Monday, April 27, 2009

King, Lang, Pieri and Zuspan at the Front

In its brief history, The Front has become known as a showcase of consistently quirky and provocatively paradoxical artworks, and the current expo is no exception. Morgana King's SUCK IT wall installation is emblematic, a large and delirious visual meditation on pervasive oral fixations. Inspired by summertime barflies sucking on cold libations as well as spring weddings and maternity wards, its pastel conical and nipple-like forms comprise a rhapsodic bas-relief of polymorphous associations infused with “the seasonal urgency” of blooming buds. Regarding which, King says, “Sit back and relax; I entreat you to either lay upon a cloud of titties or suck it.”
Holger Lang's TOAST & CHAMPAGNE is a visual rumination on the spiritual dimensions of inner space--psychic as well as physical—in the form of colorful collages and videos based on figures from myth, history and fantasy, all surrounding a spooky sort of altar where a pair of disembodied manikin hands hang amid a loopy web of string. The overall installation suggests a cerebral spider web where artifacts of cultural history are accumulated instead of dead flies, and it's about as precisely, and unsettlingly, executed.
Julie Pieri's DELICIOUS series of collages cobbled from the Betty Crocker Recipe Card Library—plastic-sealed recipes on cards in file boxes—is almost reassuring, but there's something unsettling about all those luridly colored food photos sliced, diced and remixed into images like demonic rhinestone-studded carrots hovering over orgiastic spreads of Betty Crocker specialties--macaroni, meatloaf, deviled eggs-- an infernal display of Middle American culinary diabolism.
Strange as it sounds, Laura Zuspan's EXOASTROALIENOLOGY series of ink paintings inspired by space aliens is oddly familiar, which may be her point. Like mythic beings who came to visit and made themselves at home, space aliens now coexist with the other familiar icons of our pop culture--just as these four shows, each equally inviting and off-putting, meld their own unique flavors into the yeasty St. Claude avenue mix. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

New Work by Morgana King, Holger Lang, Julie Pierie and Laura Zuspan
Through May 2
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Avenue
Expanded from Gambit

Monday, April 20, 2009

Strickland at Cole Pratt, Meehan at Good Children

One of the great contributions of cultural modernism has been its recognition of anonymous public spaces as places of poetry in their own right. That much is evident in two shows on view at local galleries. Alabama-based painter Stephen Stickland depicts vistas with figures on streets and beaches that exude a detached, cinematic quality. With titles like HUMIDITY, OPEN SPACE and INTERSECTION, below, they are painted deftly yet atmospherically, in much the way that Walker Percy implied, as well as described, human interactions. In THROUGH THE CROWD, top, his figures, seen from elevated angles, appear on streets reduced to people, pavement and pigeons as well as the space between them-- the air itself--which suggests its own palpable presence.The beach scenes are somewhat more personal. HUMIDITY is a two-panel sequence in which regular folks frolic in the tepid surf on a beach not unlike Gulf Shores. Here the flesh is fleshier and the salty air is denser, a clear, gel-like substance that unites them for the moment in a state of blandly placid contentment. Walker Percy would be pleased.Nola-based Alisoun Meehan’s large pastel paintings of New York’s Chinatown are more turbulent as the area's hubbub is reflected in shop windows filled with the carcasses of slaughtered animals amid flashing neon. In CHEF GRAFFITI, a window filled with rows of hanging poultry reflects the pulsating chaos of shoppers and traffic as well as the brick tenements across the street. Such scenes are ordinarily the domain of photorealism, but Meehan's pastels are more stylized.
Painting like CHINESE PIGS ON MOTT ST., in which slaughtered pigs are piled on a palette, or CAMBODIAN CHICKENS, in which the plucked carcasses of long-necked birds await their culinary fate, suggest raw, wide-screen equivalents of Dutch baroque still life paintings, a genre that graphically contemplates the darkly symbiotic relationship between mortality and well being. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Stephen Strickland: THROUGH THE CROWD
Through May 3
Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St. 891-6789
Through April 23
Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 975-1557
Expanded from Gambit

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Seen at NOMA:

Untitled (Sam, 1986) by Nic Nicosia is part of the gallery of super-size contemporary photographs that line the walls of the Great Hall of the New Orleans Museum of Art these days, in perfect counterpoint to the ornate 19th century paintings by artists such as Bouguereau or Delacroix in the adjacent galleries.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Northuis at Heriard-Cimino, Cox at Ferrara

As an art world influence, the renaissance approach to painting is with us still. Fusing renaissance techniques with idiosyncratic vision is an ongoing pursuit, but few are more idiosyncratic than Michael Northuis, who melds the cool virtuosity of Van Eyck and the expressionism of Otto Dix with sci-fi movie extravagance. COUPLE WITH ONLOOKERS suggests an expressionist space opera--the man's wears a bejeweled Conehead hat and the woman a Star Trek coif. They are really very close-in fact, they share the same torso, which subverts their otherwise pleasant proportions.

In CALYPSO, another couple gazes at a distant shore like a pair of space age vikings adrift in the Caribbean. In MARIACHI WEDDING, a space alien gaucho with a banjo serenades a busty Valkyrie from Venus handcuffed to a Nordic cowboy from Mars in what appears to be a laser-shotgun sort of wedding. If this suggests a stylistic smorgasbord, it's actually 100 percent pure Northuis, and while we never quite know exactly what he's doing, few can deny that he does it very well.

If Nortuis infuses the weird with the ordinary, Matthew Cox infuses the ordinary with the weird in paintings of people eating in a variety of, mostly prosaic, situations. Painted in a loose, figurative style reminiscent of Hogarth's oil sketches, Cox alludes to the vapid comedies of manners that result from various human cravings, the psychic as well as physical forms of emptiness. In this he hints at John Currin's uber-renaissance depictions of fleshly domestic banalities.
But Cox takes emptiness to another level entirely in his series of partially embroidered xrays of human heads and bodies, fleshing them out with strands of yarn that read like thick brushstrokes. Da Vinci it ain't, but the renaissance master of anatomy would no doubt appreciate the novelty. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Expanded from Gambit

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE!-Paintings by Michael Northuis
Through April 28
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300
A MOMENT ON THE LIPS-Paintings by Matthew Cox
Through April 21
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400a Julia St., 522-5471
Expanded from Gambit

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Caffery & Pavy at Arthur Roger

Southwest Louisiana, Cajun country, is noted for food and music, but its equally unique art scene has been somewhat overlooked. Happily, more Acadiana artists have turned up in local galleries of late, most recently at Arthur Roger where Debbie Fleming Caffery and Francis X. Pavy continue their visual explorations. Pavy’s canvases are infused with psychedelic Cajun symbolism and lots of local color. Inspired by an elderly neighbor, a cat lady with a racy past, VELMA AND THE DIAMOND RING features a dancer in an exotic pose in a liquor bottle in which smaller bottles, each containing a man’s profile, float in space. With its iconic mix of dice, guitars, fast cars, crosses and cats, VELMA is a kaleidoscopic evocation of a colorful life. ART OPENING is a mural-size triptych, impressive in its scale, but among the show’s gems are some wood block prints that highlight Pavy’s flair for Matisse-like compositions propelled by a kind of late night zydeco mysticism.

Debbie Fleming Caffery’s darkly luminous photos focus on residents of a small Mexican village where life revolves around a cathedral and various cantinas, one of which doubled as a brothel. Here Caffery provides a poetic look at those ladies that ply their ancient trade almost in the shadow of the church, interacting with the camera in coyly mysterious poses. Selma partially masks her face with her thick, dark hair, Z is made up like a 1930s Parisian coquette, and Ana bares her breasts while hiding her eyes behind strands of beads. Not all are “putas.” Octolan is an old wise woman with wrinkles like tree bark, and then there is Octolan’s wily cat and even the glowing cathedral itself. In Caffery’s Mexico, all things seem to dream and glow with their own inner light. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Debbie Fleming Caffery: THE SPIRIT AND THE FLESH
Through April 25th
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522-1999;

Expanded from Gambit

Mami Wata at the National Museum of African Art

At once beautiful, protective, seductive, and dangerous, the water spirit Mami Wata (Mother Water, seen here in painting by Moyo Ogundipe) is celebrated throughout much of Africa and the African Atlantic. A rich array of arts surrounds her, as well as a host of other aquatic spirits--all honoring the essential, sacred nature of water. Mami Wata is often portrayed as a mermaid, a snake charmer, or a combination of both. She is widely believed to have "overseas" origins, and her depictions have been profoundly influenced by representations of ancient, indigenous African water spirits, European mermaids, Hindu gods and goddesses, and Christian and Muslim saints. She is not only sexy, jealous, and beguiling but also exists in the plural, as the mami watas and papi watas who comprise part of the vast and uncountable "school" of African water spirits. Check out the show at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art:

Seen at NOMA

Jennifer Odem Encounters NOMA's Permanent Collection:

In an exhibition designed to create a dialogue between Jennifer Odem's sculptures and selections from the permanent collection, works by artists such as Yves Klein, upper left, were chosen based on their stylistic and formal resonances. A New Orleans native, Odem has created numerous site-specific installations locally and abroad. Combining rigid and delicate materials such as hydro-stone and with flocking fiber, her sculptures navigate between monumentality and playfulness. The structurally imposing "mound" sculptures entice with the notion of a hidden interior. Through May 24.

Odem's most recent outdoor installation, "Blue Fence," is on view beginning May 9 in the Upper Ninth Ward at the intersection of Poland Avenue at North Miro.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Ruins of Detroit

A dystopian future for the industrial Midwest? We might surmise as much from this photo of Detroit's magnificently scabrous United Artists Theater, part of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre's surreal Ruins of Detroit photo series on reliques online. See more at: (Click > to advance series)

Seen at Solidair:

This Detroit streetscape painted by Robert W. Lee in 1957 is part of an extensive collection of vintage African-American paintings, drawings, photos and sculptures at the Solidair Gallery, 4223 St. Claude Avenue, 324-1123, through April.