Sunday, July 22, 2018

Art of Vanitas by Generic Art Solutions / Here and Now by Meg Turner at Good Children Gallery

An unusually eloquent text intro to this Art of Vanitas show reminds us that our social media identities not only “outlive us" but also "muddle the moment we are trying to capture" in our postings. The Dutch renaissance painters also focused on everyday indulgences that seduced the senses, but they brought us back to earth by including skulls and insects amid their gorgeous tableaux of food and flowers. In this show, Tony Campbell and Matt Vis strip that dynamic down to stark black and white photographs of iconic objects crafted in ice, that most impermanent of materials. In Vanitas, top, an ice skull next to a melting mantle clock and a shattered mirror reminds us that impermanence is what actually makes wonder and meaning possible. Humor never hurts, and Ice Teeth, above left, is a photo of an upper and lower jaw like cast-ice dental impressions in place of ice cubes in a whiskey glass. Time Kills is the electric blue animated message that confronts us in an otherwise pristine mirror that serendipitously reflects a pair of photo blowups of ice skulls across the room flanking a framed wall motto, The End, rendered in elegant italic script. No, it's not really the end but, as these artists put it, we “sacrifice the purity of our experience” to “preserve its memory in digital code” ensuring that “our vanity and egos remain... while our awareness actually erodes...” And that is a slow, painful death of another sort.

Direct experience also defines Meg Turner's visceral Here & Now installation, her vision of “a gay bar turned corner store” that cranks out spotlit slogans like “The Actual Truth: God Hates Borders; Loves Gay Porn” under banner signs advertising “Beer, Tax Help, Fruit, Tampons, WiFi and Massage” among other, often much pithier, items, all bathed in lurid red neon light. A version of her Columbia University MFA thesis that was recently attacked by Breitbart News, its reprise here on her old Nola home turf gives us a spirited exploration of gender orientation, among other trending issues, that avoids tedious academic polemics while keeping it all rollickingly real in her own relentlessly unique way. ~Bookhardt / The Art of Vanitas: Mixed Media Works by Generic Art Solutions; Here and Now: Installation and Video by Meg Turner; Through Aug 5, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Mitchell Gaudet at Studio Inferno

Mitchell Gaudet's sprawling Shooting Gallery show can be disorienting. Part penny arcade, part armory and part alchemy, its mix of pop nostalgia and vintage esoterica ultimately takes us to our current gun culture. It is a journey that veers from oblique elegance to in your face shock and awe in a vertiginous array of works can pack a hefty punch that may surprise art buffs more familiar with Gaudet as a glass and mixed media artist known for his reliquary sculptures involving antique plaster saints festooned with cast glass mementos. A related flair for visual time travel turns up in his large, vintage-looking Apothecary Jars. Recalling the pharmacy vessels once used for “cures” like leeches or mercury tinctures, these are filled with AR-15 bullet casings and topped with statuettes of figures firing pistols.

Pistols also set the tone in more pop-looking works like Target, a traditional bulls-eye studded with cast glass handguns surrounding a pair of hands pointing fingers in opposite directions. More pistols abound in wall panels that suggest police department forensic evidence but are actually arrays of vintage cap pistols, those nostalgic icons of baby-boomer childhood back when affable westerns like Zorro or Bonanza were the most violent TV shows. Fast forward to our now routine mass shootings and we find ourselves in a nation nobody in 1950s America would recognize.

That leap from nostalgia to carnage is epitomized in Little Red Schoolhouse Shooting Gallery, a primitive penny arcade-style shooting range adorned with the National Rifle Association logo and slogans for arming school staff to shoot intruders. Featuring vintage toy rifles and the animated silhouettes of school kids instead of ducks or wildlife, it is a new kind of gun range with “Rules” like “Shoot the Shooters,” including warnings like “Deductions for Hitting School Kids.” It is gut wrenching stuff, but Gaudet, a 9th Ward native, Holy Cross High School graduate and a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, understands that something is clearly wrong. Shooting Gallery reflects the unique perspective that only a sensitive artist who is also a veteran military officer could bring to this most chilling social issue of our time. ~Bookhardt / Shooting Gallery: Mixed Media Sculpture by Mitchell Gaudet, Through August, Studio Inferno, 6601 St. Claude Ave., 945-1878,  Related: Ex - Congressman Ok With Arming Preschool Kids With Guns

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Doris Ulmann at the Ogden Museum

A small and rather frail woman, Doris Ulmann must have cut a strange figure as she trudged across remote mountains like a waif in the shadow of her huge camera and tripod. One of America's pioneer female photographers, she was born into New York's latter 19th century cultural elite where she gained early fame for her portraits of luminaries like Albert Einstein and William Butler Yeats. Over time, she became almost obsessively focused on the reclusive inhabitants of America's hinterlands, and most of the works in this Ogden expo are views of the lifestyles she encountered in rural Appalachian enclaves, and among the Gullah community of South Carolina's Sea Islands, places where many of the people she met in the 1930s appeared amazingly unchanged from their forebears in previous centuries.

Although the Gullah people, descendants of slaves who kept their own language, share similarities with other rural black communities, the lack of any hint of modern life gives her Roll Jordan Roll series a mysterious, archaic quality. Her Baptism – Group of Four view of a preacher and his congregants all draped in white, above, is an ebony and ivory evocation of a life changing religious ritual met with the same dignified resolve that characterizes Ulmann's best portraits – a quality seen even in Chaingang, right, a group of convicts in stripes digging ditches, or in a fisherman in overalls holding his net. Although African ethnicity predominates, there is something as deeply American about these images as old Stephen Foster songs.

Americana is also pervasive in many of Ulmann's photographs of Appalachian lifestyles, especially in her views of rural craftspersons posing with their tools. Even so, anyone who grew up associating Appalachia with popular 20th century “hillbilly" stereotypes might be shocked by Ulmann's otherworldly Woman With Peaked Hat, or by Child with Parents Dancing, right. Here the rakish father, and the mother covered in concealing fabrics, might pass for “Romanian gypsies” or “Albanian Muslims.” Such images convey the inescapable otherness that lies at the core of American identity, even among people who now sometimes claim to be the only “real Americans.” ~Bookhardt / From the Highlands to the Lowlands: Photographs by Doris Ulmann, Through Sept. 16, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Hornback, Nevil & Sohr at New Orleans Art Center

Art movements come and go but their legacies remain with us. The art movement known as Imagism was an American form of pop-expressionism that arose in places as varied as Chicago, California and Louisiana. Here it was infused with Magic Realist and Latin-Caribbean influences in the work of the iconic Visionary Imagist movement associated with the Galerie Jules Laforgue, a legendary Marigny-based space that in the 1980s launched the careers of Jacqueline Bishop and Douglas Bourgeois – as well as far more reclusive artists like Ann Hornback. Although publicity shy, Hornback has been remarkably consistent as we see in her recent canvas, Immersion, where her deeply psychological vision gives us an alligator woman like a bayou Aphrodite arising from the waters in an alligator mask and matching evening dress under golden, gator-like clouds. Lit by a setting sun and rising moon, its shape-shifting poetics recall ongoing themes seen in her nearby earlier works where ecological and gender intrigue is similarly defined by sleekly bold patterning.

A very different mindset appears in the profoundly mysterious oeuvre of Algiers native Larry Nevil, whose vision often recalls the musings of primitive “outsider” artists -- so his recent interview on a Milwaukee radio station may be surprising for the way this articulate and deeply spiritual artist reveals his profound empathy for, well, just about everyone. Even so, the sharp ironies of works like his expressionistic Country Girl (above) take on an earthy rural lady, may provoke bafflement in some even as his work has found a new following among art collectors in Chicago, a city known for its long history of artistic irony.

Wisconsin native Jim Sohr, an ongoing gallery presence, has much in common with many Chicago Imagists as we see in the psychedelic swerves of Abstract, a visual maze painting like a chrome - heavy Harley Davidson suddenly encountering a wavy gravy vortex of topographical and psychological cul-de-sacs in a visual parable of the need for speed clashing with the intractable intricacies of the imponderable. ~Bookhardt / Expect Delight: Paintings by Ann Hornback, Larry Nevil and Jim Sohr, Through July, New Orleans Art Center, 3330 St. Claude Ave. (707) 779-9317.