Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sibylle Peretti at Callan Contemporary

The mysterious figurative glass sculptures in Sibylle Peretti's I Search in Snow expo at Callan feature young children who seem far removed from the playfully animated kids we normally encounter. As otherworldly as creatures in myths and faerie tales, Peretti's children exist in dreamlike settings they share with sinuous plants and small animals. Deftly rendered in a pale, soft palette of translucent white and magenta kiln-formed glass, they evoke the fantastical inner life we all experienced when we were very young, or perhaps the echoes of that magically boundless time that may reappear in our dreams even now. For Peretti, childhood and dreams are part of nature, and her work has long been inspired by the legends of "feral children" who lived outside human society, a phenomenon that melds modern notions of alienation and the traditional nature mysticism of Peretti's native Germany. Whatever the reason, her kids have the tranced out quality associated with hermits who communicate with wild animals as we see in To Know a Hawk, below, where a rather catatonic looking lad exchanges meaningful gazes with a hawk while others seem to cluster on his chest and shoulders.

In Snowchild, top, a young girl lies sleeping as hawks gather around her, and here the child is inseparable from the wild world. Both works are crafted from white kiln-forged glass that looks almost like Carrera marble, giving them a classical aura that contrasts with their psychological vibe. In the wall pieces, children often appear connected to each other by sinuous magenta vines or silver branches, visual effects that reach their most elaborate fruition in her magical bell jar series. In White Hawk 3, two hawks appear under a grape -like cluster of icy clear glass, and only from certain oblique angles can a child's face be seen in the dome's mirrored rear surfaces. In these and other works, Peretti's children suggest near-mythical creatures whose profound silences enable connections with wild nature and its equivalents in the deep recesses of the poetic imagination. ~Bookhardt

I Search in Snow: New Sculpture by Sibylle Peretti, Through May 31, Callan Contemporary, 518 Julia St., 525-0518; Left: White Hawk 3 by Sibylle Peretti

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Richard Johnson at Cole Pratt Gallery; Edward Whiteman at Arthur Roger Gallery

Last week, influential New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz incited the masses to rebel against the Museum of Modern Art's plans for a new wing. His complaint? Too little wall space for paintings:  "We live in a time when power structures are impervious to and imperious about protest. Yet the plan so irretrievably dooms MoMA to being a business-driven carnival that it feels like something really worth fighting against...  I’m hearing that old 1980s painting-is-dead attitude rearing its head again. It’s been discredited everywhere else: We all know that painting is merely a medium, a place for the imagination, often a hybrid, and simply one of vision’s tools, not a doctrine." Exactly. Not only has painting remained relevant despite the longstanding predictions of its demise, abstract painting has come back with a vengeance. Which may help explain why a couple of local abstract painters who have been around for decades are looking somewhat au courant these days. Richard Johnson's new abstract-illusionist Altars and Monuments show is splashy and seductive, but everyone will probably see it differently. Here the rich, velvety colors of renaissance religious paintings appear in compositions that exude a secular, electric, pop sensibility. Yet there is something almost metaphysical about works like Altars and Monuments X, top, where a vaguely torch-like central armature engulfed in crimson suggests a Zoroastrian fire temple reduced to a pulsating electronic aura. In other compositions, red heart-like ovoids reminiscent of Roman Catholicism's Sacred Heart symbology seem to melt as colors and forms take on a mysterious life of their own, and it is almost as if the lightning bolts that once symbolized the inscrutable power of the gods had been subsumed into the digital electronics that now surround us and demand our allegiance no less forcefully, yet far more subtly, than the religious regimens of the past.
In Edward Whiteman's Swinging Pendulum exhibition of large scale paintings on reconstructed paper, simple yet potent looking forms sometimes resonate the aura of ancient hieroglyphics painted on stone even as they sometimes also span the ages, resonating art deco and pop sensibilities while maintaining allusions to sacred geometry. For all their decorous allure, Whiteman's latest works are as psychological as Rorschach blots and, like all portentous abstractions, what they have to tell us depends entirely on who we are and how we see them. ~Bookhardt

Altars and Monuments: Recent Paintings by Richard Johnson, Through April 27, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789; The Swinging Pendulum: Mixed Media Paintings by Edward Whiteman, Through April 19, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. Above left: India by Edward Whiteman

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Matthews' "People of New Orleans" at Arthur Roger

In 1920s Germany, a photographer named August Sander did a very German thing: he published a catalog of the German people. Like a field guide to birds, its subjects ranged from bankers to beggars, posed in their work clothes. Although initially well received, it was banned when Hitler came to power because Sander's people didn't look like Der Fuhrer's idea of a "master race." Fortunately, no one ever mistook New Orleanians for a "master race," so Bunny Matthews' drawings, The People of New Orleans From A to Z, are available for all to see. Rendered in his traditional post-psychedelic baroque caricature style, Astrologer captures the zoned out gaze of a bejeweled lady in a turban as she peers into the wonders and terrors of the future. The Drunk, by contrast, sees little beyond his martini, but The Fisherman, depicted with the troubled, oil rig-studded waters of the Gulf behind him, clutches a redfish as proudly as the father of a new newborn babe who worries about the future.
At the other end of the scale, a Xenophobe lady defensively clutches her Chihuahua to her breast, even as a nearby Zulu ambassador in a top hat reminds us of our diverse heritage. Today, few recall that in the 1960s the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club became controversial for its jocular approach to identity issues, as noted in a recent Louisiana Weekly article, a controversy quickly quelled when local civil rights leaders joined the club. In fact, Zulu's jocular approach is shared by many of the leading black artists featured in the great 30 Americans show at the Contemporary Arts Center, with its many painterly parodies of the preposterous stereotypes perpetuated in pop culture over the years. In that sense, Zulu was ahead of its time. As a taxonomy of local types, these drawings lovingly caricature the familiar faces around us, suggesting that, while we may not be a "master race," there is something to be said for being able to laugh at ourselves. ~Bookhardt

The People of New Orleans from A to Z: Cartoons by Bunny Matthews, Through April 19, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999. 


New New Orleansisms: Kalegate Revisited

Always sticklers for "getting it right," the rebellious citoyens of La Nouvelle Orleans -- or at least the subculture of ad hoc psychogeographers who follow such things -- felt compelled to rebut certain quotes of questionable provenance in a recent New York Times story regarding the availability of kale in the Creole metropolis, among other issues of epochal cultural import. The stories referenced below, both from the esteemed investigative news organization known as The Lens, insightfully and astutely summarize the seismic sensibilities implicit, and explicit, therein:

C. W. Cannon:  "The fault line under New Orleans is rumbling again. It acts up every few years, but it’s different than most fault lines since the people who monitor it nationally are always new and always seem to think they’re the first ones to have discovered it... Until they acknowledge the New Orleans that existed before they got here, they will simply be colonialists, imposing whatever their uninformed and youthful imagination wants on what they falsely perceive to be a blank slate. More>>

Adam Karlin: "Here, the Community comes with the Wild. Here – and I’ve never seen this anywhere else – the Wild bends to make this home a better place for our children. We embrace the eccentrics the rest of America rejects, but not solely for the sake of their eccentricity. It’s for the promise that they will use their idiosyncrasies to improve our community... My old neighbor – a lawyer who walks his dogs every morning wearing only his pajama pants and the gray chest hair God gave him – may be a kook, but he is also a community organizer who makes great crawfish enchiladas while always looking out for his block." More>>
Photo, above, by The Lens co-founder Karen Gadbois

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crachiola's Detroit at Scott Edwards; Cartier-Bresson's Europe at A Gallery for Fine Photography

Detroit's decline has long been in the news, and despite recent glimmers of hope, its future is still unclear. Once a booming manufacturing hub, Motor City's long, slow journey in reverse took it to the dark side of the American Dream, a bleak dystopia not unlike what Nola might have become had Congressional conservatives succeeded in blocking our rebuilding effort. Detroit photographer Joe Crachiola has recorded his city since1971, depicting not only its blighted homes and factories but also the vibrancy seen in animated children playing with a lost grocery cart in Cherry Street, 1973, or in blues singer Sippie Wallace seated in a wheelchair at her piano, belting out a song in 1986. And there is also a soulfulness in his views of rotting abandoned homes like The Baby Doll House, left, where discarded dolls adorn its windows in an attempt to get the attention of city demolition crews. (It worked.) In another surreal image, a large replica of a cow's head atop an abandoned Dairy Bar, top, looks totemic, like a mysterious artifact unearthed by archaeologists. Here its suggestion of a lost civilization is a cautionary reminder of what happens when endemic neglect runs its course unchecked.

A different kind of street photography appears in the work of the late, great Henri Cartier-Bresson at A Gallery for Fine Photography, where a stellar sampling of his greatest hits, and some less familiar images, are on view. His Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris, 1932, left, provides an emblematic example of his approach as a man, seemingly suspended in midair, hops across the mirror-like surface of a puddle in which his form is perfectly reflected. Similarly epiphanous encounters appear in his Valencia, Spain (Roman Amphitheater) 1934, above, and his Hyeres France 1933, below. For Bresson, time and space are a dynamic continuum where the decisive moment is always now, and this pristine composition illustrates how a single moment, if perfectly realized, can epitomize all that is timeless and infinite. ~Bookhardt 

De Troit: A Photographic Homage:  Photographs by Joseph Crachiola, Through June 7, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581; Henri Cartier-Bresson: Classic Black and White Photographs, Through May 5, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313. Left: Hyeres France 1933