Adrian Deckbar’s new WATER’S EDGE series of acrylic and pastel paintings at Bienvenu is all about water in general and the Honey Island Swamp in particular. We know water is tricky stuff, sustaining life most of the time, but furiously threatening everything when riled. The sunny, picturesque façades of her swamp scenes conceal the implacable cycle of creative destruction that lies just beneath the surface. At first, they seem to be as much about the light that dances over the shimmering forests, duckweed and moss of these amphibious landscapes. In the title piece, WATER’S EDGE, pictured, the glow is as mystical as a Maxfield Parrish landscape, but in others the tall cypresses, dense thickets and gnarly roots exude an earthier energy associated with things ancient, or even chthonic. Because she has long valued craft and decorousness in every aspect of her paintings, they could suggest a peaceable kingdom where all creatures exist in a state of static harmony. Louisianians know better. Nature is a delicate balance of beauty and danger, and Deckbar, a New Orleans native, subtly hints at that possibility in work that is contemplative on the surface even as it is fraught with obliquely implicit intrigue.
Thor Carlson, a local sculptor originally from Minnesota, is fascinated by nature as expressed in “the heartbreak of the American farm, and the alluring mystery of the sea.” But mostly his stuff suggests apocryphal 19th century relics, industrial designs that never found a following. His craftsmanship is as precise as his sculpture is enigmatic. DEEP SILENCE suggests a miniature iron submarine rather like a Lilliputian version of the Confederate submarine that once stood outside the Presbytere at Jackson Square. Others feature mysterious fittings, chains, pulleys, smokestacks and tapered beams made from exotic woods that seem to curl back upon themselves like giant question marks. Not quite Steampunk, they suggest a lost Galapagos of invention, a vein of industrial design where form followed folly, not function.
Adrian Deckbar: WATER'S EDGE Through March 28 Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia street, 525-0518; www.gallerybienvenu.com Thor Carlson: ISOLATION Through March 4 d.o.c.s Gallery, 709 Camp St. 524-3936, www.docsgallery.com
John Yau's overly personal Brooklyn Rail attack on Jerry Saltz for his fawning over Jeff Koons is bitchy and embarrassing but very Right On. It's about time somebody called out the smarmy Boy King for the simple reason that he embodies so much of what is wrong with contemporary art. And besides, nobody outside of New York really likes him. The essence of Yau's critique is this little zinger:
Koons is the kind of male child both the art world and commercial culture prefer because even though he is spoiled, he is also ambitious and productive. In this regard, he is no different than the CEOs and real estate barons who buy his work, or the curators or critics who lavish him with praise. One of the reasons Koons's work appeals to them is because they see in it a reflection of their own narcissism. Read: The Difference Between Jerry Saltz' America and Mine
The latest in the Nola Photo Alliance's shows spotlighting accomplished, if not always famous, photographers THE AMERICAN DREAM gives us an unvarnished view of life in these times. As a national precept, the American Dream of an ever more rewarding life was getting a little frayed around the edges even before the economy’s near collapse in late 2008, and the images in this show reflect something of that ambiguity in a kind of collective national snapshot. There is a marked matter-of-factness about these faces and places, and the tone is at times almost Lenten, as if the party is over and everyone is trying to hang on and make the best of whatever comes next.
But America is still America, and hope and pride are never far from the surface as we see in THE NIGHT BEFORE OBAMA’S INAUGURATION, WASHINGTON DC, by Roman Alokhin, right, a stark view of a black guy in an overcoat, suitcase at his side, lit by a streetlight as he hunches over a cell phone in the pre-dawn expanse of the Washington Mall. The setting may be cold and dark but the hope and anticipation are palpable. And then there's Alison Malone's THE MESSENGERS, below, a formal group portrait of some young female Masons looking either like All American girls or the Stepford Wives of tomorrow, depending on your point of view. No less ironic is Lili Holzer-Glier’s WHITE PICKET FENCE view of a picket fence bounding the neglected yards of some moldering frame houses in a blighted urban setting. Here the trim lines of the fence only highlight the blight, putting an old cliché in a stark context. But this isn’t the Great Depression. These days we have more of a safety net and no end of resourcefulness, and most people are getting by. In David Schalliol’s DINNER AT THE TACO STAND, top, a pretty Latina serves her patrons from inside a trim white Taco wagon somewhere in America. Framed by a Vermeer blue sky, this is a classic vision of an American Dream that mingles today’s reality with the hope of a more bountiful tomorrow. ~Bookhardt A talk by show juror Dr. Deborah Willis will take place on 6pm, March 20at the Photo Alliance Gallery
THE AMERICAN DREAM: National Juried Photographic Exhibit Through March 21 (Fridays 3 to 6, Saturday & Sunday 12 to 4, or by appt.)
New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary St., 610-4899; www.neworleansphotoalliance.org
Musicians and performers can be harder to photograph than you think. In Nola, we are blessed with musical performances and parades that pop up all around us all the time, yet it’s not easy to provide a fresh look at frequently photographed people and events. Erika Goldring’s performance portraits at Loyola often stand out for their subtly psychological sense of reverie that conveys something of a performer’s inner life. Because of her work with venues such as Tipitina’s and Preservation Hall, many of her subjects are musicians, but others reflect our roots culture in the form of Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Mardi Gras Indians. Her portrait of the Yellow Pocahontas’ David Montana in full regalia, pictured, is a classic, a feathery, bejeweled explosion of azure and amber. His expression embodies the spirit of a timeless tradition, but even her straight-on headshot of Irvin Mayfield serenely holding a note on his horn evokes the aura of a Zen master deep in meditation. Portraits like these provide a sense of depth in a genre better known for flash and dazzle.
Gris Gris Lab, a new Central City art space and community center, is all about Creole roots culture and its 21st century spiritual evolution. Currently on view are Sarah Dearie’s paintings of Orishas, Brazilian nature spirits not unlike the loas of voodoo lore. Made up of mostly female Orishas associated with bodies of water, Dearie’s assortment of floridly baroque figures suggest a pantheon of maternal mermaids and forest nymphs residing comfortably in a parallel universe as they await the call of anyone who seeks them out. And in Salvador, Brazil, where she lived for two years after Katrina, there is no shortage of believers. It’s a show that works well in a gallery/community center that invokes old Afro-Creole traditions as the basis for new approaches to the present and future. ~Bookhardt
PERFORMANCE PORTRAITURE: New Photographs by Erika Goldring
Through April 6
Collins Diboll Gallery, Loyola Univerity, 6363 St. Charles Ave, 861-5456; www.loyno.edu/dibollgallery ACROSS THE WATERS: Paintings by Sarah Dearie
Through March 20
Gris Gris Lab, 2245 Brainard Street, 654-1927; www.grisgrislab.com
Billed as an exhibit that introduces America to a new generation of artists from Cuba, POLARIDAD COMPLEMENTAIRA is on view at both the Newcomb Gallery at Tulane University, as well as at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Made up of over 50 works by 27 artists exhibited in the Havana Biennial over the past 10 years, and curated by Margarita Sanchez for the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wifredo Lam in Havana, it aims to “provide a sense of the aesthetic and conceptual concerns that characterize the island’s art today.” And in fact, there is much intriguing looking work, spare like a lot of Cuban art, but often visually dramatic and engaging.
That said, there is also much to remind us that Cuba really is another world. There are elements of critique, but they are not always easy to fathom. Lidzie Alvisa’s EYES THAT DO NOT WISH TO SEE AND EARS THAT DO NOT WISH TO HEAR, top, at the Newcomb Gallery features two photos of a girl with needles covering the hollows of her eyes and ears. This makes a dramatic statement, but at whom is it directed?
Fernando Rodriguez’ BALL BEARING is a sculpture of interlocking metal gears that, viewed closely, are made up of many stylized human forms. A wall text describes it as examining “the individual and society, collectivism and individualism, freedom and censorship,” but it’s never quite entirely clear where that’s heading. Muted political statements are not the same as poetic ambiguity. It would be easy to jump to conclusions, but in the absence of the context, we can only guess. The most dramatic piece is comprised of a gigantic metal dagger impaling some old suitcases. Titled DAMNED TRIPS by Roberto Fabelo, the whole thing is suspended from the ceiling, and it clearly says something, but what? Overall, it is a show worth seeing for its quality, drama and thoughtfulness, even if the thoughts themselves sometimes get lost in translation. +++
POLARIDAD COMPLEMENTARIA: Recent Works from Cuba
Through March 14
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org
Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328; www.tulane.edu/~newcomb
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>>