Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Tide of Art, Oil and Pathos in Bywater

      In the wake of the torrent of oil spilling into the gulf, came a gusher of art shows and other artistic responses to the BP blowout. That is not surprising; art is almost always part of the collective process of working through widespread trauma. Rajko Radovanovic’s LAST LINE OF DEFENSE is a visualization of what is ordinarily a verbal concept. In his photographs, many American flags appear on marsh grasses, on sandy Grand Isle beaches, and along the water south of Venice. “America’s Wetlands” is an abstraction when it’s written, but here the flag literally appears on shifting sands and in places where delicate estuaries form the frontier between our best hopes and our worst fears. The view is stark and repetitive, but the point is well taken. Robert Hannant’s IS THE OIL HERE? is a three-panel video with an acrobatic female model enacting a kind of psychodrama performance, dancing and contorting on cars in a parking garage, or on the deck of the ferry, among other places. Oil is everywhere in the form of plastic and fuel if we look for it, but recognizing that ubiquity becomes unsettling as we realize the true price we pay for our conveniences. The rapidly shifting, quick-cut video editing lends a semi-hypnotic cohesion to imagery might otherwise seem overwrought.

     Very different are the raw folk-pop paintings by the artist named Juna at the Yellow Moon. OIL SOUP, which actually predates the spill, is a play on Warhol’s iconic soup can, but with a bowl of crude oil on the label. A visual blunt instrument, its gag-inducing message works well with her other, equally pithy images--and a recently uncovered Mike Frolich mural--amid all the other colorful exotica on view at the convivial Ninth Ward oasis that is the Yellow Moon. ~Bookhardt 
IS THE OIL HERE? A SNAPSHOT: Video and Pictures by Robert Hannant
LAST LINE OF DEFENSE: Documentation of Interventions by Rajko Radovanovic
Through August 7
Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427;
NO OIL PAINTINGS: Recent Work by Juna
Through August 2
Yellow Moon Bar, 800 France St., 944-0441;

The Times Discovers New Orleans "Sissy Bounce"

If “gay rapper” is an oxymoron where you come from, how to get your head around the notion of a gay rapper performing in a sports bar? What in most cities might seem plausible only as some sort of Sacha Baron Cohen-style provocation is just another weeknight in the cultural Galapagos that is New Orleans... More>>
Related: Where They At, Nola Bounce Exhibition at  The Ogden Museum

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Swamp Tours: Treasures from the Crypt at NOMA

        It's called SWAMP TOURS, but in some ways it's more like a big curiosity cabinet. A few months back, New Orleans Museum of Art curators William Fagaly and Miranda Lash set out to discover some of the less known works by contemporary Louisiana artists stored in the depths of Museum's inner sanctum. The result is 27 rarely seen treasures, oddities and curiosities. Which is which is strictly up to the viewer, but there is, overall, an appealing mix of novelty and revelation that makes for an unusual summer expo. Of course, any show that features a first rank Noel Rockmore painting is an automatic must see, and here THE SORCERER, top, his 1967 vision of three darkly occult figures partaking of a psychedelic repast, leads the viewer into a realm of incomprehensible, yet coherent, cosmic craziness. A romantic reprobate bohemian malcontent, Rockmore was the French Quarter's favorite lost genius until he finally expired at age 67, in 1995. Two years later, in 1997, the great Mike Frolich, perhaps best known as “the Saturn Bar painter,” passed away at age 75. A former deep-sea diver turned artist and Laundromat operator, Frolich is legendary for his self-taught surreal populism seen in paintings like ST. LOUIS CEMETERY, below, which looks unexpectedly rural, with an old time outhouse amid the crypts under a looming, apocalyptic Caspar Friedrich-cum-Jackson Pollock sky.  
        Reclusive Charles Blank is represented by his colorful 2001 canvas, CYBERNAUT THEATRE, above right, a sci-fi Visionary Imagist account of two demonic cosmonauts blasting each other with futuristic and antique weaponry as a rogue aircraft flames out in the sky above. Sometimes seen as a response to 911, it actually dates from earlier in 2001. While the above artists are legendary underground figures, there are lots of unusual or rarely seen works by more mainstream artists such as Lynda Benglis, Keith Sonnier (below), Robert Gordy, Jeffrey Cook, Clementine Hunter, Kendall Shaw, George Dureau and Ron Bechet, to name a few. Unexpected views and cool air conditioning make this show a stimulating change of pace. ~Bookhardt
Swamp Tours: Exploring the Louisiana Contemporary Collection
Through August 29
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Art Activists Spill Oil at the British Museum to Protest BP

LONDON--Like the Tate, the British Museum receives money from BP on an annual basis. Five members of the art activist group Culture Beyond Oil today poured non-toxic black oil around the British Museum’s world famous Easter Island sculpture, in protest at BP’s sponsorship of the museum. The group, inspired by Liberate Tate’s intervention at Tate Britain earlier this month, said it had deliberately chosen the giant statue of a human head because it represents the way in which civilizations once considered invincible can collapse in a short period of time. The activists were careful not to pour oil on the sculpture itself, which is seated on a modern stone plinth.  More>>

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Art of the Gulf at Roger, LeMieux and Garden District

As the oil flowed into the Gulf, people coped and responded in any way they could. In some Gulf- themed art shows about town, the work tends to express either idealized views of what we risk losing, or else more biting commentaries protesting the disastrous effects of an industry run amok. THE GULF: WORKS COMPLETED BEFORE THE SPILL, at Arthur Roger, features an array of provocative pieces that can occasionally seem downright prophetic. For instance, Jacqueline Bishop's haunting TRESPASS, top (detail), is an assemblage of bird replicas interwoven with baby shoes and other flotsam all rendered in a black, oil slick-like finish. Allison Stewart's SILENT SIGN landscape painting strikingly resembles a marsh mired in oily muck while Simon Gunning's idle trawlers at dusk look fraught and portentously fateful. (See The Gulf: Works Completed before the Spill.)

       OUR GULF COAST at LeMieux contains a slightly sunnier and sometimes more recent mix. Billy Solitario's tranquil realist Gulf coast scenes are typical of his oeuvre, but his less familiar still life paintings include some big fat glistening oysters as well as a beautifully painted pair of fish wrapped in newspaper that, viewed closely, contains news stories about the spill. A rare work of current vintage, it's an instant classic. More realist works appear at the Garden District Gallery including one of Auseklis Ozols' pelican paintings, a view of our state bird looking heroic atop a piling, unsullied wings partially outstretched and bathed in the golden glow of the sun breaking between storm clouds. A patriotic vision, it's actually dedicated to the great Ocean Springs artist Walter Anderson, but he of all people would understand: here our coast is our culture. Now as in ancient times, the pelican is a sacred creature, a symbol that should never be defiled. ~Bookhardt
THE GULF: Works Completed Prior to the Spill
Through July 17
Arthur Roger @ 434, 434 Julia St. 522-1999;
OUR GULF COAST: Group Show of Gulf Coast Art
Through July 24
LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988;
TREASURES OF THE GULF: Group Exhibition of Gulf Coast Art
Through July 31
The Garden District Gallery, 1332 Washington Ave., 891-3032,

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Teresa Cole at Bienvenu

  Teresa Cole’s TRANSFER expo recycles Victorian era trends into the globalized present. In Victorian England, the art of paper cutting became a domestic style obsession. Cutout paper silhouettes of family members and elaborate, highly stylized landscape scenes adorned fashionable parlors all over the English-speaking world. Meanwhile, fabrics stenciled with botanical patterns in the teeming, then-British colony of India found a popular following in the West, where they were re-branded with British-sounding names like “paisley.” These design elements, along with some other oddball twists, add up to a cryptically decorous lexicon of signs and symbols in this unusual Bienvenu show. This is possible because familiar decorative motifs often have a secret history of their own. For instance, the popular paisley fabric pattern is based on the sacred Tree of Life symbol of the ancient Zoroastrian religion.  

     Cole harks to the Indian printed fabric tradition while emphasizing the fluid nature of common design motifs and their sometimes veiled meanings in works like SERPENTINE or VINE, gauzy 8 foot long hanging tapestries where hand-printed animal or botanical forms are silver-leafed and arranged in the gallery to cast sinewy shadows on the wall, above right (detail). In the East, such forms often turned up as designs on ancient temples and sacred structures, where they held deeply symbolic meanings. But are they reduced to mere decoration in the West, or do they still communicate subconscious sensibilities? Such are the questions that Cole’s compositions seem to pose, as we see in an installation of cut paper prints on the rear gallery wall. One untitled piece, pictured, looks strictly Victorian at first, with languorous figures, decorous animals and children reminiscent of Alice in wonderland, top (detail). But some figures are upside down, and closer examination reveals that some of those spiky forms in the background are really silhouettes of giant mosquitoes. Here Victorian order comes unraveled in a Rorschach-like print that is actually a symbol of the multi-layered nature of civilization, and of the cultural and ecological forces that inevitably simmer just beneath the surface. ~Bookhardt 
TRANSFER: Recent Prints by Teresa Cole
Through July 22
Gallery Bienvenu 518 Julia St., 525-0518,