Sunday, November 15, 2009

Soth and Colescott at Arthur Roger


                                       Adelyn, Ash Wednesday, by Alec Soth
Robert Colescott died last June at his home in Tucson. He was 83, and highly respected in the art world. The first black American to represent the U.S. in a solo show at the Venice Biennale, his work was in many major collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He had close ties to New Orleans, where his parents were born and raised. After serving in World War II, he made zany paintings that dealt with racial or social issues in a highly satirical manner. His remake of the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware replaced him with the black agricultural chemist, George Washington Carver, at the helm of a boat loaded with minstrels, cooks and maids. Painted in a zany, California Imagist style, the works on view continue in a similar vein.


In SUMMERTIME, right, a white blonde in a sagging bikini reclines under a sky filled with black crows circling an Afro Minnie Mouse with big boobs as a black guy approaches her with his tongue hanging out. Presumably a satire on racial preconceptions, its meaning is up to the viewer. As with much Colescott, we’re not always sure what we’re looking at, but always we know we’re looking at SOMETHING.

The adjacent gallery contains some large color photos by Alec Soth, a 40 year-old Minneapolis photographer who has been making waves with works such as this subtly atmospheric series exploring life along the Mississippi. ADELYN, ASH WEDNESDAY, NEW ORLEANS, above, depicts a tired, tattooed redhead with an ashen cross on her forehead. Asked what she was giving up for Lent, she hit Soth up for a beer, explaining that she wasn’t really Catholic and her cross was made from cigarette ash. JOSHUA, ANGOLA PRISON, depicts an angelic looking inmate who turned out to be serving a sentence for murder. Like a postmodern O. Henry, Soth provides many ironic insights in a highly evocative series where every picture really does tell a story. (Although both shows officially came down on Nov. 14, the work remains available for viewing during the following week.) ~Eric Bookhardt

Robert Colescott: TROUBLED GOODS
Alec Soth: SLEEPING BY THE MISSISSIPPI
Through Nov. 14
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522-1999;
www.arthurrogergallery.com