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Review: 'A Tiger's Tale' gets a stamp of approval

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 1, 2010 -Michael Hernandez de Luna's "A Tiger's Tale" at Philip Slein Gallery is pure jaw-dropping, eye-popping, funny, savage, subversive cultural critique.

Hernandez de Luna makes sheets of mock commemorative postage stamps, affixes one of each set to a vintage envelope, and sends it to himself. Most of the time, the things sail easily and undetected through the system and arrive at the artist's address, an astonishing fact given the designs he employs, which involve loads of nudity and references to hot-button topics like steroid use in baseball and pedophilia in the Catholic Church.

His success is partly a function of the overburdened postal system, but even more the result of his sense of design and his amazing ability to mimic the kitsch aesthetic of postage stamps. And where the U.S. Postal Service spends its time devoting stamps to innocuous cultural ephemera like Lucille Ball or the Muppets or space flight, Hernandez de Luna's stamps commemorate events that, for better or worse, actually occupy our historical memory: Tiger Woods' sex romps, celebrity deaths, beauty queen scandals, Janet Jackson's breast and Sarah Palin's gun.

Things are far more prim and cerebral in the next room at Phil Slein's, where Choenae Kim shows eight new paintings. The artist's signature color bands on panel have never looked more beautiful. She has a meticulous eye for scale and hue, measuring and distributing formal elements across tight fields to achieve an effortless sense of balance and grace.

In the final room, Michael Byron's small collages reveal a comparable visual acumen focused on different material, namely the rollicking printed imagery he finds in India. The six pieces on view in this show are utterly absorbing, a glimpse of India through Byron's seasoned eye.


Fantastic Logic, Speculative Models

For "Fantastic Logic, Speculative Models," Carin Mincemoyer and Amanda Hughen make works of sparkling beauty that deal with some fairly daunting, even depressing themes.

Pittsburgh artist Mincemoyer has filled one wall with "Model Landscapes," tiny parcels of land occupying the irregular peaks and valleys of clear plastic packaging material. They're sad propositions, imagining a future in which nature gamely accommodates the incomprehensible amount of plastic we humans have pumped into the world.

With "Ghost Ship Beagle Approaches Uncharted Territory," Mincemoyer stages an encounter between an archaic wooden schooner and an "iceberg" made entirely of Styrofoam blocks and molded clear plastic containers. The results are chilling.

San Francisco artist Hughen paints and draws on transparent Mylar, creating milky stratospheres in which colorful cells and topographical maps bounce about. All these forms look perfectly benign, but who's to say they aren't deadly -- the virus that will eventually wipe out humanity, for example, or a chart of the inevitable earthquake that will sink half our continent?

Hughen deploys the graphic language of science to explore the dialectical relationship between beauty and death, promise and threat. These are delicate, magical works, and if they foretell the end of the world, they do so in the prettiest way possible.

Through May 1, at the Good Citizen Gallery, 2247 Gravois Ave. Call 314-348-4587 for more info.

Ivy Cooper is the Beacon's art critic.