We live in a special place and time. Of course, all places and times are special, but ours, for various reasons, may seem even more so. While this may be something we instinctively sense or feel, it is the artists among us who are often the best at explicating, or illustrating this sensibility. For photographer Frank Relle, it’s old houses, and while many have documented them, Relle’s nocturnal streetscapes may have come closer to capturing their soul. Taken with a mix of existing streetlights and an elaborate portable light system, Relle’s portraits of homes, large and small, reveal their poetic aura in this survey at the splendid new Sibley Gallery on Magazine Street. Among the older images are favorites like TELEMACHUS, top, in which only the ancient arches of a Victorian façade are visible under a canopy of jungle vines, or the crumbling brick and plaster walls of LIVAUDAIS, a two story Garden District carriage house that looks right out of Anne Rice but actually appeared in CAT PEOPLE years ago. His new work includes LEONA, below, among other images that feature softer, more naturalistic lighting and broader panoramas for a hauntingly cinematic effect--an impressive survey in an impressive new gallery.
For Jonathan Traviesa, it’s all about the soulful people who live in those densely textured old structures, and while some are visual artists, all are artists in the ad hoc collective performance that is everyday New Orleans life. A selection of these urban denizens such as ELLEN, below, in their native habitat is currently featured at the Ogden Museum, and if local folks themselves constitute a photographic subject as popular as the city’s architecture, Traviesa’s environmental portraits capture some vital aspect of the enduring creative soul of this place. In addition to the exhibitions and grants this series has garnered, a striking and timely new book from the UNO Press, PORTRAITS: PHOTOGRAPHS IN NEW ORLEANS 1998—2009, is now available. ~Bookhardt
Frank Relle: NIGHTSCAPES Through Jan. 6 Sibley Gallery, 3427 Magazine St. 899-8182; www.sibleygallery.com Jonathan Traviesa: PORTRAITS IN NEW ORLEANS, 1998-2009 Through Jan. 23 Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org As seen in Gambit
As invitations go, this one from the Society for Decoration and Sacrifice was more intriguing than most. These recently unearthed artifacts from the lost civilization of Zradab include "inventive mechanical wonders, a Victorian parlor transported from a far away galaxy, invasive topiary species, mysterious fountains and glorified door knockers," a mélange that sounds a lot like New Orleans only more so. And any artist roster that includes Myrtle von Damitz, Kim and Scott Pteradactyl, Delaney Martin and Taylor Sheperd represents the more exotic fringe of the local art scene in an aggressively progressive way. The Pteradactyls and their extended clan are, after all, the creators of the famous exponentially expanding tree house at 1614 Esplanade, one of Nola’s newer wonders. Presumably the artists’ contribution was to restore these long lost antiquities, which all serendipitously bear a striking resemblance to the works for which they were already known in the first place. Touchingly, the show is dedicated to the late local sculptor, Jeffrey Cook, “whose sacrifice was of
the highest order.”
Actually, there is evidence that the Zradab culture practiced human sacrifice and that artists were often victims, a prospect that can be disconcerting considering the speculation that Zradab’s still secret location may be in an uncharted portion of Orleans Parish gerrymandered to include Third World territories. The artifacts themselves include a pre-digital percussion synthesizer by Taylor Sheperd reminiscent of early mechanical player piano technology, a metal, fabric and green mold fountain by Delaney Martin, a partially mummified alligator lamp by Nina Nichols, a large, weirdly globular “key to everything” by Jennifer Odem and Christian Repaal, and an excavated Zradab portrait, above, by Caron Geary. Because many of these artifacts are best observed at night—their creators were apparently part of a nocturnal and very musical culture—a free public performance of Zradabian entertainments scheduled for 9pm on January 3rd at Barrister’s Gallery may offer an optimal opportunity for viewing. ~Eric Bookhardt
ZRADAB: A LEGEND UNEARTHED: Mixed Media Installations by Delany Martin and the Society for Decoration and Sacrifice Through Jan. 3 Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 710-4506; www.barristersgallery.com As seen in Gambit
December used to be an almost sleepy time in local art, a month of group shows featuring “affordable” works suitable for Christmas presents. But that was before the tsunami known as PHOTONola suddenly appeared with dozens of photography exhibits and countless other photography related activities in a kind of imagistic frenzy attended by artists and collectors from all over. The first wave hit last Saturday, and there is indeed a lot to see, with additional expos cascading along as this is written. Since PHOTONola is the handiwork of the New Orleans Photography Alliance, it seems fair to start with its own gallery, where Sarah Wilson’s BLIND PROM is in full swing. As the name implies, this documentary series focuses on a high school prom at the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, an event for which Wilson has been the official photographer since 2005.
As a visual experience, it is both reassuring and disturbing. Perhaps because of the way photographers such as Diane Arbus have
conditioned us to observe impaired or unusual people from a coolly detached perspective, the first thing we notice in these teens is their difference. Beyond their blindness, some seem impaired in other ways, perhaps from Downs Syndrome, and many exhibit the unselfconscious expressions of those who have never clearly seen their reflection in a mirror. Viewed online, the images may evoke the ghost of Arbus, but in the gallery setting their unvarnished warmth and honesty is apparent as a unique collective presence. All in all, this is a show that makes us come to terms with the humanity of people who do not fit neatly into the blandly trendy self-image of middle class American life. Other first round recommendations would have to include Susan Burnstine’s poetic visions made with archaic Chinese cameras, below, at Canary, Jonathan Traviesa’s portraits at the Ogden Museum, Michele Varisco at Heriard Cimino, but you can really just go to photonola.org/photo-nola-2009 and click the EXHIBITIONS link--it’s hard to go wrong. ~Eric Bookhardt
Best known for his searingly evocative REMEMBER THE UPSTAIRS LOUNGE installation at the Prospect.1 Biennial last year, Skylar Fein turns his attention to punk rock in this YOUTH MANIFESTO show at NOMA. Again there are realistic trappings and graphic documentation, but the subjects couldn't be more different. The Upstairs Lounge was an obscure gay bar that caught fire under mysterious circumstances in 1971, killing at least 32 trapped patrons, whereas punk was an example of a cultural movement that began as a youthful rebellion and rapidly morphed into a marketing sensation of sorts. If the Upstairs Lounge was a colorful yet profoundly tragic place, punk rock became a postmodern echo chamber as it was subsumed into the culture that it once rebelled against, rendering it a mass mediated hall of mirrors--an electronic mirage rather than a fiery flameout. Consequently, where the UPSTAIRS LOUNGE exhibit was gut-wrenchingly elegiac, this YOUTH MANIFESTO show is ironically nostalgic.
Punk’s visual legacy is a wide array of memorabilia that Fein replicates in his artfully playful style, with iconic groups like the Clash, Adam and the Ants and Husker Du all turning up in outsized replicas of ticket stubs, posters and t-shirts. There’s even a Cyndy Lauper poster paired with a Cyndi Lauper bedsheet, above, amid sculptural recreations of 1980s boom boxes and guitar amps. The result is a recreation of the flip side of the Reagan era, an unusually taxonomic celebration of a familiar yet distant time. And if it lacks the searing punch of the Upstairs Lounge project, it does at least inject a new perspective into the eclectic mix of NOMA’s galleries, setting off such oddities as Henry Darger’s expressionistic child-world panorama, HURRY, IT’LL EXPLODE ANY MINUTE NOW, Allan McCollum’s 25 PERFECT VEHICLES display case of striped burial urns, and Mel Chin’s I DON’T WANT TO silver tray fringed with Mayan gods and Belizian flint ceremonial blades, all of which convey something of the eternal, prickly, underlying spirit of punk.
YOUTH MANIFESTO: Graphics, Sculpture and Videos by Skylar Fein
Through Jan. 3
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org As seen in Gambit
Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick recently logged this pithy missive on why he doesn't do Miami Basel anymore. While we regard it as a great resource, we also regard this as a great contrarian personal commentary, a bit of bracing criticism from within the belly of the beast that is American art:
It is that time of year again. Miami has allowed the circus of mental defectives that comprise the art world to pitch its tent on South-Beach. Every mouth-breathing, social misfit in the country has strapped on the fake tits and spray-on tans and found the most outre-retard outfits to promenade down Collins Avenue and engage in the casual brutality of the art market.
I stopped going to these things a couple of years ago. They are not much about art. They are more about skin and money and the ambitions of a culture of squishy people who fancy themselves as “taste-makers.” The parade of jerk-offs checking their Blackberries in full view of a gorgeous ocean makes one despair of the species. The hookers, male and female, will make a killing, a gallerina or two will get shit-faced on free vodka and go skinny dipping in the pool at the Delano. Art stars will be made and unmade as the dealers lie about how well sales are going in order to keep the one-ball juggling act known as the economy up in the air.
The art-world worker bees will man booths and realize hour after mundane hour that, in this end of the pool, this is all there is. Success at an art-fair is at best a Pyrrhic victory. The swells like you, and this doesn’t mean you’ve achieved anything like art. In fact, it often means the opposite. Not that there is no profit in being “fashionable”; there is a whole dearth of talent slaying cash right now. Celebrity -types will wander the aisles with their dealers in tow, verbally fondling each other’s sacks and air-kissing up a storm. It will be a daisy-chain amounting to nothing lasting. A well-lit nowhere. Have a daiquiri for me and tip the fucking waiters, you cheap pricks. ~Tony Fitzpatrick, December 3, 2009 tonyfitzpatrick.wordpress.com
He was a human Roman candle, a frenetic elfin graffiti artist who burst upon the New York scene in 1980 and quickly became one of the city’s most celebrated talents. Serious about art since he was a kid in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, Keith Haring insisted on making art accessible to all, and to that end he employed the walls along city streets and subway stations as his gallery. His deceptively simple visual language used bouncy stick figures to convey a wide array of situations and emotions, and the city and the world responded. In 1986 alone, his work appeared in over 40 solo and group exhibitions. Yet, even as he became an acclaimed painter and sculptor, his style still retained its original character, a breezy yet punchy lightness of line that is especially evident in these colorful silkscreen prints at Loyola. A representative survey of his brilliant but brief career, they were loaned by local collectors and Loyola alums, Stuart H. Smith and Barry J. Cooper.
Perhaps because they really do convey something of the ephemeral immediacy that we associate with graffiti art, a trait he shares with acclaimed contemporary street artists such as Banksy and Katharina Grosse, his work still seems surprisingly current. His ANDY MOUSE portrait of his friend, Andy Warhol, as Mickey Mouse wearing sunglasses and standing on a pile of greenbacks, above, makes a point about contemporary art commercialism that could just as easily be applied to Jeff Koons and Richard Prince, our prevailing geniuses du jour. A few are more topical and dated, but much of his work touches on themes that are universal or ongoing, like his fascination with flying saucers, an obsession shared by many Americans today. His incandescent career abruptly ended with his 1990 death from AIDS-related complications, but his spirit lives on in fans like Smith and Cooper and a new wave of artists who continue to blur the boundaries between art and life as it is experienced on city streets. ~Eric Bookhardt
In Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, a samurai has been murdered, but it’s not clear why or by whom. Various characters involved tell their versions of the events, but their accounts contradict one another. You can’t help wondering: Which story is true? More>>