Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sandra Russell Clark at Loyola's Diboll Gallery

Stuff happens. Sometimes it’s big stuff and sometimes it’s not, but stuff always happens. As jarring as stuff can be, the tricky part may not even be what happened, but how we deal with it. In the art world, as in the rest of the city, recent history is divided into pre-K and post-K, and artists, like most folks, are still dealing with it. Sometimes we wonder if there will ever be an end to all the Katrina-related art exhibitions, but this may not really be the most pertinent question. The real issue, for artists and others alike is: where are we now, and how are we dealing with it?

Sandra Russell Clark has for ages been a photographer of trees and landscapes, sensually ethereal views of misty gardens and windswept Gulf Coast vistas that reflect her own impressionistic, neo-romantic approach. A New Orleans native and longtime Bay St. Louis resident, Clark endured the ultimate photographic nightmare when Katrina’s tidal surge claimed the negatives that were a large part of her life’s work. Her new digital photographs on view at Loyola are very different from anything she has done in the past. A colorful series of portraits of little dolls and figurines rescued from the storm rubble, there is little that suggests hurricanes—at first. Look again, and we see that while a Shoney’s BIG BOY figurine came through unscathed, a LONELY RANGER’s uniform, top, looks like he got into a fight with Smokey the Bear. And a SAMMI DOLL, above, in a blue chiffon gown appears to suffer the ravages of PTSD as she reclines in an unkempt daze. She looks like she might have benefited from the mental health services of that Adolescent Hospital the Jindal administration is moving to Mandeville. But maybe she should receive counseling from the pudgy good luck BUDDHA figurine dispensing advice over a telephone. When the state pulls the plug, a hot line to enlightenment may be just what the doctor ordered. ~Eric Bookhardt
JUJU: Recent Photographs by Sandra Russell Clark
Through Oct. 23
Collins Diboll Gallery, Loyola U., 6363 St. Charles Ave., 865-2186;

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Goldfinch at CoLAB

There are places, and not just in the Bible Belt regions of the Deep South and Midwest, where Jessica Goldfinch might be considered over the top. And it is also true that works like her statue of a visibly pregnant Virgin Mary are not likely to grace any local shrines anytime soon. Still, in a city where events like the Krewe du Vieux parade and Southern Decadence festival were hailed as proof that New Orleans had returned to “normal” after the floods of 2005, not much is considered shocking. And that’s a good thing, because it allows us to contemplate the deeper implications of her work rather than obsessing over superficialities.

Goldfinch’s HOLY CARD series is an exploration of religious, especially Roman Catholic, iconography rendered in Shrinky Dink media. Beyond saintly wonders, she also invokes modern scientific miracles in works like IMMACULATE OPEN HEART, a synthesis of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and a modern surgical procedure. MOTHER OF SWORDS, above, is more Byzantine, a veiled Madonna with a Sacred Heart replete with connecting veins and arteries as well as six swords pressed to her breast all rendered like a colorful holy card, and it’s a tribute to the power of imagery that this looks more like an actual historical artifact than the speculative imaginings of a New Orleans artist. The hits keep on coming in another series that melds vintage fashion with anatomical infirmities. Here figures from a 1950s Vogue pattern book appear modified with leg or neck braces, even amputated limbs as seen in ENVY, and lest this be taken for some campy schadenfreude, it should be noted that Goldfinch herself endured a cardiac birth defect that went undiagnosed for 34 years despite frequent trips to the emergency room. Like the saints of yore, she relates to the suffering of others. Whether salvation is finally experienced in the form of divine or man-made miracles is ultimately a matter best left to the metaphysical proclivities of the beholder.

Through Sept. 27
CoLAB Projects, 527 St. Joseph St., 566-8999;

David Byrne on "Perfect" Cities

David Byrne says his "perfect" city is a lot like New Orleans "minus its poverty, corruption and crime." Click: David Byrne deconstructs the perfect city »

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kessler at Bienvenu Through September

Despite all the art world talk about movements, ideas and themes, sense of place has remained one of the most consistent influences on personal creativity for at least a century or so. How much of Edward Hopper’s sense of “isolation,” that art historians say permeates most his work, is really a result of his accurate rendition of the cold looking light that suffuses so much of New York state? And how much of Matisse’s “warmth” was influenced by his long stays in the sunny south of France? While painter Michael Kessler was growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania, he gravitated to Andrew Wyeth’s spare Keystone-state landscapes with their stoic sense of repressed drama. But after he moved to New Mexico, his work became much more geometric and panoramic. Which is probably as it should be: if Louisiana is arguably America’s most sensual state, New Mexico is surely its most graphically stratified and abstract. Both are very surreal, but for utterly opposite reasons related to one place’s flatness and humidity contrasted with the other’s contours and aridity. From atop a New Mexico mesa you can seemingly see forever into the distance, while Louisiana, by comparison, is one big steamy mirage.

Maybe that is why so much of Kessler’s work looks geological, with a subtle interweaving of the impact of man and nature. Much of this stems from his methodology of adding and subtracting in a way that mimics the processes of sedimentation and erosion in the natural world. For instance, in CURRENT, below, a broad band of sandstone red is flanked by pale seas of gypsum white and meandering traceries of ambiguous origin, and the net effect suggests facets of man and nature built up over time in contrast to the more spontaneous gestures of artists such as Pollock or DeKooning. Related strategies appear in HIPPOID, top, and RUE, above. Like the landscapes that inspired them, Kessler’s paintings reflect an organic cycle of building up and tearing down in what amounts to a modern art equivalent of timeless natural processes recreated on a more intimate scale.
~Eric Bookhardt
Through Sept. 28
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Schwerd at Ammo, Wisniewska at Octavia

What is it about hair? Imbued with a mystical aura since the days of Samson and Delilah, it can almost define certain people, for instance, Elvis or Dolly Parton’s iconic coifs, or Sarah Palin’s famous hair extenders. Loren Schwerd’s show at Ammo touches on all of the above. The title, MOURNING PORTRAIT, harks to the long lost 18th and 19th century funerary “hairwork” tradition in which the locks of the deceased would be fashioned into intricate jewelry or mementos. But contemporary coiffeur culture also plays a role in Schwerd’s sculptural interpretations of storm-blasted, flood-ravaged New Orleans homes. Her memorial portraits of the sorts of collapsing abodes that were the first to be demolished following the flood are woven from a mother lode of wigs and human hair extenders found outside a St. Claude Avenue beauty parlor after Katrina.
These somehow recall both Pennsylvania Dutch hexes and African fetishes all rolled into one. 1317 CHARBONNET ST. (pictured) is emblematic, a woven hair portrait of a shotgun house in an oval frame. Strands at the base are woven into cornrow braids, on which the house seems to rest. Others are even more surreal, with landscaping touches like braided trees topped with a bushy bouffant of curly locks. Setting it all off is a woven shed-size shotgun house rising like a shrine in the center of the gallery. All in all, it’s an eerie show where a thread of subtle voodoo contributes to the surreal mojo.

There are no loose ends in Karina Wisniewska’s SILENT DYNAMISM expo at the Octavia Gallery, yet the Swiss artist’s abstract, minimal extrapolations of line and form in quartz sand and acrylic are sometimes so linear as to suggest strands of hair if not sine waves or other oscillations. A former concert pianist turned painter, she now records her own visual music on canvas, following her inner harmonic flow wherever it takes her. ~Eric Bookhardt
MOURNING PORTRAIT: Human Hair Architectural Memorials by Loren Schwerd
Through Sept. 16
AMMO, 938 Royal St., 301-2584;
SILENT DYNAMISM: Works by Karina Wisniewska
Through Oct. 2
Octavia Gallery, 4532 Magazine Street, 504-309-4249;

Friday, September 4, 2009

Miru Kim's Nude Urban Ruins Explorations

Miru Kim is fearless. She ventures into places such as the Paris Catacombs, above, to make her art that most of us would neither enter nor risk arrest to be in: underground tunnels, sewers, abandoned factories, power plants, the tops of bridges and churches. Once she arrives at these hidden and desolate places, Kim explores the setting, finds the best point of view, puts her camera on a tripod, and removes her clothes — in order to take some of the most engaging photographs of the moment.