Sunday, April 19, 2015

Patrick Lichte and Bob Tooke at Barrister's

The internet is a mystery. From humble origins as government project in the 1960s, it evolved into a vast global compendium of information and misinformation. Now people use it to relate to the world through digital devices instead of through their senses. New media theorist and provocateur, Patrick Lichty, explores this seductive, digitally mediated, alternate reality while revealing the secret inner meaning of the internet by exposing its main beneficiary after its many decades of development: cats. Yes, as its single most clicked-on topic, cats rule the internet.  

Nobody knows why. Even Lichty--whose resume' includes collaborations with The Yes Men among other guerilla raids on the techno status quo -- incorporates them into his creative flow, as we see in his oddly rendered drawings like Predator vs Predator, above left,  a view of a playful tabby stalking a Predator drone, or Random Internet Cat, top, a fluorescent ink feline staring raptly back at us, or Algorithmic Butterfly left. Digital artists like Lichty often utilize technological curiosities, and if these works radiate an eerie kind of EtchASketch aura, it's probably because they were made with a Makelangelo 3, a cutting edge marvel that uses advanced 3-D printer technology to facilitate drawings like something an obsessive-compulsive savant might have created on a supercharged EtchASketch. There is also a pixilated Siamese cat woven into a throw rug that he got Walmart to make. What gives? Forget al Qaeda--with Lichty's help, the clandestine feline mind control conspiracy for total world domination is obviously on a roll.
To shift from Lichty to Bob Took is to shift from techno-primitivism to neo-primitive technique. A former resident of Germany now based in Zwolle, Louisiana, Tooke paints colorful canvases of blues legends, kitsch and burning cars. Portraits like Lightning Hopkins at the Golden Poodle Klub are evocative classics, but his burning car canvases are strange. Most are dedicated to German pop stars--except for a flaming vintage Mercedes captioned, Adolph. Tooke is an eloquently pithy folk artist, but his burning cars are profoundly psychological if not mataphysical for the way they suggest a weird new strain of German voodoo. ~Bookhardt

 The Rise of the Machines: Drawings by Patrick Lichty
The Zwolle Paintings: New Work by Bob Tooke, Through May 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506;

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Artist Studios: Tina Freeman's Photographs at the Ogden Museum; Amer Kobasliga's Paintings at Arthur Roger

It is rare for two unrelated exhibitions to feature the same subject at the same time, but Tina Freeman's photographs at the Ogden Museum and Bosnian artist Amer Kobaslija paintings at Arthur Roger are all about artist's studios. (Odder yet, Kobaslija's show coincidentally follows fellow Bosnian
artist Lala Rascic's recent expo at Good Children.) Nola is often called a "psychic city" for the way coincidences can suddenly happen, but this is a double dose of synchronicity. Neither portrays the artists themselves, but Freeman's photos are accompanied by examples of her subjects' work while Kobaslija's paintings let us piece together their personalities from their cluttered surroundings. Not that Freeman's artists are any pikers when it comes to clutter--the late George Dureau's live-in studio, below, is a masterpiece of aesthetic accumulation that echoes the elegant curiosities that once surrounded long gone maestros like Henri Matisse or Frederic Church, in contrast to his spare artworks on view.

Her photographs of Elizabeth Shannon's antique woodwork and swamp relic-infested studio are flanked by a  taxidermed alligator climbing an old wooden ladder in an evocation of the animist spirits of the city and nearby bayous, but Robert Tannen's Crucifish assemblage  with a stuffed Marlin affixed to a tall wooden cross behind a Savonarola chair suggests something a swashbuckling Grand Isle Francis Bacon might have concocted. Ersy Schwartz's bronze, bird-headed chess pieces look dramatically orderly on their meticulous wooden cabinet, top, but their aura is bizarrely surreal. In Amer Kobaslija's painterly rendering of Jackson Pollock's studio, a solitary chair appears amid an riot of manic paint splatters on the floor. But in the rustic domesticity of Balthus' studio, above left, cats, quinces and a nude, half painted nymphet offer clues to the late artist's inner life. Kokasija's and Freeman's studio scenes are portals into the artists' personas in absentia via the environments and trappings that guided them like loadstones toward uncharted territories. ~Bookhardt /Tina Freeman: Photographs of Artist Spaces, Through July 12, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; Amer Kobaslija: Recent Paintings, Through May 30, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

New Art Based on the "Baby Dolls" of Mardi Gras

Raddy Winner by Ruth Owens
In 1912, a radical Carnival organization was born in Nola's marginal black bordello district. In response to the Carnival balls of the legal Storyville district nearby, black sex workers--called "Baby Dolls" by their pimps--dubbed themselves the "Million Dollar Baby Dolls" and marched wearing tiny toddler skirts flashing garter belts fat with cash. Sexy yet transgressive, they smoked cigars and wielded batons or umbrellas that doubled as weapons. Imitators soon followed as they became fixtures at Zulu parades and Mardi Gras Indian and Skull and Bones gatherings. Radical for 1912, they eventually became merely "local color" in a city that takes everything for granted--that is, until historian and Xavier U. dean Kim Marie Vaz conferred long overdue recognition by highlighting their role as pioneering black feminists and social activists in her book, The Baby Dolls: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Tradition.
Nate Scott's Carved Driftwood Carnival Paraders

Ulrick Jean Pierre's Treme Baby Dolls
This expo of Baby Doll-inspired contemporary art at the Mckenna Museum is populist in tone and kaleidoscopic in effect, like a mosaic of many pieces that comprise a multifaceted totality. Ruth Owens' impressionistic Raddy Winner portrait of a Baby Doll dancer has Degas ballerina flair, but her formidable physicality recalls those indomitable Baby Dolls of 1912. Haitian - New Orleans history painter Ulrick Jean Pierre's nocturnal view of cigar smoking Baby Dolls parading in Treme is as elegantly dreamlike
Baby Doll Antoinette & Ernie K-Doe by Annie Odell
as Steve Prince's wild procession print is powerful. Meryt Harding's portrait of 80 year old Tee Eva in her Baby Doll outfit celebrates the role of ladies like her and Merline Kimball in reviving the tradition after it faded during the 1960s. A Keith Duncan painting illustrates the evolution from vintage to contemporary Baby Dolls even as other works involve folk art techniques like Annie Odell's haunting Antoinette and Ernie K-Doe painted quilt, or an eerily elaborate procession of carved driftwood figures by Nate Scott in a room where Baby Doll photos by Charles Lovell and Richard Keller, among others, transform the walls into a parade. ~Bookhardt / Contemporary Artists Respond to the New Orleans Baby Dolls: Group Exhibition, Through May 30, McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St., 586-7432.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kongo Over the Waters at NOMA

Ndunga Mask

Nkisi Nkondi Power Figure
The Kongo Kingdom ruled over a swath of west Africa for 500 years. The Kongo king and his nobles surrounded themselves with finely wrought artistic objects, and when Portuguese explorers arrived in 1483, trade relations were established. They exported commodities, crafts and slaves (captured tribal rivals) and imported Portuguese crafts, culture and religious icons. Many Kongo slaves ended up in New Orleans, gathering on Sundays in Congo Square to celebrate their traditional culture, legacies that eventually evolved into Creole cuisine, jazz and R&B. Their visual heritage is explored in this NOMA expo in the form of Kongo and African-American art ranging from antique to modern and contemporary works, all quite imaginative.

La Traversee by Eduard Duval-Carrie' (detail)

Scepter, Kongo Peoples, 19th century
Traditional African ritual masks and sculptural fetishes often suggest the European modernist styles they influenced. Some fine examples include a Nkisi Nkondi Power Figure--a carved wooden warrior who guards against evil influences. His fierce gaze and applied bodily adornments recall expressionism and assemblage sculpture. A Ndunga Mask, pictured, worn by priests to invoke the protective power of the ancestors, reflects the Kongo flair for highly stylized, yet eerily lifelike, carving that evokes surrealism's dreamlike visionary psychology. Those tendencies are reincarnated in contemporary works by Renée Stout, Radcliffe Bailey, Haitian-American Edouard Duval-Carrié, Cuban-American José Bedia and Congolese artist Steve Bandoma. Washington DC-based Stout, inspired by Marie Laveau, makes sculptural assemblages based on her updated "nkisi,"--psychically charged objects that comprise sculptures like her Self Portrait. Nkisi also figure strongly in paintings by Bedia, Bandoma and Bailey -- whose mixed media works augment his current show at the CAC. But Duval-Carrié's colorfully ghostly paintings are inspired by Haitian history, Kongo ancestors and voodoo spirits. Carnivalesque and Felliniesque, their aesthetic parallels to local Mardi Gras marching groups like the Société de Ste. Anne, and our secretive skull and bones gangs, suggest as yet unexplored connections between voodoo, surrealism and the pervasive, if subliminal, influence of Kongo culture on Louisiana's cultural life. ~Bookhardt / Kongo Across the Waters: Art of Central African and African American Cultures, Through May 25th, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Kinetic Sculpture by Lin Emery at Arthur Roger

Isadora Duncan
Sometimes the art world seems to be all about novelty. In New York, the New Museum has long been synonymous with trendiness, and now, at my former employer, the Museum of Modern Art, the pop-diva Bjork's massive exhibition has been widely panned for trying too hard to be cool, inadvertently inflicting collateral damage on all concerned. Such stunts beg the question: what is their opposite? Is there a more timeless sort of visual art that not only transcends trends but also bridges the divide between nature and technology, drama and subtlety, the sensual and the cerebral? Yes there is: Lin Emery's kinetic sculptures often epitomize that kind of timeless and finely tuned consistency. But, like the timeless, pristine miracles of the natural world on which they are based, routinely pristine works can be easy to take for granted. 
Garden of Earthly Delights
Unless, of course, something changes, as appears to be the case in her current Arthur Roger show. For Emery, whose local exhibitions began in the 1950s at The Orleans Gallery, this city's pioneering co-op space, most inconsistencies and rough edges were polished out long ago. Consequently, whimsical departures like her smallish, motorized work, Isadora Duncan, come as a surprise. It does a scarf dance like its namesake at the push of a button, but this robotic diva is more enigmatic than flamboyant, a reminder of  surrealism's prescient wariness of automata. Another surprise is her somewhat larger Garden of Earthly Delights, her abstract kinetic evocation of Hieronymus Bosch's darkly sensual masterpiece. Both are experimental, imperfect but daring. Also unexpected is  Suspended, a polished hanging sculpture that suggests an airborne version of her iconic, leafy, windswept and elemental forms. What they all have in common with classic Emery sculptures like Return--an elegantly interwoven cluster of glistening silver crescents--is a quality of motion in the form of a sweeping recursive cycle. Here the orbiting arcs of those gleaming silver crescents reflect the iconic patterning of this city, with its hints of things fragile yet eternal. ~Bookhardt, Abstract Kinetic Sculpture by Lin Emery, Through April 25, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999.