Sunday, July 20, 2014
The Santa Fe, New Mexico, art collective Meow Wolf's Moving Still installation at the Front greets us with an Iron Claw machine filled with plastic dinosaurs. The first two galleries are dedicated to a history of the collective, and the rear galleries feature a splendidly meandering environment like a sculptural recreation of a peyote vision formulated by Werner Herzog and Alejandro Jodorowsky. But a reflexive search for Klaus Kinski mainly yields dry ice fog arising from a display case memorial to a deceased cross dresser, and an intricately cavernous maze of psychedelically hued lattice constructions, above studded with visionary beasts from the otherworldly labyrinths that appear only to those who journey by the light of the supermoon. ~Bookhardt
Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975; Moving Still: Mixed Media Installation by the Meow Wolf artists collective, Through Aug. 3, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.
Sunday, July 13, 2014
The title, Behind Closed Doors, sounds racy, but the subtitle, Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898, suggests something more sedate. In fact, this overview of how the newly rich lived in the old Spanish colonies back when sugar was as profitable as oil is now, deals as much with social history as it does with art history. Organized by the Brooklyn Museum, and featuring works from NOMA's own significant Spanish colonial collection, this show excels at deploying elegant and occasionally bizarre objects to illustrate the lifestyles of the diverse peoples who used their wealth to create a culturally rich alternative to the staid traditions of Old Europe. In Spanish colonial society, wealth, religiosity and art were all flaunted and their culture was also part of our history--the pelican on the Louisiana state flag is actually an old Spanish Catholic (and Masonic) symbol. And although slavery was horribly cruel everywhere it existed, the French and Spanish were more open to the richness of Native American and African cultures of the sort that were celebrated in this city's Congo Square, but were banned in the British-influenced American South. That relative openness helps to explain why Spanish mestizo and Afro-Creole people appear somewhat prominently in this show.
Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898, Through Sept. 21, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Artist-activist Jose Torres Tama, an Ecuador native who grew up in New Jersey, became intrigued by their legacy after moving here in 1984. Over the years his interest evolved into a series of portraits and a book, both commissioned by the Ogden Museum, and now this exhibit at Le Musee de FPC sponsored by the Joan Mitchell Foundation. Here we see remarkable figures like legendary beautician/ voodoo queen Marie Laveau (above), inventor Norbert Rillieux who revolutionized sugar refining, Edmond Dede, a violinist and composer who became the conductor of a prominent French symphony orchestra, ex-slave Rose Nicaud who 200 years ago opened our first coffee shop, influential newspaper publisher Dr. Louis Roudanez, and feminist poet Alice Dunbar Nelson, among numerous noteworthy others.
Le Musee de FPC, 2336 Esplanade Ave., 914-5401; Indivisible: Mixed Media Portraits of Mixed Race People by Samantha Wall, through July 31, Stella Jones Gallery, 201 St. Charles Ave., Suite 132, 568-9050. Left: Portrait of a Lady by J.H. (possibly Julien Hudson, 1811--1844) at Le Musee de FPC.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
The 1930s was a banner decade for mural painting in America. The hardships of the Great Depression heightened popular interest in the kinds of heroic struggles that murals often depict, and in 1938 Talladega College commissioned Hale Woodruff to paint a series illustrating decisive moments in the fight against racial oppression. The six murals at New Orleans Museum of Art, on loan from Atlanta's High Museum, are among his most iconic, but it helps to see them in person; his Mutiny on the Amistad, above, portraying an uprising on a ship carrying slaves to a Cuban sugar plantation in 1839, is strikingly more powerful than any reproduction can convey. Others show the mutineers on trial after their escape to New York and their eventual repatriation to Africa after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. Painted in a romantic realist style, Woodruff's work endures because it eloquently reflects the longing for freedom, justice and dignity that all people share.
he might have been taken aback by Kara Walker (included in the CAC's stellar 30 Americans show), whose anti-heroic views of plantation slaves (think Uncle Tom's Cabin perversely illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley), suggest a kinky kind of psychodrama where depravity reigns supreme and human dignity is all but nonexistent.
An artist of immense talent whose quiet charisma almost masks her visceral flair for publicity, Walker courts controversy with titillating spectacles, most recently A Subtlety (above), her three story tall, anatomically explicit, mammy-sphinx sculpture rendered in sugar at a defunct Domino refinery in Brooklyn. An amazing accomplishment, it is vastly more interesting than the work of many better known spectacle artists. Still, her approach raises no end of Questions about Kara: Why is it never noted that she based her sugar sphinx's body, including elongated buttocks over pigeon-toed feet, on Ernst Fuchs' twentieth century Austrian Ur-Sphinx (above left)? How surprising is it, really, that her most ardent supporters are mostly white and her most passionate critics mostly black? Why was anyone surprised that A Subtlety provoked "tasteless Instagram photos from people clearly missing the point of the work"? (Left) Were they really missing the point of the work??? Was Carol Diehl's Dirty Sugar commentary right to compare her work to Nazi porn or to suggest that her depiction of blacks as "passive victims of slavery engaged in psycho-sexual drama... reinforces the stereotypes that whites imposed on blacks to justify racism?" What was that all about? S&M has long been seen in surrealism and expressionism, but isn't her psychosexual fetishism way too personally convoluted to conflate with black history? Or is this really all about Kara? Kara Walker appears to have the makings of a great artist, but why have leading art critics stuck to press release talking points and not raised any deeper questions about her work in print? ~Bookhardt
Rising Up: Hale Woodruff's Murals at Talladega College, Through Sept. 14, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100
Related: Jeff Koons, The Art World's Great White Hope
Sunday, June 22, 2014
William Blake once opined that it is possible to "...see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour..." In his poem, Auguries of Innocence, he harked to the sages of antiquity who saw the repeating patterns of the natural world as a kind of sacred geometry that contained the secrets of the universe. But Blake's contemporaries were often more likely to see the natural world as fodder for smoke belching factories. In more recent times, physicists in have rediscovered that nature's geometric patterning actually does contain the secrets of the universe after all, and that ongoing counterpoint between technology and metaphysics is reflected in James Flynn's seamlessly pristine, yet near-hallucinatory, paintings.
Qualia: Geometric Paintings by James Flynn, Through July 25, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518. Left: The Oracle of Blessed Friedeberg by James Flynn, dedicated to Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg.