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Review: Kranzberg does well with group exhibit at Laumeier

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 8, 2009 - Whoever had the bright idea of making Laumeier's latest Kranzberg Exhibition Series a group show, rather than a solo, was onto something. While the Kranzberg Exhibitions of the past have generally been strong, the expansive and somewhat awkward spaces of Laumeier's galleries actually lend themselves to a group approach, which allows individual artists to occupy selected, smaller rooms and makes for much more variety.

"Built" features installations by six local artists: Mike Behle, Stan Chisholm, Sarah Frost, Craig Norton and the team of Cameron Fuller and Sarah Paulsen. All of them may be described as emerging artists, though they've experienced a measure of success and exposure at venues beyond the local. The works on display in "Built" reflect some seasoned confidence and sure footing -- these artists are definitely going places.

Mike Behle's works -- a painting titled "Your Gentleness Towards Me" and an installation titled "Disintegration" (both 2009) -- are marked by poignant, awkward technique, perfect for the reflections on isolation and emotional fragility that are his themes. "Disintegration" is an enormous head vomiting dying flowers, with an indecipherable audio soundtrack and a sickly sweet smell; it's the picture of a break-up and a breakdown, sad and sorry and all too familiar.

Stan Chisholm and Craig Norton are artists who deftly translate extremely strong graphic styles into room-sized installations. Chisholm's "MobileHomes" has his signature weird, house-headed figures populating an eerie, stormy landscape. Norton, the more explicitly political of the two, recreates a desolate African landscape as the backdrop to narratives of the atrocities in Darfur.

An altogether different note is struck by Sarah Frost, who arranges the detritus of technology and consumer culture into absurd, all-over compositions. "Qwerty" occupies a tiny hall gallery, encrusting its walls with thousands upon thousands of computer keyboard keys; "White Wall" is a double-sided, free-standing mural of cast-off consumables: hairdryers, toys, bathroom implements, pill boxes, clothes, shoes, and paper. With both works, you'll find your mind constantly shifting between their details -- little pictures on the computer keys, the sad signs of wear on the consumables -- and their overwhelming totality. Frost's works always focus on the material effects of global consumer culture, but these two installations have a ghostly presence that aligns product obsolescence with human mortality.

Which makes the installation by Fuller and Paulsen all the more enjoyable: It's a goofy townscape of cut-out trees, fake grass, a gazebo, a trailer, a dancing refrigerator, music and an ant circus. It's marvelous, but any more talk would spoil the fun.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.