Lately, we have all been riding such a wave of euphoria over the Saints' suspenseful yet successful march to the Superbowl that we may need to restore some equilibrium by acknowledging other, more gothic, sensibilities. And indeed, the I WISH I WAS DEAD BIENNIAL at Barrister's is a compact yet pithy vision of what happens when things fall through the cracks, go bump in the night, or make a hard landing in the Twilight Zone. Assembled by New York curator Martina Batan, these works reflect the worldview of St. Claude Corridor expressionism regardless of whether they originated in Bywater or Big Gotham. In this vein, Sally Ann Glassman’s KALI NA GIG painting of Kali, left, the Hindu goddess of creative destruction, sets a bracing tone. The title is a play on the “Sheila Na Gig” type of female gargoyle found on the upper reaches of old Irish churches, where she boldly displays her private parts in a gesture said to repel evil spirits. Here Kali assumes that fateful posture, spreading her cobalt legs to reveal the formidable fiery chaos within.
Compared to that, Brock Enwright’s weird graphite on woven paper piece, HAUNT, seems tame, or at least it did until I found out he was the guy who ran the "designer kidnapping" service in New York that staged false abductions for a fee. (He gave it up after it became popular with S&M freaks, who loved being kidnapped but had all sorts of other demands.) Clearly, these are not your usual art school graduates. Take Lillian Butter, a creator of charmingly repulsive ink drawings who was underground for so long that she wasn’t allowed back into the U.S. after visiting family in Canada. Others have stories too convoluted for casual conversation. In this context, Nikki Crook’s painting, CORSETED GIRL, top, a portrait of a Victorian woman attended by a maid with a bird skull head, seems only mildly disconcerting. The same might be said for Marcel Flisiuk's IN THE COLD ROOM, below. In art as in life, everything is relative. ~Bookhardt
I WISH I WAS DEAD BIENNIAL: Works by Unsettled and Unsettling Natures
Through Feb. 27
Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 710-4506; www.barristersgallery.com
As a young adult in his native Cuba, Jose Bedia was initiated into the secret rituals of Palo Monte, a folk religion originally from Central Africa based on the worship of forest spirits. As with voodoo, Christianity is part of the overall mix, as is Native American lore. This is true all over the Caribbean; the voodoo-influenced Christianity of Haiti, so much in the news lately, is hardly unique. What is unique is Jose Bedia’s ability to synthesize the ancient mythology of his cultural roots with a striking, expressionistic approach to art making. Like so much Cuban and Cuban-American art, Bedia’s imagery is fairly austere. Unlike much Cuban-American art, which typically focuses on political oppression and the exile experience, Bedia has fashioned an elaborate visual vocabulary by expanding his original Palo Monte orientation into a universal mythology that includes both ancient and modern imagery while maintaining the familiar Cuban sparseness of line.
In YEMAYA ENOJADA, above, at Heriard-Cimino, Yemaya, the mother goddess of the sea, is depicted as a siren or mermaid of cosmic proportions. Originally a Nigerian deity, Yemaya appears in Haitian and New Orleans voodoo as well as in Afro-Cuban religion. Here she raises a sword at some fighter jets above, whose presence has clearly offended her. If a sea goddess confronting fighter jets sounds like a stretch, it all makes complete sense in Bedia’s spiritual universe. In ALGUN ORDEN HABRA ALLI, top, a human figure reclines under a dusky sky studded with mystical geometric forms linked by traceries of color suggesting the strands of obscure forces that invisibly influence worldly destiny. At the Ogden Museum, the imagery is just as bold and vivid with the added benefit of a large installation featuring one of Bedia’s mythic figures painted on the wall. Nearby, the intriguing clay sculpture SOUL HOUSES of another Cuban-American artist, Mario Petrirena, silently bear witness to this unlikely efflorescence of the spirit world. ~Bookhardt
Looking for my daughter in Haiti
by Vidho Lorville
I learn about the earthquake Tuesday night when a text message comes from a friend in New Orleans, with the kind of news you never want to hear. Haiti had been devastated. "Have you heard from your daughter and other family members?" my friend asks. "I pray they are okay. Let me know."
I stare at the screen for a few minutes until I am sure I understand what I am reading. Read More, Click: Looking for my daughter in Haiti
The distance between Cuba and the U.S. is somehow greater than the 90 miles that divides them. As a post-revolutionary time warp, Cuba poses unique challenges to its artists even as its heritage provides a rich and timeless cultural reservoir for them to draw from. And they do, often literally. Yet, as a Kafkaesque kind of conundrum where art supplies can be as hard to come by as ordinary freedom of expression, Cuba makes its artists be extra-resourceful in using whatever is at hand, and the work of Angel Delgado epitomizes this approach. Known for controversial performance pieces, he was once sentenced to six months in jail for publicly relieving himself on a copy of the Cuban communist party newspaper. In prison he learned to make art from soap, handkerchiefs and bed sheets, items seen in this show overlaid with his iconic figures, alienated humans confronting locks, barred windows and barbed wire. A series of hanging buckets, above, outlines the dimensions of his former cell. In each is a carved figure with water up to his neck, a metaphor for the looming dread of suffocation that all repression imposes.
The well-known American artist Luis Cruz Azaceta left Cuba as a child. After a stint in New York, he made New Orleans his home for the past 17 years. His humanistic abstractions confront the absurdities of contemporary life as we see in BLUE and INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, above, while others invoke Cuba in particular. His alienated figures and the beautiful if convoluted nature of his compositions touch on the universal as well as the particular paradoxes of the human condition, but with a hint of the ironic humor seen in Charlie Chaplin’s anti-fascist films. As with Chaplin, Azaceta sees irony as the universal that underlies both repression and our responses to it. ~Bookhardt
Once, photographs were made with big, bulky cameras that used glass negatives. By the early 20th century they were rarely ever used, but a notable exception was John T. Mendes, who documented New Orleans from 1916 through the 1920s. A keen observer who loved dogs (the title was taken from a memoir he wrote), Mendes melded a pro’s techniques with a childlike sense of whimsy as we see in FEMALE IMPERSONATOR, 1919, a year Carnival was canceled but the drag queens came out anyway, or MISS LUCILLE NEWLIN AND MAYOR BEHRMAN WELCOME REX AT CITY HALL, FEBRUARY 1917, below. Aviators, dog circuses, floods, Mardi Gras and children’s parades are among the subjects that inhabit this charming view of the city, a refreshing survey from a local original who was totally unknown until these glass plate negatives were discovered in an Uptown attic. A striking 120 page catalog, published by the UNO Press, is also available.
Today, even as digital photography has made film cameras almost obsolete, there is new interest in even older, more archaic techniques. REVIVAL at the Homespace Gallery features tintypes, daguerreotypes, photogravures, cyanotypes and other 19th century processes employed by talented contemporary photographers. In their hands, the act of image making is transformed from a routine pastime to something far more poetic. Ordinary things like the thistle in a glass in Kevin Kline’s tintype, or the close-up of the extruded velvety innards of a magnolia flower in David Halliday’s Van Dyke print, are revealed in a fresh new light. One of the more dramatic images is Josephine Sacabo’s photogravure SLEEP WALKER, top. Photogravure is a complicated process that melds intaglio printing and photography, but some far less complicated yet no less dramatic images were made by some Louise S. McGehee School students, who used the old cyanotype process in playful new ways, for instance, FANTASMA by Sarah Miller, below. Curated by the Ogden Museum’s Richard McCabe, REVIVAL suggests that some traditional photographic processes don’t just get old, they sometimes--in the right hands--get better. ~Bookhardt
It’s been said that those who do not study the past are destined to relive it, but those who study it sometimes seem to relive it as well. Ray Donley’s paintings at
Gallery Bienvenu such as NUDE WITH BLACK MASK, right, hint at Carnival in Venice back in some distant, decadent, possibly renaissance time, but their tone also reflects a slyly contemporary perspective. Louviere + Vanessa's FOLIE A DEUX show at A Gallery for Fine Photography mixes a romantic Victorian vision with elements of latter 20th century photography as well as conceptual art. The result is a series of light boxes that suggest what characters in a Jules Verne novel might have imagined the photography of the future would look like. What we see are images formed by rows of Super 8mm filmstrips lit from behind. Each frame of each strip of film contains only a small, unrecognizable bit of the overall image, but seen from a normal viewing distance they all come together in much the way that the tiles in a mosaic come together to form a coherent whole.
The images include a voluptuous lady in a lacy corset in RENDEZVOUS, top, skulls in ancient catacombs, and sailing frigates on stormy seas suggesting the age of Jack London, Alexander Dumas and Toulouse-Lautrec. It is as if a time traveling Victorian brought an 8 millimeter movie camera back from a visit to the 20th century, and then, not knowing what it was, used it to make photo-mosaics from film strips. But the technical tricks don't end there. For each of these light boxes--dubbed "cinégraphs" by the Bywater-based husband and wife duo--there is a corresponding large format photograph, and if that sounds more normal, it's really not, because each image is printed on a gold or silver leaf surface. It is almost too complicated, and all that fancy technique almost serves to obscure a vision that is both alchemical and poetic, a view of an imaginary neo-Victorian parallel universe, a Bywater based alternate reality. ~Bookhardt
Louviere + Vanessa: FOLIE A DEUX
Through Feb. 28
A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; www.agallery.com
In Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, a samurai has been murdered, but it’s not clear why or by whom. Various characters involved tell their versions of the events, but their accounts contradict one another. You can’t help wondering: Which story is true? More>>