Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book of Rocks, Flowers & Birds, Counter Cartographies, "Precious Horshes" and a Multichannel Video

The result of a fateful series of autumn 2007 collaborations between local artists and New York artist-activist Paul Chan, The Front is everything co-op galleries are supposed to be, freewheeling places where art and ideas are bandied about with little regard for the art market. While most St. Claude area galleries also fit that description, the Front may be more miscellaneous than most. So it's no surprise that Korean artist Yooni Nam's BOOK OF ROCKS, FLOWERS AND BIRDS is not really a book but a series of ink drawings inspired by a 17th century Chinese painting manual, or that the drawings reflect her "transitional existence" between Eastern and Western cultures. Even so, it's hard to know what to make of these deftly circumspect studies, except that her CHRYSANTHEMUMS (detail above) ink drawing on mulberry paper is sublime. But the dislocations only escalate in Jeremy Drummond and Hoang Pham's COUNTER CARTOGRAPHIES series where continents and nations are sliced, diced and reconfigured into alternative topographies that resemble maps of the world as seen through a kaleidoscope or spun through a Cuisinart. Ethnicities and nations can seem fixed in our minds, yet these whimsically conceptual geographies remind us of the fluidity of continents and DNA over time. All lands and peoples have undergone migration; they are where they are because they moved there from elsewhere.

Yet more miscellaneous is the PRECIOUS HORSHES expo curated by Dave Greber. These emerging artists' works emit occasional sparks, but the standout is Jacob Edwards, whose gut wrenching ink drawings such as CRAZY HORSE (or RHINOCERHORSE), pictured, are demented in the grand expressionistic manner of Ralph Steadman and Ronalde Searle at their darkest. In a very different vein is the 5-panel multi-channel video by David Webber, top, a kind of electronic ballet of everyday things reduced to abstract swirls of vertiginously rotating colors. It's all oddly painterly and hypnotic, effects lyrically reinforced by an electronic music soundtrack that Webber also concocted on his home made synthesizer. ~Bookhardt    
PRECIOUS HORSHES: Mixed Media Group Exhibition + Video by David Webber
Through Nov. 7
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Birch at Arthur Roger, Ninas at LeMieux

Featuring work made between 1978 and 2003, Willie Birch’s LOOKING BACK expo provides a fairly comprehensive sense of what this 67 year-old African American artist has been doing for the past few decades. It’s a journey that took him from the Magnolia housing project of his youth to the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art among other institutions, with awards like a Guggenheim fellowship along the way. And if that sounds like heady stuff, Birch has always remained true to his roots, using his art to celebrate the culture of our back streets and their Afro-Caribbean vibe. Even his New York-period work vibrates with local looking colors, building on his more abstract pieces of the 1970s, which often read like a lexicon of glyphs from African fabric patterns. He took a turn toward folk art in the 1980s in works like COMMEMORATING THE ANCESTRAL BURIAL GROUND, above, a painting that evokes the ancient undercurrents that subtly inform local inner city life, and where the folksy style fits neatly with his folksy subjects. More recently, he reduced his palate to black, white and gray in works like EVOKING THE ORISHAS, left, which conveys the incantatory rhythms of a voodoo ritual. In art as in life, Willie Birch is a populist who celebrates the transcendent spirit of even his most prosaic subjects.
     Afro-Caribbean culture also profoundly influenced Paul Ninas (1903--1964), a white guy who was one of the more influential New Orleans artists of the mid-20th century. A Midwesterner who spent his early adult years in the West Indies, he found a similar culture in the New Orleans area, where he spent the rest of his life. In these works on paper, his drawings of Caribbean folk flow seamlessly into his later paintings like BACK BAY BILOXI, where staccato forms convey the primal rhythms of places where nature is strong and the natives are necessarily tough and resilient. ~Bookhardt

Willie Birch: LOOKING BACK, 1978--2003
Through October
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;
Paul Ninas: PAPER TRAIL, Works on Paper
Through October
LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522-5988;

On Riding Broomsticks

Riding broomsticks, on Halloween or any other time, is a lost art, but the Eiffel Society branch of the Life is Art Collective seems determined to revive it. Here they are preparing for liftoff at the Eiffel ritual space on St. Charles Avenue.
Click Image for More

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Keith Sonnier and Carolina Sardi at Heriard-Cimino

Known for his coolly luminous large-scale neon sculpture installations at venues like the Munich International Airport in Germany, Keith Sonnier has always been able to meld varied approaches into his own unique style. Whether intimate or monumental, his work is always personal, if a tad detached. Growing up in Mamou, Louisiana, he was intrigued by the reflections of neon over water at night, an interaction of electric colors and natural forces that later characterized his work in media such as fabric, bamboo, glass and wood. Appearing simultaneously with a large solo exhibition of his work in Baton Rouge, this Heriard-Cimino show features some smaller pieces that are downright quirky even by Sonnier standards.
For one thing, the walls of the rear gallery are covered in newspapers, a not so veiled reference to the BP oilrig catastrophe. Yet it’s veiled anyway because Sonnier is always oblique. DINING CHANDELIER, top, features two gently curving neon tubes suggesting a classical urn, but it contains a chaotic series of glowing neon loops like a child’s doodle rendered in light. Yet more playful is TEA SERVICE, a set of very oversize cups and saucers stacked as if left over from a gathering of giants. But their fuzzy flocked surfaces, rendered in bright yellow and pink, transport us to a realm of surrealism—or Dr. Seuss—it’s hard to say which. As usual, Sonnier presents us with a Zen puzzle, and it hardly matters whether it has no answer, or many answers. Amidst all this, Miami-Argentine Carolina Sardi’s slender painted steel wall sculptures in the front gallery, such as STARRY NIGHT, below, may suggest so many elaborately arranged exclamation marks, computer code, or perhaps zany hexagrams from a hitherto unknown version of the I-Ching. Signifying human figures and natural forms hovering in space, they evoke devious MAD MEN-era modernist d├ęcor, or coded wall accents conveying secret messages. In this they are not unlike the social rituals and ordinary human interactions that inspired her to make them in the first place.~Bookhardt

Carolina Sardi: BETWEEN YOU AND ME
Through Oct. 30
Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300;

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leslie Dill Channels Sister Gertrude Morgan

This was unexpected. Since the 1970s, Leslie Dill has been known for her gossamer sculptural works based on poetry and the body, especially the female form, which she often cobbled out of verses--many from Emily Dickenson--cut from steel, copper, paper or even horsehair. Like Dickenson, Dill is a daughter of New England, and both reflect epochal shifts in the perception of female identity. So it’s startling to see Dill now taking her cues from Sister Gertrude Morgan, our own Lower 9th Ward artist, poet and preacher known for fire and brimstone sermons on the streets of the mid-century French Quarter. If the gulf between Dickenson and Morgan initially seems irreconcilable, Dill found a way. Here we see the main themes of Morgan’s sermons including the Apocalypse, the Antichrist, the Whore of Babylon and the Beast rendered in a style more crisply gothic than Morgan’s own colorfully gaudy effusion. Yet the look of all this may seem oddly familiar if you’ve ever seen those old New England headstones with skulls and skeletons etched in granite. The first New Englanders were also fundamentalists, and shared the same apocalyptic message as Morgan, so her graphics and theirs have much in common. But probably only another woman could fathom how it felt to be a crusading black female preacher, poet and painter in the 1950s South.

 Click Images to Enlarge

     In 1957 she heard a voice telling her that she was a “bride of Christ,” and that was when she took her ministry to the French Quarter. Dill’s sculpture of a wedding gown blazoned with Morgan’s name and the words “Jesus” and “power” and “glory” convey her positivism, but a black dress covered with variations of the word “Hell” amid eyes and serpents express "the sulfurous pit of Hades that awaits the sinner." By placing her in a broader, more historic context, Dill facilitates a more complete picture of Sister Gertrude’s place in the pantheon of American culture.  ~Bookhardt

Arthur Roger @ 434, 434 Julia St. 522-1999;

Listen to Sister Gertrude Morgan on NPR: More>>


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ancestors and Descendants at NOMA

This large exhibition of objects and photographs from Tulane University's George Pepper Native American Archive—available for public viewing for the first time since 1926—came about almost accidentally. Stored for decades in Tulane’s Dinwiddie Hall, it was available only to researchers, which is how Cristin Nunez, a graduate student at the time, came upon it while researching her thesis. Serendipitously, she was also interning with NOMA Curator Paul Tarver and, long story short, one thing led to another. While these 150 Pueblo and Navajo artifacts are mostly what one might expect in a Southwest Indian collection, they are enhanced by the effective use of 140 photographs, some taken by ethnologist George Pepper and his associates, depicting the natives of what was still a remote and exotic land when they were active there a century ago. When the camera was turned on them, it revealed motley characters not unlike Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, below. But the most dramatic are the hand-tinted magic lantern slides taken by the contemporaneous itinerant bicycle-riding photographer, Sumner Matteson. Rendered as large prints of ceremonies like the Hopi Rain Dance with live rattlesnakes, and portraits such as his HOPI MAIDEN, above, they really bring the show to life and underscore its otherworldly mystique.
     Pepper also produced tinted lantern slides, the 19th century’s version of digital images, but even his photo of a Hopi snake priest with his quarry provides a more detached, documentary perspective. The snake ceremony itself featured painted warriors with serpents and ritual devices as we see in Matteson’s SNAKE PRIESTS TWIRLING BULL ROARERS, above left, and it is his photographs that provide the more complete picture of Hopi and Pueblo Indian life, and their close relationship with the mesas where they built their settlements. Pepper did pioneering work among the Navajo, and his portraits of them offer much insight into what is really a very different culture, while providing counterpoint to the mysterious Hopi who, then as now, tended to steal the show.  ~Bookhardt
ANCESTORS AND DESCENDANTS: Ancient Southwestern America at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century 
Through Oct. 24
New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;

Tony Fitzpatrick: Journey of a Latter Day Flaneur

Essay by D. Eric Bookhardt

The Queen of Pink Acid - Click Images to Enlarge

As an artist whose work celebrates the life of city streets, especially but not exclusively those of his native Chicago, Tony Fitzpatrick defies categorization. In an age when American contemporary art can sometimes seem predictable, his prints, drawings and collages may appear paradoxical. While featuring familiar symbolic or iconic imagery derived from the urban or natural landscape, they often exude an exotic or archaic tone, as if products of a mindset only obliquely related to the preoccupations of the contemporary art world. And that may indeed be the case. An autodidact who never went to college, Fitzpatrick began his career as a boxer, bouncer and bartender... More>>