Sunday, June 27, 2010

Scott Guion at Barristers; Susan Gisleson at Antenna

Sometimes they don't come back. Some folks moved to Middle America after Katrina, fit right in, and stayed there. But what about the hard core New Orleanians who somehow ended up in extended exile? Folks like Post-K Nashville resident Scott Guion, whose striking new paintings are so Nola-centric that they feature vintage local icons like Mr. Bingle and Morgus the Magnificent, relics of a memory bank littered with lost Carnival throws and Lucky Dog wagons. HECK FREEZES OVER alludes to the recent Saints Super Bowl win, but it’s rendered in ‘70s style imagery, including the Superdome as a boiling kettle of crawfish and Buddy D as an angel in a dress. BLACK LIGHT DISTRICT, below, suggests a wayward youth spent between uptown head shops and Lower Garden District oases like the Felliniesque Half Moon tavern. THE TEMPTATION OF ST. ANT’NY, top, depicts vintage stripper Blaze Starr pounding a bongo in her leopard skin bikini atop a giant, levitating plate of beignets, all rendered in the lurid tones of expired Kodachrome. Winged Jax and Falstaff beer cans, and a streetcar topped by the Hubig’s pie man, swarm like termites in the sky, all of which poses a frightening warning to the locals: stay away too long and the fates will relentlessly torment your brain with no end of insidious local kitch. Beware!

     More vintage beer and flashbacks appear in JUNKFISH CAVIAR, Susan Gisleson’s poetic evocation of her pre-adolescent sexual awakening in the 1970s, an event provoked by her brother’s Playboy magazines and beery reveries. All that, plus the experiences of her five sisters and the pop icons of the period, inspired her symbolic manikin sculptures, archetypal figures in garments made from found objects, thorns, mirror shards, oyster shells and the like. The walls are covered with cutouts of curvy, busty babes incised from ‘70s-style interior paneling, reflecting the stereotypes that women have to work with, and around. In Gisleson’s world, the value of experiences, like found objects, depends on what you’re able to do with them.  ~Bookhardt

Through July 17
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-2506;
JUNKFISH CAVIAR: A Piece of Work by Susan Gisleson
Through July 4
Antenna Gallery, 3161 Burgundy St, 250-7975;      

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Courtney Egan at Heriard-Cimino

Botanical art has been with us since the earliest days of civilization if not earlier, turning up on ancient Egyptian tombs and Greek and Roman monuments. Plants and animals are in a continual state of evolutionary flux, so the artists of the past have been an important source of information about species no longer with us today. But art too evolves, and Courtney Egan’s FIELD RECORDINGS expo reflects a turning point, not only for botanical art but also for video, liberated at last from monitors and projection screens. All that Egan’s work requires is a room with twilight lighting, a cool aesthetic gloom of the sort closed curtains or blinds can easily provide. GUSHERS, top, is a video of stylized water lilies projected on the wall. Arising from a tidal pool of old speakers on the floor, they gyrate to the electronic rhythms that emanate from the speakers until, one by one, they explode like roman candles, evoking a sense of dystopian irony like genetic modification experiments gone weirdly awry. SIGILS, below left, is an installation comprised of a pair of sculptural replicas of tree branches from which ghostly Spanish moss seems to dangle and almost dance in the breeze. But there is no breeze and the moss is all the more ghostly for consisting mainly of light in the form of projected Spanish moss images, all of which is unexpectedly lovely.

REPERCUSSION, bottom, employs similar motifs in the form of a projected time-lapse image of a blooming flower, a yellow angel’s trumpet blossom dripping nectar as an attentive bee darts in and out. This too is ethereally lovely to look at even as its flickering imagery conveys something of the shimmering mystery of early motion picture photography.  A night-blooming Cereus in a montage of digital video picture frames is no less ethereal. In this amazing show we see a reordering of ordinary things like flowers, moss and video into a meditation on natural forms and electronic imagery, and the ever-diminishing boundaries between them.  ~Bookhardt

FIELD RECORDINGS: Recent Video and Light Sculptures by Courtney Egan
Through June
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St. 525-7300;

Sunday, June 13, 2010

James Surls at Arthur Roger

Rugged, blue-jean clad and with a speaking style that falls somewhere between Joseph Campbell and Johnny Cash, James Surls may be the most famous Texas artist. A native of the prairie bayou country that extends from Houston to Lafayette, he’s known for sculpture that looks as if it grew out of that very soil, and while fellow Texans Robert Rauschenberg and Julian Schnabel are better known, they both became New Yorkers somewhere along the way. When Surls moved north a decade ago, it was to Colorado, which caused no change in his vision, a heady mix of the earthly and the cosmic. Those traits characterize his abstract graphite line drawings such as INSIDE VIEW, left, or LOOKING DEEP, below, which in turn explicate his iconic sculptures, hybrid wood and metal concoctions with an ethereal monumentality that causes them to linger in the imagination.

STANDING KNIFE, PINON AND MORNING GLORY is a 10-foot tall bronze, mahogany and stainless steel piece that suggests a skeletal flower atop a huge wooden blade. Here Surls alludes to the symbolism of male and female, but its inner meaning suggests a kind of prairie alchemy involving his notion of “conjuring —from the land, the wind and the bayous.” In some ways, the sheer heft of his materials can make some of these works seem a little bit earthbound even as similar concepts make his drawings sparkle with magical intent. But HEAD AND HOOF, right, a long pine tree root topped with petal or propeller-like forms, eludes gravity’s pull, partly because it hangs suspended, and partly because its radial forms atop the spindly armature of the root evoke an eerie energy not unlike magnetic levitation.
WALKING EYE FLOWER, top, a bronze pedestal sculpture, melds the ethereal abstraction of the drawings with a hint of the heft of the others in a snaky pinwheel with many eyes, a tumbleweed prairie demon dancing like Shiva in the convection currents. Here Surls mines the earthy expanses for their hidden meanings, which he distills into poetic wood and metal manifestos that speak the language of the land. ~Bookhardt 
Through June 27
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522.1999;

Venus and Mars Were Tripping Says Art Historian

Among the priceless pieces in London's National Gallery is a painting by 15th- century master Sandro Botticelli. The canvas, called Venus and Mars, depicts the titular deities lounging in a meadow. Venus looks forward while Mars lies beside her, apparently asleep.... Or is he? Recently, art historian David Bellingham came to a different conclusion. He noticed that Botticelli painted a fruit in the bottom right-hand corner of his canvas that looks a lot like datura stramonium (a relative of our local Angel's Trumpet), that's also known as "poor man's acid." More>>

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Gulf: Prescient Works Completed before the Spill

The Gulf: Works Completed Before the BP Spill  at the Arthur Roger@434 Gallery is meant as a meditation on the endangered beauty of the Gulf of Mexico, its related commercial fishing life and its bordering habitats. Years before the  Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig explosion and it's massive oil spill, several gallery artists explored related environmental concerns in their work.
Jacqueline Bishop’s Trespass, 2003-2004 (detail), above left, comprised of discarded baby shoes and bird replicas, addresses threats to the Louisiana landscape and beyond. Allison Stewart, top, an artist whose work is based on the Louisiana wetlands, describes her “awakening” on a flight to New Orleans across the Gulf of Mexico: “I saw the barrier islands literally sinking into the sea.
Land at the mouth of the Mississippi was disintegrating like old lace, scarred by a thousand miles of oil canals and pipelines.” Others include Simon Gunning's paintings of shrimp boats in Venice, Louisiana, right, Luis Cruz Azaceta's Fear, above left, is a meditation on dark biohazards and Douglas Bourgeois' Aperture (detail), below, study of human frailty in the midst of an artificial forest of toxic industrial facilities. Through July 17, Arthur Roger@434 Gallery, 434 Julia St.; 
(Click images to expand.)

Where They At: New Orleans Bounce in Words and Pictures at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

As an exploration of New Orleans bounce and hip-hop, the Ogden Museum’s WHERE THEY AT is a striking photography and text presentation that works on several levels. Beyond its value as cultural anthropology, it also offers insights into the intricacies of local music culture (see Will Coviello’s “Representing Bounce” feature in the April 19th issue of Gambit), but how does it stack up as visual art? Some of the Ogden’s more conservative visitors were overheard muttering that they didn’t think it belonged in a museum. In fact, documentary and street photography have long inspired such responses. Not everyone can see beyond the raucous fa├žade, but Aubrey Edwards’ photographs hark to the unvarnished candor of Danny Lyon’s stark biker portraits or Larry Clark’s studies of the domestic life of Middle American junkies in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In like manner, Edwards and Fensterstock take us to the remote back streets and clubs where colorful characters like Mia X, DJ Jimi and Big Freedia can be observed on their home turf.

MIA X, MOTHER OF SOUTHERN HIP-HOP, above, is an iconic image of the sassy, jazzy godmother of the idiom coyly glancing out from the billowing contours of a composition that is a blend of darkly luminous Caravaggio lighting and streetwise insouciance. Many others are more candid but no less artful, at least as far as the women such as MAGNOLIA SHORTY, below, and the “sissies” are concerned. “Sissy bounce” drag queen performers are a local specialty, and flamboyant images like SISSY VALENTINE'S SHOW, above, or BIG FREEDIA, depicting the beatifically beaming singer in a cloud of lavender and metallic mauve fabric, convey something of the otherworldliness of the genre. Most male performers ranging from Juvenile to Partners-N-Crime can be a tad too self-conscious, or wooden, except for the somnambulistic DJ Jimi, who somehow manages to employ narcolepsy as a dramatic device. All that and more appears in this remarkably detailed exploration of the unique parallel universe that is the New Orleans bounce scene. ~Bookhardt

WHERE THEY AT: New Orleans Bounce and Hip-Hop in Words and Pictures by Aubrey Edwards and Allison Fensterstock--Through July
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,