Art under the curatorial direction of Elizabeth Armstrong and is on view in St. Louis at the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum from September 19, 2008 to January 5, 2009. The Kemper is located on the campus of Washington University at Skinker & Forsyth Boulevards, St. Louis, MO 63130. 314/935-4523. Museum hours are 11-6 Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday; Friday 11-8; closed Tuesday.

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Media Series: Bill Smith, Loop Web

by Jeanne Rosen

New Media Series: Bill Smith, "Loop Web"
Saint Louis Art Museum
October 31, 2008–January 4, 2009

The New Media Series currently on view at the Saint Louis Art Museum features works that utilize technology to create art. Artist Bill Smith's “Loop Web” includes film, sculpture and audio components that create a visual and auditory experience which is thought-provoking on many different levels.

Bill Smith. “Loop Web.” Courtesy P.P.O.W. Gallery

As odd as it may sound, the first component of this piece is a film projected onto a wall, featuring monkeys (lots of monkeys) bounding through a rainforest against a soundtrack (the second component) of old spiritual hymns and dramatic preaching. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is sung by a man with an Al Jolsen-type of voice and choirs in the background. What comes to mind almost instantly is the origins of humankind, creation, “The Garden,” evolution. The third component is a sculptural piece suspended from the ceiling that hangs just below the film. The sculpture is beautifully rendered of berry twigs and has five bulbs or pod-like shapes hanging from them. This is illuminated by a kaleidoscope of colors projected onto the twigs and bulbs, which in turn creates a pattern on the floor and becomes the fourth component of the work.

Bill Smith. “Loop Web.” Courtesy P.P.O.W. Gallery

At the very beginning of the loop (the digital DVD that plays continuously) the bulbs are illuminated in white, the same as any ordinary lightbulb. This signals the beginning of the loop process, but it’s also the beginning of time, of life itself. As time progresses, the bulbs are illuminated in a beautiful assortment of colors by the complex stream of light. On the bulbs are produced gorgeous hues, while the pattern on the floor resembles live cells undulating under a microscope. Two perspectives on life are represented here: the simplistic idea of life beginning in “The Garden” (also embodied in the naïve look on the monkeys’ face) brought into existence by a creator “God,” to the complexity of a single living cell. Smith uses images from the Hubble space telescope to stress the vastness of the universe and of the unknown. He plays with the patterns from the telescope and with the patterns of living cells, showing their similarities.

Bill Smith. “Loop Web.” Courtesy P.P.O.W. Gallery

Is the artist implying that it’s naïve to think life could begin in a garden? There is definitely a play on faith and science in this piece. Faith is made to appear simplistic, but so is evolution. Faith is putting your trust in something unseen, but Smith attempts to illustrate the ideas of life, origins, the universe, and the unknown.

Smith does a great job at stimulating our thinking from simple explanations of how we came to be here, to the very complex realities of what living beings are made of. He succeeds in making us ponder big concepts, while delighting us with the beauty of it all, and leaves the questions for us to answer.


Saint Louis Art Museum is located at One Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO. 314/721-0072. Free & open to the public Tuesday-Sunday.


Jeanne Rosen earned her BA in Art History and MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Art for Places and Spaces

by Vic Mastis

"Art for Places and Spaces"
Through November 15, 2008
Gateway Gallery, Clayton MO

In “Art for Places and Spaces," the current exhibit at Gateway Gallery in Clayton, one artists' works in particular caught my eye: St. Louis artist Garry McMichael.

McMichael's works were presented in a grouping titled "Lil’ Passions." His works are like an air of mystery that lures you down a misty path. You can feel the winding river’s edge or the smell of a flower garden which is achieved through McMichael's adept use of a variety of media, including pastels, colored pencils, oil painting, photography, and even Polaroid transfers.

Garry McMichael. Mississippi Paddlewheeler. Polaroid Transfer.

Further enhancing the scenes he depicts, the artist presents his works in one-of-a-kind, distressed wood frames with individual finishes. His pieces create an overall feeling of unity, fitting the scene he has chosen with each unique frame.

I was impressed with how "Lil’ Passions" looked when hung in a series. Each piece helped blend the collection and it truly engaged me. There was such unity in a collection of different subject matter.


Gateway Gallery is located at 7921 Forsyth Boulevard, Clayton, MO 63105. 314/503-3880. Gallery hours: Wednesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Refraction: Three Contemporary Photographers

by Tony Renner

"Refraction: Three Contemporary Photographers"
The Gallery at Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis, MO
October 24-December 21, 2008

"Refraction: Three Contemporary Photographers," curated by Amy Bautz, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Studio Art at Saint Louis University, presents the work of Mark Douglas, Bob Reuter, and Antje Umstaetter in The Gallery at Regional Arts Commission. The exhibit is currently on display through December 21, 2008.

Mark Douglas. Book #5.

Mark Douglas, who teaches photography and graphic design at Fontbonne University, weighs in with five large color photographs of close-ups of books. The photos, however, are not so close up that context is lost, that is, views can immediately recognize that they are looking at the top edge of an open book. The photos extenuate the arcs, curves and lines formed by opening the books, as well as the textures of the worn and frayed cloth covers.

Antje Umstaetter. Untitled.

German artist Antje Umstaetter, visiting professor in the department of fine arts at Saint Louis University, contributes a number of photographs, ranging from the very small to the very large, that the artist has placed in clear plastic bags splashed with white enamel paint or otherwise manipulated. The subjects of Umstaetter’s works are variously swimmers caught in the act of jumping or diving and close-ups of flowers. Through its sheer size the 13'x 11'. Winner, a cut-out photo of a rotund man captured mid-jump, dominates Umstaetter’s portion of the exhibition. Umstaetter’s most successful piece, though, is an untitled color photo of two skinny-dippers, backsides gleaming. Also notable are two un-credited–the wall cards were nowhere to be found, at any rate–close-up color photographs of berries covered in white paint. In these works, the paint has been added to the subject before the photo was taken rather than being added afterwards.

Bob Reuter. Exile on South Grand.

Bob Reuter fills one wall of the gallery with well over 150 black & white photographs ranging in size from 5"x7" to 11"x14". Entitled Exile on South Grand, these pieces document a nighttime world of musicians and artists. Reuter’s work is striking for not only the masterful use of light and dark but also the careful composition of each shot. Reuter’s photos have been mounted, neither framed nor matted, directly on the wall with a very carefully calculated casualness.


The Gallery at Regional Arts Commission is located at 6128 Delmar Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63112. 314/863-5811. Gallery hours: Monday- Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday 12 to 5 p.m.