Monday, January 19, 2009

Muses: Recent Work by Female Artists

Just who are Muses, anyway? In mythology, they are the daughters of Zeus who became protectors of art and science, but the Muses in this show are mostly daughters of Louisiana who reflect their own uniquely female points of view in unusual and unexpected ways. Often conceptual or abstract, the variety of visions can be challenging.

  The Carnivalesque abstraction Flow (pictured), by New York-based Louisiana native Margaret Evangeline, suggests the serpentine flames of Mardi Gras flambeaux as well as the elusive aura of female charisma. Related in tone, yet very different in execution, is Opelousas artist Shawne Major's massive mixed-media tapestry, Poly-Haptic. Made from beads, trinkets and costume jewelry, it explores the relationships between the ephemeral and the ethereal, the chaos of the streets after a parade has passed and the precious beaded dresses reclaimed from grandma's attic.

  All of this is a far cry from the subtle yet colorfully effusive abstraction Smoke and Laughter by Adrée Carter. Building on abstract expressionism, Carter infuses her work with her uniquely personal perspective. The serpentine curve returns in the elegant simplicity of Anastasia Pelias' Automatic Painting (Red, Blue), a study in the sinuous and sensuous. Monica Zeringue's large, figurative graphite drawing, Structure 4, takes us to the traditions of figurative realism — or does it? In this drawing, Zeringue arranges mysterious young girls in a dreamlike composition rife with poetic ambiguity and psychic complexity in a haunting new hybrid that somehow resonates, at least compositionally, with Michel Varisco's vast tree photo, Ribbon, as well as the box assemblage Collecting Dreams by the mysterious paragon of inner-child surrealism, Audra Kohout. Throw in Sharon Jacques' surreal mixed-media construction Captivate; Elizabeth Shannon's large, conceptual installation Louisiana Emblem, with its psychiatrist's couch and bureaucratic numerology; and Regina Scully's expressionistic painting, City, and you have a provocative show that reads like a Rorschach test. No two people will see it in the same way — a challenge that may also be its strength. — D. Eric Bookhardt

MUSES: Recent Work by Female Artists

Through Feb. 20

Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300;

HOW A BOOK IS MADE: Works by American and International Artists

How a Book is Made is a large exhibition of contemporary artists' works exploring the place and meaning of books in an increasingly virtual world. Some are handmade artist books, some look nothing like traditional books at all, and others — such as Bookcase (pictured) by Sibylle Peretti and Stephen Paul Day — feature traditional books modified in surreal or magical ways. Curator Karoline Schleh explores books as ideas expressed through everything from images and text to the techniques of book-binding and printing. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through Jan. 27

Collins C. Diboll Gallery, Loyola University, 861-456;

The Built Environment at the PRC

   Since 1974, the Preservation Resource Center has worked diligently to promote the preservation of New Orleans' historic architecture and culture. Less well known is that the ground floor of its spectacular Victorian gothic headquarters hosts art shows. The current exhibit, The Built Environment, features work by Brandi Couvillion, Stirling Barrett, Samantha Berg, Mary Fitzpatrick, Michelle Kimball, Bridget Kling, Alexa Pulitzer and Hal Williamson. Couvillion's assemblages take preservation to a new level of immediacy by employing recently unearthed relics from the distant past — bits of china, glass bottles and porcelain doll parts — excavated from archeological digs in some of the oldest parts of the city. Couvillion takes these fragments of the past and strives to capture the city's often elegant decay. — D. Eric Bookhardt

The Built Environment

Through Jan. 10

Preservation Resource Center, 923 Tchoupitoulas St., 636-3040;