Friday, December 31, 2010

MOMA No Longer Dead--But What Is It???

by Roberta Smith

WHEN I walk through the Museum of Modern Art these days, it sometimes feels as if the place has come back from the dead — even if I’m not always so crazy about the life it happens to be leading. There’s often a confusing, disjunctive quality to it, especially where contemporary art is concerned, as the museum’s programming lurches from crowd-drawing, performance-art spectacles in the atrium to relatively dry and didactic exhibitions in its galleries. But at least there’s a pulse. The museum feels much, much more animated than it did back in 2005 and ’06, when it — and we — were first adjusting to its slick new home on West 53rd Street... Like many museumgoers I can feel deeply ambivalent about what goes on in the atrium — variously vexed, seduced, pandered to, alienated and moved. Still, I think its transformation counts as progress. At least now, instead of worrying about the Modern’s vital signs, we can worry once more about what it is and isn’t doing, about the new life it has taken on. More>>

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 The Year That Was: Changes at the Top


The New Orleans art scene has long appeared so stable and cohesive as to seem nearly immune to the wild ups and downs of major art capitals like New York--until this year. But 2010 has been a doozy in any number of ways, especially at the institutional level, where there were many changes at the top, some very sudden. As far as local artists and galleries were concerned, the situation was more normal as the scene continued to expand, in some ways exponentially, as three major art events, Prospect.1.5, Des Cours and PhotoNOLA all overlapped in December, with PhotoNOLA alone staging over 50 exhibitions such as Priya Kambli's COLOR FALLS DOWN expo, above, at Antenna. As in years past, especially since Katrina, many young artists continued to move here, and new art spaces, including the deluxe Martine Chaisson Gallery in the Arts District, popped up. And our best-known galleries all survived another year despite a bad national economy that was locally exacerbated by a major environmental catastrophe. Chalk it up to New Orleans exceptionalism, the intangibles of a culture based more on love than money.  
     One of the earlier transitions this year was the resignation of Joy Glidden from her post as director of Louisiana Artworks, the big multipurpose art facility on Lee Circle. Credited with successfully overseeing its emergence as a force in the local art world, Glidden is now the director of the public television series Art Index TV. Current Louisiana Artworks' acting director Ariel Brumley wants people to know, "We are open, but most of our resources are going toward completing construction on the upper floors that had been delayed, after which we will conduct a search for a full time director. We have PhotoNOLA's PICTURES OF THE YEAR INTERNATIONAL photography show in the gallery, and the Community Printshop under the direction of Meg Turner maintains its full schedule of activities."  
     When it comes to making news, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art has long been a leader. Late last year its longtime director, Richard Gruber, resigned amid rumors that the Ogden was in financial trouble, and in fact a state audit confirmed that it was. The audit, released last month, dated from 2009, and last year the Ogden hired Lisa McCaffety as chief operations officer to bring some order to finances that had suffered since hurricane Katrina. When the audit went public last month, board chairman Julia Reed was able to quickly announce that its findings were old news and that the museum had balanced its books and restructured its debt. Then on December 10, Reed announced that longtime curator David Houston, who with McCaffety had been appointed co-director just last January, had resigned. She offered no specifics, saying she did not want to speak for him, but McCaffety stated that it was not related to museum finances. Houston, who declined to comment, was known for his comprehensive curatorial insight into how old and new, modern and traditional Southern art fit together, as well as for his ability to stage high quality shows on a shoestring budget, so art lovers were left scratching their heads and wondering if finding a curator as well suited to the Ogden's unique needs might be easier said than done. Reed told us that former director Rick Gruber would be working with acting curator Bradley Sumrall, and that we would be seeing more exhibitions featuring the paintings of Ogden board member William Dunlap, which seemed to occur all the time back when Gruber was in charge, among other new shows planned for 2011. Continued: Click for More>>

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Along the PhotoNOLA Trail, Uptown

Click Images to Expand
The 5th annual PHOTONOLA may be officially over, but most of its over 50 exhibitions continue on. The diversity is mind boggling, but many of the Uptown venues share a related theme in the form of the Southern landscape and its people. LOUISIANA AND TREES at Sibley Gallery features work in various media, but the photographs by Wanda Boudreaux, left, Joshua Pailet, Richard Sexton and Michel Varisco are thoughtful evocations of trees as the poetic inflection points of the region's geopsychic terrain. Those images are serendipitously complemented by Natasha Sanchez's evanescent lumen prints of local flora at the Julie Neil Gallery, while, in a very different vein, Stacy Kranitz' photos of fighting cocks and their owners, below, at the Big Top, provide a psychically complex yet oddly engaging look at Louisiana's once emblematic, now outlawed, blood sport. At Cole Pratt, Leslie Addison and George Yerger's sepia prints of old weathered buildings, top, and ghostly vistas convey the timeless elemental qualities of the region and its landscape. Yet, while the ambrotype photographs by Euphus Ruth at the Kevin Gillentine Gallery are related in theme, his uniquely woozy, wet-plate collodion images of the Mississippi Delta, below left, suggest surreal flashbacks into the psyche of the place, while hinting at what a Clarence John Laughlin-William Faulkner collaboration might have looked like. At Du Mois, Kathleen Robbins' straight color documentary images of the Delta provide a yang counterpoint to Ruth's yin. But when it comes to inexplicably dreamy imagery, it's hard to top the Katrina doll x-ray photographs by Lisette de Boisblanc at Coup d'Oeil. Her aunt's antique dolls drowned in the floodwater, but an acquaintance just happened to have an old x-ray machine that gave them a haunting new life. Striking works by Grissel Guiliano, Angela Berry, Maggie Covert and Terry DeRoche round out the show. Striking too are the SOUTHERN ISOLATION images by Eric Paul Julien, below, and Anna Hrnjak at Poet's Gallery, Jennifer Shaw's HURRICANE STORY at Guthrie Contemporary and Colin Miller's faux news photos at the Darkroom--but this only scratches the surface of PHOTONOLA's latest imagistic tsunami. ~Bookhardt
PHOTONOLA 2010: Selected Uptown Venues, Closing Dates Variable
For Venue Information See:    

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Charbonnet at Arthur Roger; Cundin at Bienvenu

Jose Maria Cundin is elusive, chimerical; he has exhibited here since the 1960s but is rarely seen. A one time resident of Broadmoor who now lives in Folsom, he spent a number of years in Miami in between. His work is also slippery, and his TWELVE ANTI-PORTRAITS show is aptly titled because the images are totally abstract, depicting no one's actual appearance. But Cundin is a master colorist, and color is a quality of light, and light is what people radiate. While no one's visage is actually visible, Cundin gives us the colors of his subjects' personalities instead, like a collection of so many painterly mood rings. So CHAVEZ, WHY DON'T YOU SHUT UP?, top, is an uneasy agglomeration of red, green and tangerine blobs shifting disconsolately and radiating the kind of unholy crimson glow that we might expect from Venezuela's caffeinated loose cannon president.  But in CARLOS GARDEL SINGING "MUNECA BRAVA," left, the articulated blobs seem to almost gyrate in harmony with the music of the legendary Argentine tango singer-songwriter. And RUBEN DARIO OBSERVING HIS OWN BRAIN is complex, as introspection often is, even for the esteemed Nicaraguan founder of Latino literary modernism. Here Cundin gives us a non-objective new form of biographical history painting that relies solely on a visual lexicon of cellular forms and irradiated colors to convey the essential character of his subjects. And once again the canny Basque expatriate escapes any further attempt to define him. 

      Nicole Charbonnet is concerned with images not so much for what they represent as what they symbolize. Her images are iconic, or rather they reflect what is left of iconic forms after time, the elements and erosion--both elemental and mental--have taken their toll. Some things remain but some things are lost as yesterday's symbolic forms erode into today's artifacts in the cultural slurry of images that have outlived their original purpose but linger on to haunt the visual milieu all around us. Here she focuses on flowers. ERASED PICASSO is a play on Robert Rauschenberg's once scandalous gesture of erasing a DeKooning drawing that he then exhibited as a kind of nihilist homage to the ab/ex master. Picasso's iconic pair of hands holding flowers comprises the rare example of his work that comes across as a universal gesture, an image visited and revisited by millions of transient eyes. While the act of looking does not in itself erode images, mass viewing repeated over time affects the way we perceive them, making them slowly fade in consciousness. Here the palimpsestic surfaces and abraded boundaries allow space for a more personal interpretation, so forms that might have become too familiar may be recognized as unique and mysterious once again. ~Bookhardt
FLOWERS: Mixed Media Paintings by Nicole Charbonnet, Through Dec. 24
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;
TWELVE ANTI-PORTRAITS: New Paintings by Jose-Maria Cundin, Through Jan. 29 

Gallery Bienvenu 518 Julia St., 525-0518;

Interview: Postmodern Photo Pioneer Bernard Faucon

by D. Eric Bookhardt

When Bernard Faucon first appeared on the photography scene in the late 1970s, he was considered a paradoxical figure. Working in a medium that was long associated with "truth," he was a master of stagecraft and a certain flamboyant artifice. In a medium known for humanism, his subjects were mostly mannequins... The popularity of his work quickly soared in Europe and Asia--especially in Japan, where his photographs inspired a TV series featuring a family of mannequins, "the Faucons." More>>

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Brown-Green & Saratoga Collections at the Ogden

The Michael Brown and Linda Green Collection, one of the first major donations to the Ogden Museum after its inception, captures much of the spirit of New Orleans art from the sixties through the nineties. Many top artists were emerging when tech entrepreneur Michael Brown and his spouse, Linda Green, discovered them, and this expo offers a glimpse into their slow brew process of connoisseurship. It's also nostalgic. Few artists epitomize the wacky visionary side of Nola art more than the late Noel Rockmore, and the small sample here complements his haunting PRESERVATION HALL PORTRAITS mini-expo in the adjacent gallery. Then there is Peter Dean, whose carnivalesque expressionism was better received here than back home in New York. Also evident is the pervasive influence of Louisiana Imagist painters like Robert Warrens, whose I CRIED A RIVER OVER YOU manic-aquatic interior seascape, above right, compares with anything produced by the Chicago Imagists. Similarly, Fred Trenchard's quirky 1970s Imagist paintings neatly encapsulate the tenor of the times. While there is much interesting work on view, it was especially nostalgic to once again peruse the New American Scene paintings of Justin Forbes, who after a post-Katrina week in the Superdome landed in Denton, Texas, where he remains. His 1990s Nola hipster canvases like ROAD TRIP, pictured, are lushly executed evocations of the period, like a latter day Jack Kerouac worldview on canvas.

     The Saratoga Collection, curated by Terrence Sanders for Marcel Wisznia's Saratoga Building project, focuses on edgy and urbane imagery. The 41 mostly emerging artists are mostly associated with the St. Claude arts district and comprise a surprisingly cohesive mix ranging from Rex Dingler's red splattered "Somewhere in the City this Blood is Real" stenciled sign-painting to Generic Art Solutions' fluorescent "OK" wall sculpture. There are also a number of photographs, videos and some more painterly mixed media pieces and canvases such as Robin Durand's pop-baroque Tide piece above, but most works convey a graphic edge that is as passionately opinionated as the city that inspired them. ~Bookhardt 
Click Here for Interview: Michael Brown on Collecting 
The Michael Brown and Linda Green Collection, Through Jan. 2
The Saragoga Collection of 41 New Orleans Artists, Through Dec. 15
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Goth Louisiana Flag Harks to Templars, Masons

The newly revamped, and notably more Gothic, Louisiana state flag, featuring an angular pelican tearing its bleeding breast to feed its young, was unveiled during the swearing-in ceremonies of Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne on November 22. The design is somewhat akin to the 1912  flag currently in use, only now the state bird is more like the European pelican of the Knights Templars above the entrance to their Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium. Built in the 12th century, the chapel houses magico-religious relics brought by the "heretical" Templars from Jerusalem. More>>

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Like a Prayer: Post-Feminist Art at Barrister's


Feminism ain't what it used to be. This show, originally intended as a survey of recent feminist art, quickly morphed into something else once the artist submissions started coming in. Consequently, curators Martina Batan and Andy Antippas decided to work with what they had in hand, which Antippas generalized as "women coping," citing the example of "a married woman's portrait of her former lesbian lover, or a woman with a chained up refrigerator preparing a meal of pills." Even as 1970s feminist art sells for increasingly higher prices, yesterday's ambitions seem to have subsided into the unsteady shuffle that is the 21st century so far, as agendas appear increasingly convoluted. Take Berlin-based Bob Tooke's painting I WAS HITLER'S BITCH, top. Here a bemused Fuhrer sits surrounded by four crudely painted babes named Gaga, Paris, Britney and Lindsay, and while they all look like airheads, none resembles their namesake. Are airhead babes just a cover for a fascist plot? Tooke's partner, Silke, offers few clues in THANK GOD WE NEVER MET, a painting of a woman pouring booze on her dog as space mutants crawl out from under her dress, which seems to be made of bricks.

But if meanings are elusive, there is no shortage of attitude in works like Nikki Crook's VENUS IN FURS portrait, above, of an elegant bohemian lady with a twisted expression. Likewise, Lilian Butter's RETRIBUTION painting of a goth gal with green skin, pink hair and blue nails carrying a bloody crowbar, is chilling. The same might be said for Raven Creature's painting of a nude pink zombie. But Chalmette -based Evelyn Cade's CONFUSION ON I-10 painting, left, of a woman wading in floodwater as she flashes her tits --as if for beads--as trapped storm survivors huddle forlornly on an I-10 up ramp, is a perfect metaphor for a decade when media circuses passed for news and flood victims were left to fend for themselves. For this, Cade must surely qualify as St. Bernard Parish's expressionist in residence par excellence. ~Bookhardt
LIKE A PRAYER: Reflections on the 21st Century Feminine, Through Dec. 31, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, New Orleans, 504-710-2506;

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Multispecies Salon 3: Swarm

Of late, the St. Claude Avenue gallery openings have attained a kind of critical mass, with too much to see and too little time. And then, some events are in a constant state of flux, such as SWARM at Kawliga and the Iron Works (in conjunction with the American Anthropological Association convention), which explores relations between humans and other creatures. The most scientific stuff appears at Kawliga Studios. The absence of explanatory labels is puzzling, but the curators insinuate they did this to emphasize the evolutionary ephemerality of the work. Take the ANTI-RABBIT ART installation, a pop-surreal painting paired with a rabbit in a glass box. The painting incorporates blood used in the production of an anti-elephantiasis drug derived from the interaction of microbes, worms and rabbits with the aid of lasers, genetic engineering and the like. “Anti-rabbit” is geek code for a counteragent, and you have to feel for the bunny, who’d clearly rather be in a briar patch, but it’s all for a good cause. Elsewhere on a wall is a list of diseases and the code names of transgenic rats created with human DNA to produce drugs to fight deadly pathogens. Below the list are the cremated remains of the rats in beaded glass globes reliquaries. Then there are things that glow in petri dishes... well as works with related themes that look more like traditional art, but
you get the picture: you’re in over your head. Even so, it’s not a bad way to be disoriented. The more traditional surreal weirdo-art appears at the wondrous voodoo-science warehouse that is the Ironworks. Here we have whole new species such as David Hardegree’s multi-eyed flying demon fish, top left, hovering near an amazing Creole architectural mutant environment by Angela Eve Freese, top. Local artists including Miss Pussycat, Michel Varisco, Alan Gerson, Daphne Loney, Hannah Chalew and David Sullivan mix well with the international krewe of science-art spelunkers. A great show for anyone with an interest in mutants, artistic or otherwise. ~Bookhardt
Multispecies Salon 3: SWARM: Curated by Myrtle von Damitz, 
Marnia Johnston,  Nina Nichols,  Amy Jenkins and Eben Kirksey
Through Dec. 5
Kawliga Studios, 3331 St. Claude Ave & The Ironworks, 612 Piety St. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Swoon's Musical House

Click Image for More
 Musical Architecture for the Bywater by SWOON, Taylor 
Shepherd, Jayme Kalal, James K, Patrick Murray-Nellis
This  model represents a landmark, interactive, public sculpture by the artist Swoon. Swoon’s design is inspired by local architecture and New Orleans musical heritage. To that end, the building itself will become a musical instrument. Swoon’s local collaborators are mechanical artists who will build musical devices into the structure of the building that engage its resonance and form. Levers, pulleys, buttons and pedals will allow visitors to “play” the house.

Swoon is a celebrated street and installation artist known for intricate handmade boats that have floated the Mississippi, the Hudson River and most recently the Adriatic Sea and the canals of Venice during the 2009 Biennale.  As with the boats, the focus for our musical house is on salvaged materials, artistic and community collaboration, functional environments and interaction that involves sound and performance. The house will reside on Piety Street in Bywater, where we intend to present an ongoing series of annual block parties that host local and national musicians for orchestrated works that will be performed using the musical architecture of the house. The building will also be used as a unique artist residency space for artists participating in Airlift projects. The ground floor will function as a multi-use space for exhibitions, performances, and lectures that serve the wider community. A series of Swoon prints on found wood are available for sale with proceeds going towards the project. For more information on print sales or volunteer opportunities, contact info@neworleansairlift

The New Orleans Airlift would like to thank the following individuals and institutions for their ongoing support:  Wayne Troyer Architects,  Miranda Lash, Contemporary Curator, NOMA, The Old City Building Center, Tulane University, The New Orleans Arts Council, The Louisiana Decentralized Fund and the Black Rock Arts Foundation.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shannon and Dary at Heriard-Cimino

Elizabeth Shannon is back. Not that she ever went anywhere, but her early reputation was based on Zen-like environmental installations of found objects that radiated the surreal “rightness” of the happy accident. Forays into conceptual postmodernism yielded fewer gems, but here she returns to what she does best. My favorites are the simplest. CIRCLE WITH HORN is a precisely constructed wooden circle, an antique “form” from which a metal machine part was long ago cast at one of the foundries that once dotted the riverfront. Within it, a steer horn reclines as comfortably as a cat on a windowsill, and there’s really nothing to it. Yet the old “form” and antique steer horn radiate the hyper-reality that only objects imbued with the unspoken weight of the ages can possess, and their union, like a found-object koan, evokes a sense of serendipitous predestination. In FLOW, an old wooden form like a cleaved aqueduct bearing a stream of rounded pebbles evokes the elemental tension between the age of steam and the natural forces of the river and the rocks it carries downstream. Some other pieces are fussier or more baroque, but there are more iconic “Shannons” in this rather meandering show than we have seen in some time. On the walls, some deeply hued photographs created via the cyanotype process suggest a promising new direction for her archaic-surreal aesthetic.
Beth Dary’s delicately crafted porcelain barnacles clustered along the walls are small and subtle even as they strikingly resonate the essence of barnacle-ness. They are also amazingly detailed, with a precision matched by her black and white encaustic and egg tempera drawing series of dots—like coral formations or meticulously calcified sea creatures—on paper. Both the drawings and installation are based on the way New Orleans and New York were shaped by the river and harbor in this ingenious expo of unlikely elemental elegance. ~Bookhardt

RIVER CULTURE: Sculpture and Photographs by Elizabeth Shannon
SURFACE TENSIONS: Porcelain Wall Sculpture and Drawings by Beth Dary
Through Nov. 30
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300;

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deja Vu All Over Again: Campbell and Vis at NOMA

Click to Enlarge
It's really just the two of them. Performance and multimedia artists Tony Campbell and Matt Vis have long appeared under their Generic Art Solutions (G.A.S.) imprimatur, but only in recent times have they seemingly multiplied in number. For instance, they once cast themselves in a photomontage rather like a local post-Katrina version of Leonardo’s LAST SUPPER, with beer-chugging disciples at a spread of boiled seafood next to a trailer. In BORDER PATROL, bottom, they portray illegal aliens confronted by rifle-pointing troops (also themselves) in a remake of Manet’s EXECUTION OF EMPORER MAXIMILLIAN. But their most spectacular effort is THE RAFT, top, a 16-foot long photomontage version of Gericault’s RAFT OF THE MEDUSA printed billboard paper. Inspired by the BP oil disaster and the workers killed or set adrift in the Gulf, it’s a lot like the 19th century original peopled by modern offshore oil rig workers—themselves again—thanks to Campbell’s persuasive way with Photoshop. Surrounding it in the gallery are photographs of empty sea and sky, and here their stark minimalism provides counterpoint to the overwrought scene on the raft. Nearby is their photographic remake of Francis Bacon’s painting based on Velasquez’ portrait of Pope Innocent X, only theirs is closer to the original, with a convict, below, in an electric chair in place of Pope Innocent on his throne.

    Other pieces employing alternative media include DOUBLE AGENTS, above, a silkscreen on stainless steel with Vis and Campbell as M-16 wielding paramilitaries rather like Blackwater mercenaries, or escapees from a James Bond thriller. A video of Campbell as a fashionable diner served by Vis as a nihilist waiter recalls classical European art cinema gone slapstick: as Vis hands him the bill, he yanks the tablecloth from under the dishes, sending them crashing. This too is a comment on careless corporations and the messes they make in the pursuit of profits, damage for which they appear increasingly confident that they will never really have to pay in full. ~Bookhardt

 DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN: Mixed Media Works by Tony Campbell and Matt Vis
Through Feb. 13.
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;

Tony Fitzpatrick on Art, New Orleans, Creativity and the Meaning of Community

November Moth--Click to Enlarge
"...Two years ago I made several moth pieces for my installation in Prospect.1 New Orleans, the inaugural New Orleans Biennial. It was an experience that fairly changed my life--kind of a Road to Damascus revelation. I like to think that I reclaimed my purpose as an artist there--the opening night of the installation for Prospect.1 was the best night of my life as an artist. My exhibition was hung in a defunct (or so we thought) funeral home in the Treme..." More>>

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book of Rocks, Flowers & Birds, Counter Cartographies, "Precious Horshes" and a Multichannel Video

The result of a fateful series of autumn 2007 collaborations between local artists and New York artist-activist Paul Chan, The Front is everything co-op galleries are supposed to be, freewheeling places where art and ideas are bandied about with little regard for the art market. While most St. Claude area galleries also fit that description, the Front may be more miscellaneous than most. So it's no surprise that Korean artist Yooni Nam's BOOK OF ROCKS, FLOWERS AND BIRDS is not really a book but a series of ink drawings inspired by a 17th century Chinese painting manual, or that the drawings reflect her "transitional existence" between Eastern and Western cultures. Even so, it's hard to know what to make of these deftly circumspect studies, except that her CHRYSANTHEMUMS (detail above) ink drawing on mulberry paper is sublime. But the dislocations only escalate in Jeremy Drummond and Hoang Pham's COUNTER CARTOGRAPHIES series where continents and nations are sliced, diced and reconfigured into alternative topographies that resemble maps of the world as seen through a kaleidoscope or spun through a Cuisinart. Ethnicities and nations can seem fixed in our minds, yet these whimsically conceptual geographies remind us of the fluidity of continents and DNA over time. All lands and peoples have undergone migration; they are where they are because they moved there from elsewhere.

Yet more miscellaneous is the PRECIOUS HORSHES expo curated by Dave Greber. These emerging artists' works emit occasional sparks, but the standout is Jacob Edwards, whose gut wrenching ink drawings such as CRAZY HORSE (or RHINOCERHORSE), pictured, are demented in the grand expressionistic manner of Ralph Steadman and Ronalde Searle at their darkest. In a very different vein is the 5-panel multi-channel video by David Webber, top, a kind of electronic ballet of everyday things reduced to abstract swirls of vertiginously rotating colors. It's all oddly painterly and hypnotic, effects lyrically reinforced by an electronic music soundtrack that Webber also concocted on his home made synthesizer. ~Bookhardt    
PRECIOUS HORSHES: Mixed Media Group Exhibition + Video by David Webber
Through Nov. 7
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Birch at Arthur Roger, Ninas at LeMieux

Featuring work made between 1978 and 2003, Willie Birch’s LOOKING BACK expo provides a fairly comprehensive sense of what this 67 year-old African American artist has been doing for the past few decades. It’s a journey that took him from the Magnolia housing project of his youth to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art among other institutions, with awards like a Guggenheim fellowship along the way. And if that sounds like heady stuff, Birch has always remained true to his roots, using his art to celebrate the culture of our back streets and their Afro-Caribbean vibe. Even his New York-period work vibrates with local looking colors, building on his more abstract pieces of the 1970s, which often read like a lexicon of glyphs from African fabric patterns. He took a turn toward folk art in the 1980s in works like COMMEMORATING THE ANCESTRAL BURIAL GROUND, above, a painting that evokes the ancient undercurrents that subtly inform local inner city life, and where the folksy style fits neatly with his folksy subjects. More recently, he reduced his palate to black, white and gray in works like EVOKING THE ORISHAS, left, which conveys the incantatory rhythms of a voodoo ritual. In art as in life, Willie Birch is a populist who celebrates the transcendent spirit of even his most prosaic subjects.
     Afro-Caribbean culture also profoundly influenced Paul Ninas (1903--1964), a white guy who was one of the more influential New Orleans artists of the mid-20th century. A Midwesterner who spent his early adult years in the West Indies, he found a similar culture in the New Orleans area, where he spent the rest of his life. In these works on paper, his drawings of Caribbean folk flow seamlessly into his later paintings like BACK BAY BILOXI, where staccato forms convey the primal rhythms of places where nature is strong and the natives are necessarily tough and resilient. ~Bookhardt

Willie Birch: LOOKING BACK, 1978--2003
Through October
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;
Paul Ninas: PAPER TRAIL, Works on Paper
Through October
LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522-5988;

On Riding Broomsticks

Riding broomsticks, on Halloween or any other time, is a lost art, but the Eiffel Society branch of the Life is Art Collective seems determined to revive it. Here they are preparing for liftoff at the Eiffel ritual space on St. Charles Avenue.
Click Image for More

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Keith Sonnier and Carolina Sardi at Heriard-Cimino

Known for his coolly luminous large-scale neon sculpture installations at venues like the Munich International Airport in Germany, Keith Sonnier has always been able to meld varied approaches into his own unique style. Whether intimate or monumental, his work is always personal, if a tad detached. Growing up in Mamou, Louisiana, he was intrigued by the reflections of neon over water at night, an interaction of electric colors and natural forces that later characterized his work in media such as fabric, bamboo, glass and wood. Appearing simultaneously with a large solo exhibition of his work in Baton Rouge, this Heriard-Cimino show features some smaller pieces that are downright quirky even by Sonnier standards.
For one thing, the walls of the rear gallery are covered in newspapers, a not so veiled reference to the BP oilrig catastrophe. Yet it’s veiled anyway because Sonnier is always oblique. DINING CHANDELIER, top, features two gently curving neon tubes suggesting a classical urn, but it contains a chaotic series of glowing neon loops like a child’s doodle rendered in light. Yet more playful is TEA SERVICE, a set of very oversize cups and saucers stacked as if left over from a gathering of giants. But their fuzzy flocked surfaces, rendered in bright yellow and pink, transport us to a realm of surrealism—or Dr. Seuss—it’s hard to say which. As usual, Sonnier presents us with a Zen puzzle, and it hardly matters whether it has no answer, or many answers. Amidst all this, Miami-Argentine Carolina Sardi’s slender painted steel wall sculptures in the front gallery, such as STARRY NIGHT, below, may suggest so many elaborately arranged exclamation marks, computer code, or perhaps zany hexagrams from a hitherto unknown version of the I-Ching. Signifying human figures and natural forms hovering in space, they evoke devious MAD MEN-era modernist d├ęcor, or coded wall accents conveying secret messages. In this they are not unlike the social rituals and ordinary human interactions that inspired her to make them in the first place.~Bookhardt

Carolina Sardi: BETWEEN YOU AND ME
Through Oct. 30
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300;

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leslie Dill Channels Sister Gertrude Morgan

This was unexpected. Since the 1970s, Leslie Dill has been known for her gossamer sculptural works based on poetry and the body, especially the female form, which she often cobbled out of verses--many from Emily Dickenson--cut from steel, copper, paper or even horsehair. Like Dickenson, Dill is a daughter of New England, and both reflect epochal shifts in the perception of female identity. So it’s startling to see Dill now taking her cues from Sister Gertrude Morgan, our own Lower 9th Ward artist, poet and preacher known for fire and brimstone sermons on the streets of the mid-century French Quarter. If the gulf between Dickenson and Morgan initially seems irreconcilable, Dill found a way. Here we see the main themes of Morgan’s sermons including the Apocalypse, the Antichrist, the Whore of Babylon and the Beast rendered in a style more crisply gothic than Morgan’s own colorfully gaudy effusion. Yet the look of all this may seem oddly familiar if you’ve ever seen those old New England headstones with skulls and skeletons etched in granite. The first New Englanders were also fundamentalists, and shared the same apocalyptic message as Morgan, so her graphics and theirs have much in common. But probably only another woman could fathom how it felt to be a crusading black female preacher, poet and painter in the 1950s South.

 Click Images to Enlarge

     In 1957 she heard a voice telling her that she was a “bride of Christ,” and that was when she took her ministry to the French Quarter. Dill’s sculpture of a wedding gown blazoned with Morgan’s name and the words “Jesus” and “power” and “glory” convey her positivism, but a black dress covered with variations of the word “Hell” amid eyes and serpents express "the sulfurous pit of Hades that awaits the sinner." By placing her in a broader, more historic context, Dill facilitates a more complete picture of Sister Gertrude’s place in the pantheon of American culture.  ~Bookhardt

Arthur Roger @ 434, 434 Julia St. 522-1999;

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