Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bedsole at Bienvenu

Raine Bedsole has for years crafted whimsical boats, spindly, ethereal vessels that appear to have been built for navigating the seas of myths and dreams more than any real body of water. Over time her oeuvre has expanded to include the human form, trees, old letters and poetic texts, and even totemic oars embellished to incorporate of all of the above. This show is partly inspired by Homer's ODYSSEY and the hurricane refugees still striving to return and rebuild, but literary analogies are only one part of the picture. She is also concerned with connections in a deeper symbolic sense; the sinews of her raw materials often correlate with the strands of experience from which life itself is woven.
OPPOSITE BANKS is a canoe-like form woven from gossamer branches that look more like a bird’s nest than anything truly nautical. Its intense lapis blue coloring, seemingly fused into its venous wooden tendrils, suggests it was meant to navigate the night sky like the barques that ferried the Egyptian pharaohs to the next life. GULF is a bas-relief with a boat formed from flat strips of copper seemingly traversing a pale lunar sea. In some places the chalky whiteness, actually plaster, parts like sea foam to reveal an old map of the Gulf of Mexico; elsewhere it suggests cracked walls invisibly tattooed with ghostly memories. Some nearby tree-like assemblages feature bark made from lines of printed poetry, returning language, literally, to its roots in the earthly world. In the rear of the gallery some old wooden oars stand like sentinels bearing mysterious signs and markings, some in distinctly female proportions. In Bedsole's world, women are vessels of human experience inseparable from the forces of nature they navigate. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Through June
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St. 525-0518;

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Morbid Anatomy at Barrister's

It was an intriguing concept for an exhibition: "Morbid Anatomy: Examining the Interstices of Art and Medicine, Death and Culture." Guest curator Joanna Ebenstein set the tone by soliciting work dealing with "hysteria, reliquaries, phrenology, 'things in jars,' freaks, taxidermy, waxworks, magic lanterns, momento mori and the 'pathological sublime," subjects that somehow suggested a sideshow (or curiosity cabinet, as noted in the title) as much as an art show. Such things titillate at some deeply visceral level; their appeal is sensational with a bit of schadenfreude thrown in for good measure. Yet they can also elicit a sense of wonder, the common ground between carnival freak shows and the art of the museum. Which tendency would prevail, or would it matter?
Here the gallery becomes a theater for morbid extremes. Upon entering we are confronted by a group of white horse-like sculptures with canine heads, perhaps a pack of saber-tooth horse-wolves (left). The mental offspring of Daphne Loney, one with arrows piercing its body suggests a hallucination, perhaps St. Anthony's last nightmare on the desert. On the wall above it is an even stranger vision, a small sculpture by Eleanor Crook of a balding gent with contorted features and flipper-like arms: EUSTACHE “JERK” DUPREE, THE ICARUS MAN OF PONCHATOULA (top). A tragic figure, his expertly modeled form suggests nobility within futility, a thwarted passion to soar above the pain and indignity of his condition. On the wall just behind him is Chicory Miles' EVERYTHING I'VE EVER WANTED (top, far left), a painted, cast iron self-portrait of sorts, only here two torsos sprout from one pelvis, each with two arms and three pair of breasts, a highly maternal model for multi-tasking. Hanging like a Pennsylvania Dutch “hex” on the wall, Miles' duplex-doppleganger appears poised and self-assured. The remaining works such as Jessica Goldfinch's multidigital PRAYING HANDS, left, and Monique Ligons' ANATOMY OF PANTROGLODYTE, above, all have their own stories to impart. Suggesting a microcosm of earthly life, their foibles and anomalies are rendered largely and dramatically enough to make the rest of us feel much better about our own. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

MORBID ANATOMY: Gallery as Wunderkammer
Through June 6th
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 525-2767;
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Day at Arthur Roger, McGarrell at Heriard-Cimino

Following Stephen Paul Day's progress as a sculptor is at times almost like following the history of the medium itself. He doesn't just work in metal, wood, glass, ceramics and found objects--he gets right down to the basics, even building his own bronze foundry, which became one of the more unusual casualties of hurricane Katrina. This largely porcelain expo is partly a result of his work with the facilities at Kohler, the maker of kitchen and bath fixtures and prominent patron of the arts. Whimsical, psychological and slightly enigmatic, Day's new work elaborates his interest in the parallels between archeology, myths, children's stories and modern life. Perhaps because porcelain tends to be pale and smooth, this is also Day's most subtle show in many moons. Billed as assorted artifacts from a lost civilization buried in the silt of the Mississippi delta, these pieces reveal themselves to be the products of a fertile personal mythology.

CABIN LAND, the title piece, features bronze busts of a pair of dazed looking kids in front of a display of pale porcelain "wooden" planks and a smattering of other objects that look suspiciously like pill bottles. READER TILES suggests pages from an archaic child's reader but with some words misspelled: "I is for Injun." BOY AND CABIN is a bronze of a Tom Sawyer sort of kid contemplating a miniature log cabin that seems to have sprouted mysteriously from a tree stump. In this show, Day evokes a shadow realm where myth, magic and the subconscious all coexist.

A different but related dynamic appears in James McGarrell's colorful A NEW RAGAMALA expo of gouache and watercolor paintings down the street at at Heriard-Cimino. Translated as"a garland of melodies," "Ragamala" refers to a 16th century school of Indian painting that was analogous to that country's nature-based musical traditions. A well known painter with a lengthy resume, McGarrell began his first RAGAMALA series in 2007 as a guest of the Sanskriti Foundation near Delhi, and this is his second series to date. Works such as YAMAN, left, and JAUNPURI, right, can be disconcertingly different in tone and scope from his earlier work, but are also intimate and intriguing--visual variations on the raga traditions of Indian music, evocations of nature, culture and the transformational power of the imagination. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

CABIN LAND: Bronze and Porcelain Sculpture by Stephen Paul Day
Through July 22
Arthur Roger @ 434, 434 Julia St., 522-1999;
HOURS AND SEASONS, A NEW RAGAMALA, Paintings by James McGarrell
Through June 2
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300,

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

BECA's 2nd Annual Gulf South Regional

BECA Gallery on St. Joseph St., across from the Contemporary Arts Center, bills itself as a “Bridge for Emerging Contemporary Artists” and their 2nd annual GULF-SOUTH REGIONAL show exemplifies their neatly cerebral approach toward that end. Tidy indeed are Luke Sides' CUP CAKES, life-size cast iron replicas with cast metal icing. Tiny icons of approach-avoidance syndrome, they evoke a clash of associations, seductive comestibles versus cold, hard metal, a vibratory conundrum felt in the roots of the teeth. Mark Grote's LOS ALAMOS 4 is also tidy, but with the added funk of a found-object provenance, a battered metal carrying case from military ballistics tests in New Mexico. It now holds tidy rows of little glass bottles filled with mystery granules topped by lead stoppers. This mingling of obsessive order with overtones of violence harks to cinematic mysteries embedded in the subconscious, vintage notions of nuclear apocalypse, dirty bombs with production values by Alfred Hitchcock.
No less mysterious but very different in tone is Scott Finch's pop painting PUT IT UPON THEIR EYES AND HEADS, top. This hard-edge pastiche of two young women kissing features a Waring blender flying, poltergeist-like, overhead as a passenger jet drops from the sky, a seemingly random confluence of events that serves as a kind of cockeyed rumination on the unpredictability of chaos in modern life. But order of a sort returns in Anne Stagg's FROM A TO B, AND SOMETIMES C, an exploration of the migration of birds across a cerulean blue sky, a study of patterning and randomness and the role the role they play in the lives of birds—and those who observe them. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
2nd ANNUAL GULF-SOUTH REGIONAL: Regional Artists Group Exhibition
Through May 23
BECA Gallery, 527 St. Joseph St., 566-8999;

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Ferdinand, Freeman, Tannen and Webb at Studio 527

It looks about as experimental as anything you might see on St. Claude, but this Studio 527 expo involves some very established local art veterans. Bob Tannen, a co-founder of the Contemporary Arts Center, is represented by his Zen-like drawings and improvised sculptures of balls--baseballs, basketballs and the like. For him they are the ad-libbed signifiers of the inner games imposed by the physical world, the evolutionary instinct to adapt and prevail--the basis of the earliest ball games. Executed quickly, they suggest those fleeting gestures on which destiny often hangs.
Rashida Ferdinand's LULLABY is a wall of reproduced pages from a letter her Lower 9th Ward grandmother wrote about the ravages of hurricane flooding--but the year was 1965. A contemporaneous photo of her appears in multiples on an adjacent wall, below. Throw in some of Ferdinand's surreal clay sculptures, like gourds birthing divas, and the result is a shrine-like evocation of fleshly transcendence as well as a reference to a tragedy endured with dignity and forbearance. Clifton Webb, like Tannen, had a role in founding the CAC. His near human-size Afro-futurist sculptures suggest atavistic fertility figures from the birth of the earth that evolved over time into the near-holographic forms seen here, time-traveling totems, in effect.
The Market Street Power Plant, top, a massive 19th century hulk that once burned coal and then natural gas, stands today as ruinous a cathedral of graffiti and rust. Tina Freeman's photographs capture that but also something else, a lingering human presence like a collective aura of the souls who once toiled there amid the coal bins, pictured, that powered the generators that lit the city. There, dark bituminous rocks were transformed into light amid a residue of soot and sweat over time, a residue reminiscent in some ways of Anselm Kiefer's densely layered paintings. These images convey the sedimentary gravitas of a vast steam-gothic burial vault enlivened by whimsical traceries of graffiti. ~D. Eric BookhardtNew Works by Rashida Ferdinand, Tina Freeman, Bob Tannen and Clifton Webb
Through May
Studio 527, 527Julia St., 388-3128
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