Sunday, March 29, 2009

John Henry and Sculptural Transmigration

It's been said, by Duchamp among others, that artworks have a "life" of their own, but that goes double for certain local sculptures that have seemingly become almost nomadic of late. It all began a year ago when Ernest Trova's PROFILE CANTO, which once graced the grounds of the New Orleans Museum of Art, was loaned to Jefferson Parish to try to make Veterans Blvd. look civilized.

Now Leandro Erlich's WINDOW AND LADDER: TOO LATE FOR HELP, right, that was a Lower 9th Ward landmark during Prospect.1, has found a new home in, you guessed it, the New Orleans Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden. Meanwhile, John Henry's monumental ZACH'S TOWER, above, part of Michael Manjarris' ongoing Sculpture for New Orleans project, is being installed near the Poydras Street entrance of Harrah's Casino, not far from its original proposed site on Poydras near the Superdome. With this game of sculptural musical chairs in full swing, the fact that Louise Bourgeois' great EYE BENCHES piece, another SFNO installation, is staying put for at least another year in Lafayette Square, is welcome news indeed.

Of all the above artists, few are more mysterious than John Henry, a Kentucky- born resident of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Part of his mystique is that his work has been shown all over the world even as Henry himself has remained a low profile persona. Part of it is his deceptively simple style, an approach that suggests seeming contradictions like "Zen engineering." The eye reads the elements as having fallen spontaneously into place even as the mind recognizes them as products of great precision. Like splash or starburst patterns, they also suggest those bamboo sticks tossed randomly to form the hexagrams used in traditional Asian interpretations of the I Ching. To me this is what his works at Bienvenu suggest. Others will have their own interpretation, part of Henry's somewhat protean modus, and an example of what philosopher Eric Hopper, in discussing Western culture, once called "the mysterious Occident." ~D. Eric Bookhardt
John Henry: Recent Sculpture
Through April 28
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 julia street, 525.0518;
Expanded from Gambit Weekly

Seen at the Front:

Lingerie as Sociology and Surreality at the Darkroom

The Darkroom's Peek - The Lingerie Show is a group exhibition of photographs featuring or inspired by lingerie. Curated by Debbie Fleming Caffery, it runs through April 1.

Traer Scott, Galaxy

Susan Hayre Thelwell, I Do

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

H x W x D at UNO

Monday, March 23, 2009

You could call it an "alumni show," but it's really more momentous than that. HxWxD marks the 30th anniversary of the University of New Orleans' Masters of Fine Arts program and is also part of UNO's 50th anniversary celebration. Once a desolate former military base, UNO is now a cultural and economic engine with influence that extends far and wide. Because the 18 artists in this show span several decades, it's an expo that also traces the UNO school's stylistic evolution from its earlier pop abstraction and imagism to the playfully polemical postmodernism for which it is known today.

Of course not everyone fits neatly into either category. Allison Stewart's elegantly abstract, nature-based canvases are more decorously languid than anything we ordinarily associate with UNO, and Ted Calas's stark, near-monochromatic paintings of people in transitional moments of rumination are studies in Uptown existentialism. But Louisiana Imagism lives on in Krista Jurisich's socio-political fabric art, below, as well as in the work of Alan Gerson, whose creepily lovely still life paintings suggest the work of exiled Dutch Masters on mars.

But a pivot between pop abstraction and polemical postmodernism appears in the work of Peter Halley, left, whose recent paper studies hew closely to the grid-like schematics that he employed during his neo-geo insurgency in New York in the late 1980s, an art historical milestone that, with his thoughtful published writings, make him something of a philosopher king among painters.

The more playful side of UNO postmodernism appears in the tartly prankish paper currency-based prints of Dan Tague, as well as in the no less tartly prankish paper currency-based sculpture of Srdan Loncar. But a synthesis of postmodernism and imagism appears in Jessica Goldfinch's anatomically anomalous shrinky-dink holy cards such as ST. MARIAM WITH CHILD, right, as well as in Daphne Loney's CANDY DREAMS, above, part of her ongoing inquiry into the psychic correspondence between religious icons and animal trophies expressed in steel and Lucite. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

H x W x D: Thirty Years of MFA at UNO
Through March
UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493;
(Expanded from Gambit Weekly)

Lawn Jockey's Revenge

Oysters and Hot Sauce

Eye-Con: Paintings by Scott Guion
Through April 6
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 525-2767;

Monday, March 16, 2009

Seen at the CAC: Courtney Egan's Early Spring

Courtney Egan's Early Spring is a video-sound installation at the Contemporary Arts Center, where sounds from other installations tend to blend into the overall aural ambiance. Using the floor as a screen for the projection of her hallucinatory flower compositions to a drone-like and beat-heavy musical accompaniment broadcast by low-fi speakers, Egan takes the viewer into the space of Digital Animism, an expression she coined to describe her unique approach to digital animation as nature spirituality. Through April 5

Villere at Ferrara, Rucker at Roger

As much as abstract art can be said to be "about" anything, Sidonie Villere's new CAMOUFLAGE series suggests something of life's tensions and contradictions. Made up of canvas, paint, gauze, porcelain, string and wax, these ethereal white-on-white mixed media concoctions are mostly minimal but with occasional baroque flourishes. Building on Villere's past references to the contours of soft skin and hard earth, they may evoke a social dimension, an interplay of blending in and standing out, even as they seem to reiterate those associations of geology and biology, of deserts and beaches, of fabric and bandages, that resonate within the depths of our collective memories.
WITH AND WITHOUT, top, is a series of five rectangular panels wrapped in white gauze. They almost hark to Donald Judd's iconic minimalist sculptures, but their varying dimensions and porous white surfaces give them a more personal and tropical aura. Two feature smaller panels pressing forward against the gauze like pregnant flesh against soft fabric, so where Judd was unyielding, Villere individuates and personalizes related forms, adapting them to a more fluid
and feminine environment. Similar strategies appear in DISCIPLINE, left, a series of minimal, flat white ceramic vessels that, wrapped in white cord, radiate a frisson of contradictions. Villere's pristinely post-minimal works suggest those unspoken mysteries that express themselves in so many extraordinarily ordinary ways.

Longtime Loyola art instructor and part time musician/songwriter, Steve Rucker, is fascinated by nature. His STORM SONG VARIATIONS features 45 colorful ceramic abstractions, each supported by three black steel legs. Spiraling within the gallery like the outer bands of a hurricane, they possess elements of beauty and menace. But rather than depicting rampaging elements, they suggest their inner spirits as they seem to march relentlessly like apocalyptic horsemen, nightmare riders from the storms of myth and memory. ~ D. Eric Bookhardt
STORM SONG VARIATIONS: Recent Drawings and Sculpture by W. Steve Rucker
Through March 28
Arthur Roger@434, 434 Julia Street, 522-1999;

CAMOUFLAGE: New Paintings and Sculpture by Sidonie Villere
Through March 28
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400a Julia Street, 522.5471;

Susan Burnstine Interview

The NOLA Photo Alliance's Ann Marie Popko interviews Los Angeles based photographer Susan Burnstine. The 2008 PhotoNOLA Review Prize winner illustrates that the movement toward surreal, atmospheric photo-pictorialism extends far beyond the Gulf South, where a number of the leading practitioners of the idiom are based.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Peter Saul at the CAC

Peter Saul is the neglected clown prince of Pop, the problem child of an American art movement eternally synonymous with Andy Warhol. Along with Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, Saul was one of its pioneers, but he ended up more of a cult figure. His talent is flamboyantly self-evident, yet now in his mid-70s, he is getting his first major survey exhibition in two decades, thanks to curator Dan Cameron.

A San Francisco native, Saul evolved in the early 1960s not in the classic Pop mode of Warhol or Lichtenstein, but rather in the more visceral, wrenchingly surreal direction of the Hairy Who genre of Chicago Imagism. It was his then-Chicago-based dealer Alan Frumkin who, in effect, discovered him and gave him his first major gallery show.

Another reason Saul has always been sort of an outsider is because he really likes vomit, excreta and viscera, and his canvases often ooze with them amid his usual manic mix of tormented cartoonlike figures. Although his paintings became more polished over the years, he maintained striking thematic continuity. His circa-1964 Donald Duck Crucifixion, depicting a very stylized version of the Disney character on a cross, is a classic of creepy-crawly surrealism, less irreverent than over the top, with meaty tendrils like props from a horror movie. The 1979 work Double De Kooning Ducks, top, is Saul's flamboyant riff on De Kooning's abstract 1950s paintings of women.

But because his jarringly visceral style works best when probing the parameters of unreason, Saul is at his best in political paintings, especially his horrific Vietnam series and his lustily bloody Columbus Discovers America (pictured), where the unintended consequences of empire come back to haunt us like nightmares from the depths of history-book hell.

-D. Eric Bookhardt

Peter Saul: From the 1960s to the Present
Through April 5
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3800;

Darwin at Yale, Yuskavage at Tulane

Above: Les Origines by Odilon Redon & Cattleya Orchid and Three Hummingbirds, by Martin Johnson Heade, from Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts at Yale University. Read All About It:

Lisa Yuskavage: A Lecture
Tuesday, March 10, 2009: 7:00 pm
Freeman Auditorium
Woldenberg Art Center
Tulane University

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Recording America & Cornering the Art Market

THE RECORDING OF AMERICA: Prints from the Herbert D. Halpern Collection

It can be argued that there are really two kinds of history. The first, written by journalists and historians, appears in books recounting the events that shaped our view of the world. The second, by artists, reveals how the world looked and felt at those times. Perhaps because this nation dominated the latter-century art world, the American art from the first half of the 20th century has been overshadowed. A time profoundly shaped by world wars and the Great Depression, that America could seem remote—until recently. Now that bank failures and vanished fortunes are making the era of Hoover and FDR seem familiar once again, much of this Recording of America expo of 60 works on paper from the Herbert D. Halpern collection, can seem eerily resonant.
Of course, Manhattan always had its bright lights. In 2 A.M Saturday Night by Martin Lewis, it is 1932 and three post-flapper women are crossing Broadway as a street cleaner hoses it down, and while nothing much is happening, the buoyancy of the women amid the gloom of the street conveys a sense of the times. Less sanguine is Claire Leighton’s contemporaneous Bread Line, New York, a stark view of an endless queue of men huddled against the cold under jagged skyscrapers.

Ditto Mabel Dwight’s grimly colorful lithograph,
Derelict Banana Men, New Orleans, pictured, a view of ragged workers hauling produce in a scene that recalls some of Goya’s darker ruminations. Howard Cook’s stark Southern Pioneers etching of an Arkansas couple hints at Grant Wood and the great WPA photographers, but Raphael Soyer takes us back to Manhattan in his evocative, circa 1936, Dancers Resting litho, top, where the subjects are urbane, but the feel is no less austere, harking to Edward Hopper’s silences amid the cacophony. Here legendary artists such as Reginald Marsh, John Steuart Curry, George Bellows, John Sloan and Mable Dwight, among others, captured the spirit of their time no less than Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg decades later. –D. Eric Bookhardt

Through March 26

Diboll Art Gallery, Loyola University, 861-5456;

Cornering the Art Market:

Like Charles Saatchi in London, the Mugrabi's in New York buy and sell art like commodity traders trying to control the market in Warhols, Basquiats and Hirsts--a morbidly fascinating account of how the big time art market really works. Read it Here:

Beyond Gordon Matta-Clark

In our Prospect.1 New Orleans Biennial, the incised concrete slabs by Chilean artist Sebastian Preece were often compared to the late Gordon Matta-Clark's incisions in buildings and the like, but this spectacular Turning the Place Over piece by Richard Wilson at the perhaps slightly overlooked Liverpool Biennial takes the cake.