This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 25, 2010 - "Decadense," the exhibition of recent paintings by Cindy Tower at Bruno David Gallery, 3721 Washington Blvd., treats the decrepit, abandoned factory buildings around East St. Louis to even tighter gnarls and more breathless density than in her previous go-round with the subject.
It's hard to imagine a more muscular, yet detail-oriented rendering of these forbidding spaces. They emerge as epic monuments to our future past, a none-too-subtle corollary to our present state of economic collapse and a warning about where we are headed.
The survey of nine paintings is accompanied by Dickson Beall's "Membrane Moments: Journey through Loss," a powerful five-minute video collage that examines the mental and physical processes involved in Tower's singular mode of production.
Visitors are also encouraged to read the accompanying catalog, which includes written contributions by Charlie Finch and American art scholar Angela L. Miller, which are destined to become essential components of the literature on Tower.
Also on view is "Heard but not Said" by Nanette E. Boileau, a remarkable series of white text paintings that continue the artist's longstanding commitment to investigating socially transgressive behavior and cultural stereotypes.
Uncovering the Path to Freedom
"Uncovering the Path to Freedom: Photographs of Underground Railroad Sites by William Earle Williams," at theSheldon Art Galleries, 3648 Washington Blvd., is a comprehensive survey of the artist's work on this subject, which has engaged him for over 25 years.
Informed by exhaustive research, Williams toured sites on the Underground Railroad from Louisiana to New York, photographing stopping points, memorials, and sites of significant historical activities relating to the route to freedom taken by countless slaves in the 19th century.
Williams takes a variety of approaches to photographing these varied sites, and the results are remarkable: Photographs of memorials and gravesites are straightforward, while images of some historical sites are eerily empty, compelling one to imagine the ghosts that haunt the places.
In many images, Williams captures the layers of development that threaten to eradicate parts of this history: Deb's Restaurant in Hastings, New York, now occupies an important site in the famous "Jerry" Rescue of 1851, and a plaque marking the birthplace of abolitionist Gerrit Smith in Utica is overpowered by a noisy "no parking" sign posted below it.
Williams, who teaches at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, has established an extraordinary contemporary visual record of the Underground Railroad. It's good to know this critical history is in such capable hands.
See how my mind works
For "See How My Mind Works," poet Tim Curtis wrote dozens of his signature personal aphorisms on chalkboards and then plastered them on the walls of the Craft Alliance gallery in Grand Center, 501 N. Grand Blvd.
The effect is twofold: geometric visual rhythms that are worth experiencing in their own right; and layered over that, the text, written in chalk and unceasing, thought after thought and observation after observation.
This is what it must be like in Tim Curtis' head. It's not a bad place to be. His scrawled sayings are pithy, humorous, sometimes sad, and they always give pause -- but only short pause. You're compelled before too long to consider the next one, which is just as good as the last.
"Honesty is seldom the best policy" is one. "Your bad news is somebody's good news" is another. (These may be written on chalkboards, but you won't find these lessons taught in any school.)
One of the best: "How will I know when it's time to give up?"
Through April 18. For more info, call 314-534-7528.
Ivy Cooper, a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon's art critic.