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; www.noma.org