Sunday, October 19, 2014

Lesley Dill, Troy Dugas, Dave Greber & Deborah Kass at the Arthur Roger Gallery

Pride of Samuel Adams by Troy Dugas
Big Heart Gown by Lesley Dill
Words are everywhere. They seemed to be taking over the art world not so very long ago, even replacing images in paintings as theory-crazed critics predicted the "end of art." Instead, visual art has thrived as the last refuge of "the ineffable" -- stuff that can't be stated verbally, and in this show words play significant, but mostly supporting, roles in the works of four artists. For instance, Lesley Dill has always utilized words in her sculptures based on the female form as expressed in her recreations of antique ball gowns rendered in fabric or metal. And sure enough, her new life size gown sculptures sport lacy filigrees of letters that, on the spectral or bird headed creatures who wear them, imbue their formal, Jane Austenesque elegance with a spooky, near incantatory vibe.   

Red/Passion 7,000 Day Candle by Dave Greber
Radiant Purple Flower by Troy Dugas
In the work of Troy Dugas, words turn up unexpectedly in formal compositions that resemble mandalas or semi-abstract portraits. Close examination reveals that they are made up of shredded product labels obsessively arranged into formal patterns, so the mystical mandala, The Pride of Sam Adams, top, is actually cobbled from countless Sam Adams beer labels. Dugas' portraits display a related visual dexterity as commercial byproducts morph into epiphanous objects. But elements of pop and mysticism are united in Dave Greber's 7000 Day Candle series of  altar boxes glowing in the dark, grotto-like video gallery. Red/Passion is typical, an altar box where images of hearts and slot machine cherries surround an eternal video candle with the magic words "Lover" and "Power" pulsating behind it, and it may only be a matter of before they appear in local botanicas. Words become emphatic in the work of Deborah Kass, for instance, in her sculptural "Y" and an "O" letters installed by a glass wall so they read either "YO" or "OY" depending on where you stand. Her canvases are also buoyant, but it is her neon sculpture that really has the final say: Enough Already. ~Bookhardt

Beautiful Dirt: Ballgowns of Lightness & Dark: Sculptures by Lesley Dill, Cut-paper Assemblages by Troy Dugas, 7,000-Day Candles: Video Installation by Dave Greber,
Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times: Mixed Media by Deborah Kass, Through Oct. 25, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. Left: Enough Already by Deb Kass.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Guns in the Hands of Artists at Ferrara

A recent visit to the Guns in the Hands of Artists show at the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery reminded me of the old saying: "From little acorns, mighty oak trees grow." Could the same be true of bullets? The first such Guns show premiered almost 20 years ago to modest fanfare, but if you google Guns in the Hands of Artists now, the list of newspapers, TV stations and major national networks covering the show goes on and on. The works on view really do give us something to think about while giving the artists -- who often live in sketchy areas -- a creative way to comment on senseless destruction. Sculptor Brian Borrello initiated the first such show in 1996, and returns this year with a modified Mac-10 automatic pistol fitted with a cartridge magazine so long that it circles back on itself, left. Its surreality recalls Ionesco's Absurdist play, The Rhinoceros, a parodic take on how extremist violence is a contagion that can increase exponentially and, like the play, this piece is both absurd and  insightful. Sculptor/ urban planner Robert Tannen extends the metaphor with his Four Barreled Handgun, a pistol that holds dozens of bullets but can never be fired without endangering the shooter. But H. Cole Wiley and Luke DuBois take it to another level with a plexiglass-encased pistol that fires a blank whenever a NOPD homicide report is posted.


Any murder map of New Orleans is necessarily a map of misguided revenge, collateral damage and mistaken identity, and Ron Bechet's murder map with victims' names written in smudgy red is perhaps best described by its title: Why? Here again, little bullets grow into a big, bloody mess. John Barnes takes this city's residential architecture literally in his evocative "shotgun house" sculpture, Marigny Warning, below, perhaps a reference to the shooting of an unarmed young black dude who broke into a fearful Marigny home owner's walled yard and got shot as he gazed upon his car. Unlikely works like Onegin, Nicholas Varney's gold and diamond bullet commodity fetish displayed with a decommissioned handgun, or Generic Art Solutions related Target: Audience bullet-filled gum ball machine, above left, plus a simpatico work by Dan Tague and a trove of talented others round out a very varied but mostly high impact show. ~Bookhardt

Guns in the Hands of Artists: Decommissioned Guns Repurposed as Art, Through Jan. 24, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. Left: Marigny Warning by John Barnes          

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Raine Bedsole at Callan Contemporary

River Trees (Detail)
"To disappear into deep water or to disappear toward a far horizon, to be part of the depth of infinity, such is the destiny of man that finds its image in the destiny of water." So said Gaston Bachelard, that most poetic of French philosophers. His words may be taken literally--as some Miami residents whose streets now flood at high tide found out--or figuratively, as his book title, Water and Dreams, implies. Longtime Nola resident and coastal Alabama native Raine Bedsole is no stranger to flooding, but her water-inspired sculptures suggest vessels that connect the seas of primordial memory with the tides of the imagination. Life began in ancient seas and our bodies are mostly water, but civilization was our response to the elements, and therein lies a paradox, a puzzle for engineers and poets.

Engineers would not approve of the vessel Aeolus, top, a skeletal canoe that seems to hover in space as crystalline drops fall from its spindly ribs like vastly oversize tears. What it means will vary with the viewer but, like a ghost boat in magic realist fiction, it seems to ply etheric currents in a sea of dreams. Others look equally gossamer whether made from steel rods shaped like reeds or clad in paper as sheer as the lanterns Brazilians set float for All Saints Day. Imagined Islands suggests a spindly seed pod, but pages from antique books appear embedded in its silk fabric skin. The creations of man and nature are similarly interwoven in her works on paper, whimsical drawings of trees, structures and coral reefs on collaged backings of vintage book covers. Even her Tower of Babel, in this context, recalls the spiraling interior of a nautilus shell. Bedsole's bronzes are more substantial, but their repetition of iconic forms reinforces the subtle elemental subtext that underlies this show-- namely the way all things created by man and nature are ultimately interwoven, connected by subtle but imperishable bonds that can be bent but never be broken. ~Bookhardt

Imagined Shores: Sculptures by Raine Bedsole, Through Oct. 26,  Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518.
Left: Babel by Raine Bedsole

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Robert Rauschenberg and his Louisiana Scions

Melic Meeting by Robert Rauschenberg (Detail)
Scraper by Keith Sonnier
He was always of the moment, anticipating every new trend while remaining much the same over the decades; Robert Rauschenberg was making pop art in the 1950s when Andy Warhol was a still a shoe illustrator. He was born in Port Arthur Texas, but in the 1940s his family moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, where he returned every year for family gatherings and his New Orleans-born mom's birthday. This show is a mini-reprise of Five From Louisiana, a 1977 New Orleans Museum of Art expo that also included work by Lynda Benglis, Tina Girouard, Richard Landry and Keith Sonnier--Louisiana natives prominent in New York's pivotal post-minimalist movement. Unlike minimalism's starkness, postminimal art was, like this state's primal baroque wildness, organic and curvaceous. These works complement NOMA's big, newly acquired Rauschenberg mixed media piece, Melic Meeting (pictured), while reminding us of the transformational role that Louisiana artists played in the evolution of American modernism.

Maiastra by Tony Campbell and Matt Vis
Fast forward to 21st century St. Claude Avenue, where we find a trove of Rauscheberg-inspired works by Generic Art Solutions (Tony Campbell and Mat Vis). Rauschenberg was an art world titan by the time he died in 2008, and his foundation maintains his 20 acre compound on Florida's Captiva Island where Campbell and Vis were recently honored with a one month residency. There they made art that embodies the inventiveness for which he, and they, are known, in works like Flight, where Campbell wearing Icarus wings is depicted in a literal leap of faith over the Gulf--an homage, perhaps. to Rauschenberg's famously inspired, if somewhat woozy, flights of fancy. The most substantial work on view is their Rauschenberg and Brancusi-based Maiastra, two bicycle frames precisely conjoined into a beautifully symmetrical "thought cycle"-- a vehicle they say "can only be ridden with ones’ imagination…unless you actually take a ride beyond the earth’s atmosphere into zero gravity." ~Bookhardt

Enjoy by Tony Campbell and Matt Vis
Robert Rauschenberg and Five from Louisiana, Through Oct. 5th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;  In the Shadow of a Giant: Recent Works by Generic Art Solutions, Through Oct. 5th, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Erickson's Data Shadows at Tulane's Carroll Gallery

Hardware Mirror #10

Local Servers
One of the more prominent artworks at the old Saturn Bar back in the day was Mike Frolich's You Are Being Watched, a cosmic all-seeing eye luridly rendered in house paint. Frolich is no longer with us, but his visionary take on surveillance was decades ahead of its time, as Edward Snowden's exposure of the National Security Agency's massive data spying made clear. But the NSA is a piker compared to the vast private data spying perpetrated by Facebook and Google among other corporations collectively known as Big Data. And where early cave art reflected the unseen nature spirits that guided the fates of men and beasts, today's largely invisible data networks now mimic those  intangible forces to a spooky, near metaphysical extent. AnnieLaurie Erickson's Data Shadows expo explores the mostly hidden structures that facilitate Big Data's penetration into nearly every aspect of our lives.

Google Data Center, Mayse County Oklahoma
Within the dusky gallery, three mysteriously glowing vertical structures dominate the far wall. Titled Local Servers, they are photographic replicas of computer server circuits, but mounted on those eerily glowing structures they resonate an almost totemic presence. We almost never see them because most are hidden in sprawling data centers typically located in America's most remote regions. Armed security personnel sometimes allowed Erickson to photograph compounds like Google Data Center, Mayse County Oklahoma, above, from a distance. Their minimal forms suggest megalithic prisons or bunkers, yet her images of circuitry contained in those places --for instance, Hardware Mirror #10, top--recall tribal Mayan or Nepalese fabric patterns. A similar but glowing image initially looks blurred, but blacks out when you approach it except for a sharply focused circle. Move your gaze and the circle of focus moves with your eyes. Titled Data Shadows, it illustrates how digital data's "eye tracking" technology watches us even as we try to watch it. Like the nature spirits of ancient times, Big Data is the new unseen force that increasingly determines our destiny and, like those old gods of yore, it is unclear whether it serves us or we serve it.~Bookhardt
Data Shadows: Photographs and Mixed Media by AnnieLaurie Erickson, through Oct. 8, Carroll Gallery, Tulane University, 314-2228.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Carnival as Transformative Performance at Tate Modern, Curated by Nola Carnivalesque Theorist Claire Tancons

Coinciding with the Notting Hill Carnival, Tate Modern presents Up Hill Down Hall: an indoor carnival, a new performance commission guest curated by Claire Tancons that offers critical and artistic perspectives on Carnival. Informed by the history of the Notting Hill Carnival as it reaches a milestone half-century of existence, Up Hill Down Hall engages with Carnival as ritual of resistance, festival of otherness and performance art, and with the Notting Hill Carnival specifically as a contested site from which to reflect on notions of public space, performance, participation. It conceives of Carnival less as a theme than a medium and introduces practitioners across disciplines who draw from Carnival as a medium of artistic production and a form of social and political address. While signalling the importance of Carnival as a performance medium with mass appeal in the culminating of the massification of museum culture, Up Hill Down Hall inscribes these works within the politically conscious cultural legacy of the Notting Hill Carnival, born of Caribbean migration and metropolitan accommodation to the aftermath of colonialism, resistance to racism and the mainstreaming of multiculturalism and, ultimately, developed through cultural ingenuity and artistic creativity at the forefront of the formation of postcolonial British culture. More>>