Sunday, July 26, 2009

Americana at the Front

“So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field...
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America”

Paul Simon’s haunting ballad AMERICA premiered over 40 years ago, yet it’s just as haunting today, perhaps because it captures something of the mystery of life on this vast continent. People go about their everyday lives, yet the interaction of different kinds of people is more dynamic here than anywhere on earth, a kaleidoscope of cultures that seems to constantly shift and change. Simon’s song came to mind when viewing the AMERICANA show at the Front, a selection of quirky and ironic new works that touch on the innate surrealism of life in the USA.

Of them, few are more quirky or ironic than Corey Drieth’s installation, BIG FAT, a wall-size curtain big enough to imply a stage. Made of Spandex that shimmers in metallic rainbow colors, BIG exudes gaudy excitement in a nod, perhaps, to the razzle-dazzle of the land that invented jazz, rock and big-screen color movies. In fact, Lydia Moyer’s video projection REVERSE CIMARRON touches on both Hollywood glitz and old frontier days with loops of vintage movie footage of manic Westward-Ho pioneers chasing the setting sun as placid buffaloes chew their cud on a second screen, in a kind of capsule history of the American Dream. By contrast, Mark Bradley-Shoup’s oil on paper VACANT CARWASH is a starkly painted evocation of the eerie emptiness that takes hold of the urban landscape when nobody’s around, in yet another oddly poetic offering from one of the most energetic and consistent of the new St. Claude Ave. galleries.
AMERICANA: New Work by Eleven American Artists
Through August 1
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Art of Caring at NOMA

I had approached it with trepidation. The New Orleans Museum of Art's THE ART OF CARING: A LOOK AT LIFE THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY was obviously put together with good intentions and a roster of great photographers, but could it really live up to its promise? Or would it simply be one of those institutional efforts that we are supposed to find deep and moving but which can also seem two- dimensional? Perhaps because of its variety, CARING escapes that fate–it is actually entertaining and quirky, as well as touching, thoughtful and beautifully executed. In fact, it is really a great show.

Assembled for NOMA by independent curator Cynthia Goodman, it features over 200 photographs intended to “explore the moments that shape our being.” Divided into seven sections ranging from LOVE and CHILDREN to AGING and REMEMBERING, it is very thorough. But unlike typical documentary exhibitions, CARING blends classic photo-reportage by legendary news photographers like Alfred Eisenstadt and W. Eugene Smith with the work of way more whimsical artists such as Arthur Tress, Sally Mann and Nan Goldin, among others. The result is often ironic as well as colorfully compassionate.

Annie Leibovitz sets the tone with a portrait of an elderly man. Look again, and it’s William Burroughs looking ancient at age 80, and here a stock geriatric shot suddenly seems much more complex. Another old guy appears with a cute little girl in Marco van Duyvendijk’s EAGLE KEEPER AND GRANDDAUGHTER, MONGOLIA, an unusual take on the familiar generational contrast theme. Joel Myerowitz’ ELEMENTS illustrates WELLNESS in an underwater view of a woman diving in a graceful arc, only here it’s displayed upside down so she seems to be flying upward in a surge of bubbles. Albert Chong’s AUNT WINNIE is elegiac, a black and white view of a woman enshrined in brilliantly colored flora. Like the rest, it embodies the timeless cycles that comprise the essential and ineluctable nature of life on this earth. ~Eric Bookhardt

The Art of Caring: A Look at Life through Photography
Through Oct. 11
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Payton at Heriard-Cimino, Keyes at the McKenna Museum

For some in the Payton family of legendary musicians, jazz is what life is all about. But Martin Payton is a sculptor, a visual artist no less influenced by music than his famous kin. His SECOND LINE expo at Heriard-Cimino pays homage to jazz and to the streets from whence it came. He regards these works a “suite in eight movements,” and their titles hark to the roots of jazz in Africa and Europe as well as here at home.

Not counting pedestals, these pieces appear smaller than many in his previous shows, but their polish, integrity and resolution are striking. RAVELLINGTON, above, is a lyrical assemblage of lines, circles and wedges that visually hark to Matisse and the spirit masks of Mali, but despite such multicultural influences the result is a lyrical unity, a fluid harmonic riff flash-frozen in steel.

DOGON DIRGE melds African abstraction with the contrapuntal elasticity of the jazz funereal, its timeless torsion of joy and sorrow. BAMANA BOURRE is visually more angular, reflecting a more percussive sense of composition, but the title is a lyrical Payton blender concoction: ”Bamana” is a tribe in Mali, while “Bourre” is either a French provincial dance or a Cajun card game. Yet the result is pure Payton and in this show the visual jazz musician gives us a virtuoso performance. Meanwhile at the McKenna Museum at 2003 Carondelet St., Bruce Keyes' SPIRIT OF NEW ORLEANS exhibition of black and white photographs provides a panoramic visual survey of this city’s famously fertile street culture. Understated and unassuming, these classical documentary shots let their subjects speak for themselves, which is just about all it takes to convey the eloquence of such artfully animated characters. ~Eric Bookhardt

SECOND LINE: New Sculpture by Martin Payton
Through July 14
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St. 525-7300;


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Jones, Webber and Kipper at NOMA

If you haven't been to the New Orleans Museum of Art lately, then you really are overdue for a visit. Put simply, the museum has never looked so good. For years it has done an outstanding job of presenting its significant collection of antique and 20th century works in an exceptionally seductive light, and it certainly has one of America’s most appealing sculpture gardens. It also outdoes most other museums at highlighting the colorful art history of its host city and state but, despite all that, it could often seem somewhat sedate, or even set in its ways. No more.

This is immediately evident upon entering the Great Hall. An imposingly quirky selection of oversize contemporary photographs by artists such as Cindy Sherman and Nic Nicosia inject a bracing sense of dialog with the vintage realist works in the inner chambers, setting up a counterpoint between past and present that continues throughout the museum. Contemporary Art curator Miranda Lash and Photography curator Diego Cortez have much to do with this new dynamic, as we see in two new shows. The paintings and videos in Rachel Jones and David Webber's MNEMONIC DEVICES expo are multi-layered investigations into the nature of images and memory. Reflecting a variety of philosophically convoluted methodologies, works like Jones’ RITUAL, above, and Webber's THE LETTER Y, bottom, remain poetic if at times puzzling, effective as spectacle while challenging our sense of what constitutes the resolution we ordinarily expect in works of art. Despite, or perhaps because of, such ambiguities, DEVICES resonates an energetic dynamic of its own. FLOATULENTS by Harry Kipper (aka Martin von Haselberg) is more slapstick, like a room full of sagging oversize balloons bearing caricaturish ink-jet self-portraits inspired by his performance artist past. Individually, they seem shallow, like so many conceptual quickies. As an installation, however, their goofy banality makes for a wonderfully unexpected addition to the startling new diversity of NOMA's offerings.
~Eric Bookhardt

MNEMONIC DEVICES: Paintings and Videos by Rachel Jones and David Webber
Through Aug. 23
FLOATULENTS: Inflatable Photographs by Martin von Haselberg
Through Sept. 6
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;