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Review: Slein at Schmidt gives art scene a glimpse of itself

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2009 - The St. Louis art scene is modest compared to what goes on in New York, L.A. and even Chicago, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in spunk. There's a strong history of mutual support among artists, dealers and writers in this town, a sort of "we're-all-in-this-together" attitude. The occasional falling out is usually smoothed over quickly enough -- we tend to like to kiss and make up.

But things have gotten a little heated of late. A couple of rows, tumult at the Big Paper and several bruised egos have made it clear: We need a chronicler. So the timing for "The Art Crowd" simply couldn't be better.

This exhibit of paintings by gallery owner and art-crowd member Philip Slein documents this fascinating moment among the art glitterati with jovial satire and sparkling wit.

No one is spared -- Slein skewers the painters who have almost made it; the egomaniacal art school faculty members; the big-name cultural dynasties; and the collectors, curators, writers and gallery owners who make the art world hum.

Slein knows whereof he speaks: Besides owning one of the leading galleries in town, he's a trained artist who's tried out every style imaginable and who's taught at several local schools.

The five paintings in this show reveal Slein's keen grasp of art history too, as they make reference everything from Dutch still lifes to 20th century expressionism and pop. His style might best be described as Max-Beckmann-meets-Mad-Magazine: His allegories are biting, funny and raw.

Slein probably won't give up his day job to become the full-time chronicler of the scene, but it's nice to have had this extraordinary moment recorded for posterity.

Ivy Cooper is a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.