Monday, May 31, 2010

Louise Bourgeois: December 25, 1911--May 31, 2010

Louise Bourgeois, the French-born American artist who gained fame only late in a long career, when her psychologically charged abstract sculptures, drawings and prints had a galvanizing effect on the work of younger artists, particularly women, died on Monday in Manhattan, where she lived. She was 98. More>>

Sunday, May 30, 2010

William Greiner and Warrington Colescott at NOMA

 It's been said that "the ordinary becomes extraordinary" in the color photographs of William Greiner, and that is both true and not. For while the places he photographs are fundamentally ordinary, his ironic vision reveals that there is really more to it than that. SPORT PALACE is a nocturnal view of a vaguely Deco Jefferson Highway eatery, but the crimson reflections of its neon sign in a puddle in the parking lot looks as eerie as a scene from a Raymond Chandler or Barry Gifford novel. Even so, most of these places simply are what they are--or maybe more so. For instance, MALTS is a jazzy, colorful composition featuring a faded fossil of fast food joint from the era of cars with big fins, while LONDON LODGE depicts a fabulous fifties motel rising like a mirage just past a huge sinkhole in the adjacent street like the gaping maw of an apocalyptic landscape. Here Greiner takes us down the lost highways of the American Dream to places that once embodied progress but over time became elegiac outposts and poetic reliquaries for the pop-cultural curiosities of the past.

     Although born in California and based in Wisconsin for nearly 40 years, Warrington Colescott’s Creole roots are showing in this SUITE LOUISIANA print series at NOMA. Indeed, the 89 year-old artist’s New Orleans lineage as is apparent in these flamboyantly colorful intaglio prints depicting scenes from Louisiana history. AUDUBON IN THE ATCHAFALAYA has the artist-naturalist spying on graceful egrets as Cajuns and raccoons scarf down crawfish along the bayous. THE CITY DEFEATED, OCCUPIED, WOMEN BEHAVE BADLY illustrates our Civil War era damsels mooning the Union troops, while other images depict epochal events like STORYVILLE--THE LAST SALON, above, and Huey Long’s assassination. Nearly as teeming with characters and sub-plots as HBO’s TREME TV series, they illustrate the bravura technique of a master printer who has a lot to say and doesn’t let his age get in his way.  ~Bookhardt
FALLEN PARADISE & LAND'S END: Photographs by William Greiner
SWEET SUITE LOUISIANA: Intaglio Prints by Warrington Colescott
Through July 11
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ellzey at Soren Christensen; Tarver at Cole Pratt

Click to expand images.

We think of this as the age of globalism, but conflicts between the local and the global are not entirely new. For Brantley Ellzey, who grew up in the Deep South, the clash between pop culture and old time religion is an ongoing interest. What they have in common is an emphasis on iconic imagery, which Ellzey uses as the basis for his elaborate constructions. MADONNA, right, suggests an altar, but not for any Blessed Virgin. No, it’s the material girl herself as she appeared in colorful magazine photos framed by an elaborate abstract grid of colorful, pencil-thin rolled magazine pages arranged at right angles reminiscent of Mondrian’s modernist paintings. In HELL, above, another grid looks chaotic as bunches of askew rolled pages frame antique engravings of demons. Order returns in HEAVEN, a minimal white grid that is almost oppressive in its regimented regularity, while ADAM, a human form constructed entirely from rolled pages, stands as fatefully stoic as the Burning Man effigy. But more than any one theme, it is the intricate inventiveness of these constructions that is the basis of their seductive intrigue.

Paul Tarver has long experimented with elaborate geometric forms as the basis of his densely textured paintings, most notably in works featuring muted colors and forms not unlike the elaborate lettering of ancient Celtic manuscripts. This time around, it’s the ancient wall paintings he encountered in Rome and Pompeii that sparked his imagination. IN TOTO is emblematic, a pastiche of serpentine curves and diagonal grids reminiscent of French Quarter ironwork. Overlaying those sinewy lines is a dense patina of drips and splatters like something left by Jackson Pollock’s ghost. It’s a dynamic seen in many of the others as well, so we are left with a sense of the ancient and the modern engaged in a kind of conceptual embrace, a temporal tango as eternal as the ebb and flow of the tides. ~Bookhardt
TRUE RELIGION, SACRED AND PROFANE: Constructions by Brantley Ellzey
Through May
Soren Christensen Gallery, 400 Julia St., 569-9501;
TACTUS: New Oil and Encaustic Paintings by Paul Tarver
Through May
Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789;

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Major at Heriard-Cimino; Honeywell at LeMieux

Louisiana fabric artist Shawne Major makes tapestries, but they’re not like any you’ve ever seen before. Employing small kitschy objects woven into surreal, oddly shaped wall hangings, they are nothing like what we normally think of as embroidery. Utilizing things like dice, feathers, hair curlers, tiny toy animals, Christmas tree lights, keys and little metal skulls, her concoctions come together with a spidery flair that falls somewhere between voodoo and pop art. LAMB is shaped like a very small dress, narrow at the top and flared at the bottom. Pink and densely textured, it looks innocent until you get close enough to see that it’s made from a manic mix of microscopically detailed beads, bangles, buttons, feathers, tiny forks and plastic rabbit heads arranged in a glowing psychedelic goulash of flamingo colored flotsam. LORELEI, top and above, is more elegant, an urn shaped tapestry that evokes romantic old Europe in its melange of gold beads, stars and metallic tassels punctuated by tiny round mirrors and turquoise tear drops amid silky crimson rosettes to yield something like the couture equivalent of a pealed pomegranate--a resplendent baroque mass of mysterious inviting morsels. It’s hard to say exactly what Major is doing, but she does it with remarkable virtuosity.

     Theresa Honeywell uses “feminine” sewing skills to create images inspired by old time tattoos. Mounted under glass, they are rendered in colored threads on exotic Asian fabrics instead of the usual pigments etched into hairy male flesh. LADY LUCK is an iconic bathing beauty bounded by butterfly wings, an 8 ball and a pair of dice. HOLD FAST, right, features a pair of perky sailor chicks saluting an old wooden frigate on pink silk with Old Glory, while DEVILISH GIRL, below, speaks for itself. Here Honeywell explores the contrasts between traditional masculine and feminine associations like a latter day Freud with a wicked sense of humor. ~Bookhardt

TICKLE: Wall Hangings by Shawn Major
Through May
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300,

FRESH THREADS: New Work by Theresa Honeywell--Through May
LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522-5988;

How Postmodernism Morphed From Marxist Critical Theory to Wall Street Capitalism While We Slept

"We are at the beginning of a long period of global economic restructuring that will be very painful... If art and art theory are to play a positive role in this process, they need to ditch the platitudes of 'my art is my activism' and 'my theory is my practice.' Moving beyond 'postmodernism' has to mean a shift away from the myopia and cynicism that has characterized our recent past, if it is to mean anything at all..."  More>>

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Joan Mitchell in New Orleans

Joan Mitchell, whose paintings, prints and pastels hang at the New Orleans Museum of Art, Contemporary Arts Center, and Newcomb Gallery, respectively, was an American bohemian of the old school. A trail blazing abstract expressionist, she divided her time between Manhattan and Paris before settling there for good in 1955. Her expatriate existence may have caused her to become less prominent back home than her abstract painter peers such as Helen Frankenthaler or Lee Krasner even as her global reputation steadily grew. Since her death in 1992, the Joan Mitchell Foundation has pursued her goal of extending a helping hand to artists, and has been hugely helpful to the New Orleans art community as it struggled to recover from the ravages of hurricane Katrina.

   Although influenced by Willem de Kooning’s gestural flourishes and Franz Kline’s stark formalism, Mitchell’s vision was more intimately linked to nature. By the latter 1950s, her color palette was redolent with the hues of the French countryside, reflecting an evolution away from the starkness of the New York School. Her paintings at NOMA are instructive in this regard. UNTITLED, 1956, right, is gloriously edgy with swampy green, gold and fuchsia patches shot through with black slashes that cause the canvas to almost ooze the existential tensions of the time. UNTITLED, 1961, top, is more buoyantly delicate if no less abstract, with colors that hark to Matisse or even Monet, while her works from the late 1960s through the 1980s continue her rigorous consistency. Her signature tautness of line resonates through her large lithographs at the CAC, while some of the later pastels at the Newcomb Gallery, for instance UNTITLED 1989 (detail), below, exemplify her relentless evolution as a vibrant colorist. Taken together, the three exhibitions provide rare insight into one of the 20th century’s most accomplished, if enigmatic, female modernists, an artist who linked the cerebral gravitas of abstract expressionism with the sensuality of the School of Paris.  ~Bookhardt
JOAN MITCHELL IN NEW ORLEANS: Paintings and Works on Paper--Through June
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;
Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;
Contemporary Arts Center, 528-3805;

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Patti Smith on Photography, Music and Magic

Interviewed by D. Eric Bookhardt

Patti Smith became an instant American music icon with her great debut LP, "Horses," in 1975. She is also a noted photographer who just donated a collection of 45 of her black and white prints to the New Orleans Museum of Art. Raised in New Jersey, she was 21 in 1967 when she moved to New York City, where she soon met Robert Mapplethorpe, with whom she lived in the legendary Chelsea Hotel years before either became famous. On a balmy April morning, it was a great pleasure to discuss art and life with Patti Smith in a lush French Quarter courtyard. More>> 

Villinski at Ferrara; Mallmann at Bienvenu

Here's one for the record. Actually, records--as in the old LP's that Paul Villinski turns into high-flying art objects. He has done as much with aluminum cans for ages, but the LPs stem from his post-Katrina visits to New Orleans, where he found many left behind by the floodwaters. At Ferrara, they appear in DIASPORA, below, a totem of old record albums with a vintage turntable on top, from which birds fashioned from vinyl LPs fan out in all directions in much the way NOLA residents were scattered. His aluminum cans emerge as butterflies, as we see in YES, a wall sculpture where an elegant blue formation of them spells out its message of unconditional affirmation in boldly flowing script. The mood is more elegiac in VESSEL (FOR AMELIA), above, a wall sculpture where they emerge from a pilot’s flight suit, suggesting the spirit departing the body. In mythology, butterflies and birds represent the spirit. By giving new life to old objects made from substances mined from the earth, Villinski symbolically coaxes the spirit from dense, discarded matter.

     In his youth, Uruguayan painter Arturo Mallmann had an epiphany as he read the passage in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” where a wounded soldier gazes at the sky above the battlefield and sees his life with crystal clarity. In Mallman’s landscapes, the earth and sky become metaphors for matter and spirit, both in the personal and cosmic sense. In his verdant vistas, the luminous, ethereal atmosphere seems to dwarf the human figures, which, like Tolstoy’s wounded soldier, must look beyond the immediate to find their meaningful place in the world. This is Mallmann’s modus, but in new works such as ROMPIENDO BARRERAS, left, his ethereal atmosphere is roiled with scraps of newsprint featuring images evoking the passions of the flesh. And here the cosmic perspective must come back down to earth to contend with all things worldly. ~Bookhardt

GLIDEPATH: Mixed Media Sculpture by Paul Villinski
Through May 31
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471;
CAMINANDO SIN DESTINO: Paintings by Arturo Mallmann
Through May 31
Gallery Bienvenu, 518 julia street, 525-0518;