Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Batture: Jeff Whetstone at UNO St. Claude

If you had to name a single thing that defined this city, you'd be out of luck. But if you could name two, the river and the people might get you within striking distance. Both profoundly influence each other in a place where nature is an inescapable presence. Photographer Jeff Whetstone explores that lingering wild world in his Batture series focused on that shape-shifting sliver along the river where land and water change places with the seasons. As an unlikely urban wilderness that co-exists with massive industrial compounds and ships as big as tallest skyscrapers, the batture provides a haven for the fishermen and solitary wanderers whose presence blends seamlessly with its swampy foliage.

Batture fishermen are as varied as the city's neighborhoods, and many of Whetstone's subjects are  Vietnamese who might look at home on the Mekong Delta. In Eastern Hope, top, a man waste deep in water clutches a net as a massive ship, the “Eastern Hope,” plies the twilight waters amid the eerie glow of a nearby industrial compex. Here a solitary human looks puny and fragile against the vast river and its mechanical behemoths. Fish Pile is a night scene of a fisherman from the waste down as he stands over his haul of freshly caught catfish. Bathed in electric light, his grimy camouflage shorts and serpentine leg tattoos mimic the baroque foliage of the forest in the surrounding shadows. In another photo, Catfish, the remnants of a gutted, filleted catfish appear on a driftwood plank used as an impromptu cutting board. Not long dead, its open eyes and dozens of iridescent green bottle flies lend the scene the bejeweled presence of a Dutch baroque vanitas painting. That portentous, allegorical sensibility is elaborated in Snake, above, a view of a man clutching a snake by its head as its long, slender body coils around his lower arm. A Tennessee native trained in zoology, Whetstone illuminates the improbable mysteries of the batture as a kind of urban forest primeval. Further emphasizing the wildness theme, the walls of the gallery have been covered in a batture-based wallpaper that effectively makes the space an extension of the fringe of river forest that coexists with the city. ~Bookhardt / The Batture: Photographs by Jeff Whetstone (Prospect.4), Through Feb 25th, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

PhotoNOLA: Over 60 Venues through December

When Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans uninhabitable in 2005, many questioned if it would survive. Would its residents, including its legendary creative community, ever return? Artists responded with schemes that sounded like pipe dreams, but today both the Prospect New Orleans Triennial, and the New Orleans Photo Alliance's annual PhotoNOLA photography expo, are globally celebrated events. Both meander like loopy bon vivants at a city-wide Easter egg hunt, and sometimes even intersect: PhotoNOLA's opening event was headlined by Prospect.4 art star Xaviera Simmons at her New Orleans Museum of Art exhibit. While many of Prospect's 73 artists utilize photography, PhotoNOLA's ever-expanding roster features a diverse army of photographers  exhibited at over 60 venues ranging from our best known museums and galleries to the most obscure pop-up spaces.

Among the former, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, despite featuring an array of P.4 stuff, also hosts PhotoNOLA's Currents 2017 expo of work by 17 Photo Alliance members, including several like Aline Smithson (photo: Lisa, from the Fugue State, left )based in other cities. Other prominent local art spaces include A Gallery for Fine Photography, where P.4 artist Michel Varisco's surreal photos of Nola as a modern Atlantis, above, are featured, as well as colorfully focused group shows at the Front on St. Claude Ave., and at the Soren Christensen Gallery on Julia St. But PhotoNOLA shines a special light on exotic fare like Celia and Jose Fernandes' Insentient Objects exhibit at Gallery Eight One Eight on Royal St., or noted curator Richard McCabe's Land Star show of his recent photographs created with vintage Polaroid cameras on view at the obscure Little Shotgun House gallery on Maurepas St. But even St. Claude Avenue still surprises with places like the Grand Maltese Gallery, where the surreal Catharsis exhibit of work by Lauren Simonutti, Cornelia Hediger and Brittany Markert probes an exotic psychic terrain where All Soul's day meets the swamp, for instance, in  Markert's Menage a Trois, top. Like its namesake city, PhotoNOLA 2017 is no slouch when it comes to encounters with the unexpected. ~Bookhardt / PhotoNOLA 2017: Citywide Photography Exhibitions, Through Dec. 31; New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary Street, 513-8030.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sin Titulo at Consulado de Mexico Art Gallery and the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery

Mexico and New Orleans share more history than most people realize. Not only is Nola home to Mexico's oldest U.S. consulate, even its war for independence was initially plotted by Benito Juarez from his French Quarter home in exile. (His statue stands a few blocks away on Rampart St. in Treme.) More recently, when we faced a grim future in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of Mexicans arrived to help kick start our recovery. As curator Dan Cameron notes in his introduction to this Sin Titulo (“Untitled”) exhibit, both places have histories of collaborative community building. These works by seven contemporary Mexican artists reflect sleek new iterations of themes sometimes rooted in successive layers of civilizations that evolved over millennia.

Such sensibilities abound in the work of Pablo Rasgado whose twisted steel girder and pock marked wall sculptures loom next to crumbled plaster concoctions like mini-mesoamerican monuments crafted by a latter day Aztec Giorgio De Chirico. But architectural forms surprisingly morph into paradoxical minimalist pop art in Jose Davila's shape-shifting take on the nature of public space. Similarly, what seem like colorful wall mosaics of tiny tiles turns out to be tiny pictures in Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Reporters with Borders shadow boxes collaged from the photo IDs of news reporters entangled in the public and private networks of omnipresent media. Gabriel de la Mora takes granularity to an extreme in works that suggest homespun terrazzo floors, but are really maniacal assemblages of tiny found objects refashioned as granite or marble-like surfaces that somehow bypassed the processes of geologic time. Pedro Reyes' edgy sculptures like Disarm, a skeletal guitar crafted from metal gun parts, suggests a modern take on “swords into plowshares” – but Martin Soto Climent's re-purposed fabric sculptures reveal softly delicate folds that mimic fleshly vulnerability. Hugo Crosthwaite returns us to Mexico's legendary border towns with his Tijuana Bible series of graphics based on “carpas” – Tijuana's lurid, fantastical sideshow spectacles that remain forever etched in the popular imagination. ~Bookhardt / Sin Titulo: Recent Works by Contemporary Mexican Artists; Through Dec. 30, Consulate of Mexico Art Gallery, 901 Convention Center Blvd, Suite 118, 528-3722, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471. See Also: Josephine Sacabo's Barking at God: Retablos Mundanos hand colored photogravures, left, investigating the pervasive presence of ephemeral and eternal themes on the streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and New Orleans, at A Gallery for Fine Photography thu Dec. 31. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Prospect.4: "The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp" Explores "the Interconnectedness of All Things"

Syzygy by Maria Berio
Five Moons by Katherine Bradford
The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, the title of Prospect.4, the latest iteration of the Prospect New Orleans international art triennial, is as colorfully mysterious as its name implies. Like its predecessors, starting with Prospect founder Dan Cameron's stellar, critically acclaimed Prospect.1 in 2008-09, Prospect.4 makes the city itself part of the show — sometimes to an extent that makes it hard to tell where the art begins and the city recedes. While it also has its share of art stars, Prospect.4's artistic director Trevor Schoonmaker, curator at Duke University's Nasher Museum of Art, saw the city's upcoming 300th birthday as a way to artistically reunite the city with the broader world that made it a global city almost from the start.

"New Orleans is the most European and the most African city in the United States," Schoonmaker said while overseeing installation of works at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). "It is called the northernmost Caribbean city and is still distinctly of, and in, the American South ... its rich history and culture provide boundless inspiration for artists from all over the world."

Indeed, many of their works were created with this city's tumultuous history in mind. As Mayor Mitch Landrieu notes in his catalog essay, Prospect.4 "connects over three centuries of history through the work of 70-plus contemporary artists who have responded to the city's unique cultural and natural landscape ... Drawing synergistic parallels between New Orleans and other parts of the world, P.4 aims to illuminate the interconnectedness of all things, both seen and unseen."

If such ideas sound idealistic, they also set the stage for a better understanding of what Prospect.4 is all about and what it represents. The triennial opened Nov. 18 and runs through Feb. 25, 2018, and there is much to see. Prospect exhibitions are in museums and galleries and there are installations and sculptures in public spaces and parks, including Crescent Park, Lafitte Greenway and Algiers Point. >>Continued>>

Water Tables by Jennifer Odem