Sunday, December 25, 2011

New Orleans Art: The Year in Review

  

It's been a hell of a year. That can be taken in any number of ways, but what stands out is that more changes have occurred in this city's art scene over the past 12 months than would typically take place over many years in more normal times. And if local galleries maintained their usual stable status, 2011 was a mixed bag for arts institutions as directors and curators came and went. Champagne corks popped at some even as others bled red ink. In this we were hardly unique—arts institutions all over the world are still reeling from the global financial meltdown--and if some crises lead to surprise opportunities, not everyone saw a silver lining. More>>

Occupy Wall Street: Carnivalesque as Protest

By Claire Tancons

While some commentators and journalists have dismissed Occupy Wall Street as carnival, lawmakers and police officers did not miss the point. They reached back to a mid-nineteenth century ban on masking to arrest occupiers wearing as little as a folded bandana on the forehead, leaving little doubt about their fear of Carnival as a potent form of political protest. New York Times journalist Ginia Bellafante initially expressed skepticism about “air[ing] societal grievance as carnival,” but just a few days later she warned against “criminalizing costume,” thus changing her condescension to caution as she confirmed the police’s point: masking can be dangerous, Carnival is serious business. More>>
Night Walk by Myrtle von Damitz

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ambient Video and Mixed Media at the Pearl


It's a 200 year old farm house posing as a nondescript Bywater residence. It has served as a private salon and performance hall for owner Jay Poggi and his friends for over 20 years, and it has long been filled with weird wonders and curiosities. Now functioning as a satellite facility of Prospect.2, it has also become an exhibition space for an eclectic assortment of art works curated by John Otte. Because it was so already densely populated with quaint and improbable objects, most of the new art takes the form of video projections that can be beamed into the rare empty spot, or into existing fixtures like the antique bathtub that is now filled with  Courtney Egan's sublime time-lapse video of night blooming cereus flowers, above left, slowly unfolding in perpetual electronic efflorescence. It would probably be a great piece anywhere, but in that tub in the shadowy gloom it is magical. In similar fashion, the cracked plaster wall where Lee Deigaard's STEADY STAR video animation, top, of a trotting horse is projected gives it the mystical aura of a cave painting or Etruscan fresco come to life. And Adrina Adrina and Elliot Coon's WARRIOR video loop of mustachioed Amazon women in the buff hints at a feminist take on Robinson Crusoe in their darkened corner of the space, while THE CAGE video by Kenyan-German duo Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter would be creepy under any circumstances, but in the dungeon gloom of a disheveled shed structure the ghost of Hitchcock seems to lurk in the shadows. Also lurking in the recesses was Jennifer Odem's curious FLORA PEARLINIOUS plaster sculpture like a baroque inner organ surgically removed from a humanoid extraterrestrial giant, an object of contemplation and wonder. Three years in the making, this exhibition was intended by curator John Otte to integrate contemporary art with something of the baroquely eclectic and eccentric culture of the city, which the Pearl embodies like a Creole bohemian time capsule. ~Bookhardt

Constant Abrasive Irritation Produces the Pearl: Mixed Media and Video Exhibition, Through Jan. 29, The Pearl, 639 Desire St., 404-840-2628

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fox at Chaisson; Bourghog Guild at 1022 Gallery

 

When painter Elizabeth Fox lived here years ago, she worked in an office and observed corporate social behavior with the eye of anthropologist. She saw how products are marketed and how sleekly attractive employees become social commodities. Here her edges were softened by Nola's innate baroque funk, but when she landed in Maine after Katrina, her figures inexplicably assumed a kind of California cool, as if Barbie and Ken had grown up to become corporate publicists in Hollywood. This is expressed in 4:30 FRIDAY, above, a visionary mannerist painting of three male success objects exiting an elevator into a reception room occupied by two efficiently sleek female executive-secretary sex objects. Coexisting with memos and flow charts are the manicured primal urges and pertly nuanced gestures that comprise the workaday rituals of our time. In REVOLVING DOOR, similar figures pass in as if in a trance, but the profile portrait LIZ IN THE WIND, right, epitomizes the flawlessness of a 21st century Venus-- the masterpiece of a veritable Botticelli of plastic surgery, as eternal as the tepid sea lapping the listless shore in the background.



All of which stands in stark contrast to the revelations presented in the Bourghog Guild's artifacts from a lost civilization at the 1022 Gallery in Carrollton. Rendered in a post-punk dadaist style of mixed media installations and apocalyptic pronouncements in a style self-described as "a vulgar and baroque spirit... a quasi-psychedelic southern head-trip," these untitled works present us with evidence of a parallel universe that is imploding even as our own familiar world of increasingly robotic global markets becomes an ever more virtual reality made up of inexorably connected electronic gadgets. But somewhere beneath America's anonymous suburban malls the ancient demons are stirring, and this Bourghog presentation, a visual extrapolation of a classic R&B aphorism, is intended as a warning that time may be on their side after all. ~Bookhardt

STAMINA IN THE DREAM HOUSE: Recent Oil paintings and sculpture by Elizabeth Fox, through Jan. 28, Martine Chaisson Gallery, 727 Camp St., 302-7942; www.martinechaissongallery.com
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND RAILROAD: A PSYCHEDELIC SLAVE TRADE: Mixed Media Works by the Bourghog Guild, through Jan. 14, 1022 Gallery, 1022 Lowerline St. 301-0679; www.1022gallery.com

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Kincaid & Chihuly at Roger; Keller at Homespace




Suddenly it is December, and the art scene is brimming with photography at PhotoNOLA's month long multi- venue photo exhibitions, as well as architectural art at the local AIA's annual ten day (Dec. 2—11)  Descours event, in addition to the Prospect.2 Biennial. And it's all a bit much. Among the photography shows, Arthur Roger got a jump start with Ted Kincaid's archaic looking land, sea and sky scenes that resemble 19th century “wet- plate” photographs, a process prized for its poetic imperfections, but Kincaid's work is mostly digital. Here the landscapes are dramatically otherworldly, as if some 19th century romantic artist like Alfred Bierstadt had suffered many darkroom mishaps but still got some occasionally inspired results. Same goes for the maritime scenes with ghostly sailing ships traversing preternaturally foggy seas, some studded with random icebergs, and all somehow imbued with the patina of the ages. OPEN SEA 719 depicts a lost schooner in a pea soup fog, a ghost ship out of Coleridge only here the albatross has already fled as it drifts toward an iceberg. Even hints of dry ice don't mar its musty Victorian charm like something the ancient mariner himself might have dreamed up in a Laudanum trance. I especially liked the moon pictures. LUNAR 4321, top, and LUNAR 624 (upper left sidebar) suggest triumphs of Victorian science, futurist visions from a distant past like those 1902 Georges Milies moon travel movies.



Imbued with the elegant lucidity of a more romantic time, Kincaid's elemental otherworldliness complements Dale Chihuly's extravagant baroque glass concoctions in the adjacent gallery, decorative fantasies of impossible biological or marine life rendered vitreous as if by elfin magicians in faraway places. In an odd twist, Chihuly's twisted baroque confections were seemingly almost echoed in Kourtny Keller's kinetic, mirror- glass found object sculptures at the Home Space Gallery, left, only these glittering, rotating, science fiction structures—like mini-asteroids from a disco ball universe--may have originated in the far reaches of Bywater instead. ~Bookhardt
EVERY DOUBT THAT HOLDS YOU THERE: Mixed Media Photographs by Ted Kincaid
WHITE: Glass Sculpture by Dale Chihuly, Through Dec. 24, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pavel Wojtasik's Prospect.2 Video Installation Below Sea Level at Delgado, Parallel Play Open Studios at T-Lot



The Delgado College art gallery, with its tall arched windows, is one of the more imposing local art spaces, but lately it has become a darkened cavern. Once inside you are in a circular audio-visual environment surrounded by moving panoramic views of New Orleans area wonders such as the petrochemical corridor, the Huey Long bridge and ravaged portions of the Lower 9th Ward--bleak vistas balanced by views of the natural bounty of the swamplands, the vast Mississippi and its eternal parade of ships, as well as pulsating city streets throbbing with the passing parade of colorful humanity for whom all the city is a stage, and on a good day many are in costume. Polish expat Paval Wojtasik's magical technical accomplishments in his 30 minute video loop Below Sea Level (short preview version above) captures this as a panoramic ballet of people and things in motion, a gliding and pirouetting, expanding and contracting landscape where streets appear as compressed crystal ball vistas that suddenly expand to surround you with panoramas of boulevards or bayous, or even the tiled delirium of the Harvey Tunnel, below.


It recalls both the metaphysical grit of Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law movie and the rhapsodic pacing of Walt Whitman's lyrical visionary evocations of American life. Wojtasik calls it “a love poem,” and like all ideal love, it is unconditional.

One of the great things about the Prospect biennials is how they inspire the community to step up their game, and the artists of the T-Lot studios responded by allowing visitors on weekends. The occupants of this aesthetic beehive, a group that includes Angela Berry, Hannah Chalew, Siobhan Feehan, Georgia Kennedy, Stephen Kwok and Natalie McLaurin, provide surprise offerings ranging from a techno-pagan altar and pre-fab ruins to flow charts of fun over the course of a lifetime, as well as a variety of mechanical-sculptural mystery objects. You never know what you'll see, but it's a great place to be surprised.~Bookhardt

BELOW SEA LEVEL by Pavel Wojtasik, Through Jan. 29, Delgado Art Gallery, 615 City Park Ave., 671-6377; www.dcc.edu/departments/art-gallery, PARALLEL PLAY: Open Studio Exhibitions by T-Lot Artists, Sat. & Sun, 12—5pm, Through Jan. 31, T-Lot Studios, 1940 St. Claude., www.t-lot.tumblr.com

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prospect.2: Vezzoli's Sophia Loren at Piazza d'Italia

 
     
It is one of the most debated, celebrated and acclaimed examples of postmodern architecture in the world. Created as an urban plaza and monument to this city's Italian community—the first large scale Sicilian community in America—the Piazza d'Italia was designed by Charles Moore, a former dean of the Yale architecture school and influential pioneer of postmodernism. Declared a masterpiece even before it was completed in 1978, it leads a surprisingly obscure existence in the CBD literally in the shadows of far less celebrated structures. And like celebrities who shine brightly at first only to slide slowly downhill, the Piazza d'Italia has led a checkered existence over the years, and was even declared an urban ruin less than a decade after its completion when its maintenance plan fell victim to changing economic times. Like a misunderstood genius in need of a sponsor, it was rescued by the Loews hotel chain, which renovated the adjacent old Lykes office building into visitor accommodations in 2003, and devoted over $1 million to restoring the Piazza to its former glory as part of the deal. And in fact the Piazza d'Italia these days looks pretty terrific now that its fountain in the shape of Italy, once barren and dusty, glitters with clear water and the neon traceries over its surreal stylized arches and colonnades glow in the luminous shades of a confectionery rainbow.


Even so, it might still seem a little lonely as an obscure aesthetic oasis in that bustling neighborhood of office towers, hotels and casinos if not for a new addition that suddenly appeared like an apparition in a strategic spot on the plaza. It is Sophia Loren, no less, that voluptuous cinematic goddess of all things Italian, rendered in bronze in a brilliant gesture by acclaimed Milanese sculptor Francesco Vezzoli as his contribution to the Prospect.2 Biennial. Loren devotees should be warned, however, that this rendition of the statuesque diva features some distinctly idiosyncratic touches, not the least being an architectonic bas relief nestled in her arms, covering her storied  bust. What gives?                    

For the amateur aesthetic investigator, consider this your very own DA VINCI CODE moment. If you recognize that mysterious bas relief as a Giorgio De Chirico painting, you are in on the the secret of the Piazza's design plan, for architect Moore was indeed inspired by a series of De Chirico paintings all bearing the same PIAZZA D'ITALIA name, many of which featured a statue of the Greek goddess Ariadne situated in the same spot Loren now occupies. While borrowing De Chirico's abstracted forms, Moore, in collaboration with local Perez firm architects Allen Eskew, Ron Filson and Malcolm Heard, employed buoyant neon colors to make this Piazza d'Italia more like a Fellini movie set where a cameo appearance by a Sophia Loren would not be unexpected. All of which may have come as a surprise to anyone anticipating something more like a classical Palermo piazza, but even here it should be noted that De Chirico's father was a son of Sicily, so the circle remains unbroken. And that is how, instead of simply reflecting history, our Piazza d'Italia ended up making architectural history instead. ~Bookhardt

Salon des Refuses Open Exhibition at Trouser House


The 1863 Paris Salon des Refuses was a class act. Composed of artworks rejected from the official Paris Salon, it even included Manet's mega-iconic PICNIC ON THE GRASS. No such notoriety attends the 2011 Trouser House Salon des Refuses on St. Claude, where nothing was ever considered for Prospect.2 in the first place. Instead, Trouser House accepted anything, first come first serve, until all the walls were covered. Beyond democracy, this sounds more like anarchy, yet the show is not without cohesion: everything on the walls is also somewhat off the wall. If the space station could digitally capture the dreams of sleeping eccentrics, this is what they might look like. So in MARINE LIFE TESTS SUPERNATURAL POWERS, above, a painting by Santa Fe's Lisa Corradino, we see turtles and pelicans beaming evil eye death rays at an oil rig even as Barcelona's Pere Ibanez's photograph, LES PLAISIRES, bottom, depicts a voluptuous nurse in a bloody bikini brandishing a hypodermic in her rubber gloved hand--a theme echoed inferentially in Brandi Couvillion's GUN, DOLL, SHRIVELED SOUL assemblage. Edgy works are balanced by others like New York based Stacey-Robin Johnson's BLUE PRINT FOR PARADISE, right, a kind of South Bronx Gaugin earth mother pastiche, par for the course at a place where experimental art coexists with organic farming out back, replete with chickens and yard eggs. Sadly, this grand experiment must now close even though Trouser House founder-director Emily Morrison thought she had followed the rules by operating in a building zoned for commercial use. But the city decreed that it must be brought up to the latest commercial code standards anyway, at a cost she could not afford, because it turned out that the building had never actually been used commercially before, snaring her in a classic catch 22. Meanwhile let's hope for  divine intervention; Trouser House epitomizes much of what is brave and experimental in New Orleans today, and deserves better than death by red tape.


SALON DES REFUSES: Open Call Exhibition of 70 Local, National and International Artists, Fridays-Sundays Through Nov. 30, Trouser House, 4105 St. Claude Ave., 512-626-3653; www.trouserhouse.org

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Prospect.2: Nick Cave and Joyce Scott at Newcomb

 

It was New York Times art critic Roberta Smith who put it best: “Whether Nick Cave's efforts qualify as fashion, body art or sculpture, and regardless of what you ultimately think of them, they fall squarely under the heading of Must Be Seen to Be Believed.” Of course, Smith never lived in a city with our Mardi Gras Indians, the next closest thing to Cave's mixed media Soundsuits, top, but she's right, their presence is redolent of exotic energies from the far reaches of the imagination if not the planet. A former dancer turned instructor at the Chicago Art Institute, Cave made his early suits out of twigs before moving on to more colorful materials such as beads, buttons, sequins and feathers--a look not unlike Big Chief Victor Harris' striking Fi Yi Yi Indian suits at the New Orleans Museum of Art during Prospect.1. According to former Prospect director Dan Cameron, Cave does indeed include Mardi Gras Indians among his influences. Their shamanic presence also recalls African ceremonial regalia, and they are also worn in live performances, which makes them fine companion pieces for Joyce Scott's beaded sculptures in the adjacent gallery.

 
Also a performance artist deeply influenced by African and African American traditions, Baltimore- based Scott is a creator of bead sculptures that are decorative yet acerbic, often beautiful yet biting. A critic of all forms of violence, institutional as well as random, and all depredations against women, Scott knows how to be seductive without pulling her punches. Cobalt, Yellow Circles, above, is a deeply hued maze with floating figures not unlike a Nigerian Yoruba bead work version of a Navajo dream catcher. Nearby, a gnarly beaded head emerges from a green glass, pistol-shaped bottle filled with bullets. Titled Head Shot, right, it draws you in then creeps you out, a tactic echoed in reverse in the more enigmatic Sexecution I, bottom. That mix of seduction and revulsion, beauty and beastliness, is what is known as the human condition, and what Scott and Cave do with it makes this a show worth seeing. ~Bookhardt


PROSPECT.2: Works by Nick Cave and Joyce J. Scott for Prospect.2, Through Jan. 29, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328; www.tulane.edu/~newcomb/artindex.html

Sunday, November 6, 2011

NOLA NOW at the Contemporary Arts Center

   
  
Meander through the Prospect.2 exhibits on the first and second floors of the Contemporary Arts Center and ascend via the stairs or elevator to the rarely seen third floor, and you enter another world. There the raw wood columns, brick walls and rough wooden floors reveal what the CAC looked like prior to its elegant, late 1980s renovation. Some feel that with all the polish it may have lost some of its soul, and this NOLA NOW show, and the raw space it occupies, strongly hints at that less complicated if perhaps more vital time. In fact, Chris Saucedo's weird pagan temple atop an oyster shell mound titled NEW ORLEANS 2011, top, with Sally Heller's polyvinyl mesh fantasy forest in the background, even looks like a flashback to the CAC's early years, and in a good way.



Much new art that used to appear at the CAC now more often appears on St. Claude, and this show draws heavily from the new emerging artist cadres that arrived here in large numbers after Katrina, mingled with a variety of veteran artists. The resulting exhibition reflects what curator Amy Mackie calls “a new creative class” whose work expresses a desire for “an environment less scathed,” or even “a stronger sense of purpose in a world where things fall apart over and over again.” Here 19th century optimism is echoed in James Taylor Bonds' ironic paintings of 21st century ruins inhabited by figures reminiscent of a more rustic past, just as the ruins of the Six Flags theme park look bizarrely buoyant in Andy Cook's colorful photographs, below. Similarly, Luba Zygarewicz's tersely minimal PETRIFIED TIME dryer lint totems, and Robin Levy's THRESHOLD installation of an empty utility room with its echoes abandoned housing, above, are balanced by Monica Zeringue's and Grace Mikell's (above right) intriguing magic realist investigations of the female psyche. All in all, NOLA NOW provides an insightful investigation of some of the prevailing tendencies in contemporary New Orleans art.


NOLA NOW, Part I:  Swagger for a Lost Magnificence, Through Jan. 29, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805; www.cacno.org

Sunday, October 30, 2011

PROSPECT.2: SOME FIRST IMPRESSIONS

  

Prospect.1 was a hard act to follow. It was big, sometimes gaudy, sometimes subtle, but always substantial and very expensive, with cost overruns exceeding a million dollars. Prospect.2 is more modest—its 27 artist roster is one third the size of P.1's—and its exhibitions are far less extravagant.  It was hard to get any sense of what it would look like from its eclectic mix of featured artists slated for various venues that were always changing, but now that it's open it can truthfully be said that former director Dan Cameron has again pulled a rabbit out of his hat. It's not knock your socks off like P.1, but it is an intriguing expo with an intimate quality that may be more appropriate for these financially  constrained times. What makes it work is Cameron's intuitive genius for weaving the art with various parts of the city in ways that can be unexpected or occasionally even epiphanous.



I'm not big on Sophie Calle, whose word and image narratives can seem repetitious, but her tiny text panels at the 1850 House in the Pontalba Apartments are deftly subversive in that setting. Similarly, William Eggleston's rarely seen black and white portraits work well with his bizarre STRANDED IN CANTON video vignettes, left, of crazed Memphis and Mississippi folk acting out back in those hazy old Wild Turkey and Quaaludes days of 1974. Like a Hunter S. Thompson romp through Faulkner country with Tom Waits overtones, it strangely complements An-My Le's delicate photos of Vietnamese hamlets on the Mekong Delta and in New Orleans East, and Ragnar Kjartansson's video encounters with Louisiana's soulful music and landscape, top, in the austere elegance of the old U.S. Mint on Esplanade. The view at the Contemporary Arts Center--where Dan Tague's sardonic multimedia agitprop exploration of the U.S. Department of Civil Obedience, bottom, shares space with Alexis Rockman's vast Darwinian panorama painting of predatory beasts battling to the death, above, and George Dunbar's tribute to ab/ex action painting--is a bit more variegated, with works by Jonas Dahlberg, Karl Haendel, Gina Phillips, Grazia Toderi and Ozawa Tsuyoshi rounding out the show. Like its predecessor, Prospect.2 seems to have brought out the best in some elements of our burgeoning community of emerging artists. The most spectacular single thing I saw on P.2's opening Saturday was actually at a satellite facility, at a performance of New Orleans Airlift's MUSIC BOX installation of musical shanties, below, fanciful huts constructed from old house parts as playable electronic and acoustic musical instruments. Curated by Delaney Martin, Swoon and Theo Eliezer, and conducted by maestro Martin Quintron, it fulfilled art's original function as an expression of metaphysical magic. It was truly unforgettable. ~Bookhardt


Through Jan. 29, 2012, Various Venues, 756-6438, www.prospectneworleans.org

New Orleans Airlift's Musical Shanties



Both a satellite facility of the Prospect.2 Biennial and a prelude to influential street artist Swoon's Dithyrambalina project--an actual house with musical instrumentation built into its structure--this Music Box installation of fanciful musical shanties features electronic and acoustic devices literally built into their woodwork. Cobbled from antique New Orleans house parts by a small army of harmonic savants working collaboratively, it all came together rather rapturously on the evening of October 22, 2011, under the baton of audio maestro Martin Quintron. These crude videos only hint at the transcendental nature of the event as it was experienced by all present. In like fashion, Swoon's Dithyrambalina will rely on collaborating artists to bring it to life. Curated by Delaney Martin, Swoon and Theo Eliezer, the Music Box is the platform for developing the instrumentation that will be built into its walls, ceilings and floorboards in much the way plumbing and electricity are configured in a traditional home.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Jeremy Willis at Du Mois

  

This show is really kind of gross. I had never heard of the artist, but his flamboyant paintings are in boisterously bad taste.  I like them a lot. It takes talent to make such eloquently stomach-churning work, and Jeremy Willis has a flair for revisiting pop, expressionism and the Liepzig School in canvases that take no prisoners but rather colorfully squeeze the vital essences, and possibly body fluids, out of his subjects. So who, or what, is Willis? It turns out that he is an Uptown Nola native who ended up in Brooklyn by way of Amherst and Providence, and his paintings blend something of de Kooning's manic early 1950s women with Francis Bacon's lushly Hannibal Lecter-esque renderings of dislocated, if vividly hued, body parts. But Willis is to those polished icons of painterly virtuosity what Sid Vicious was to the London Philharmonic: pretty raw. Even so, if his brush strokes were really as crude as they seem, none of this would work and we would be left confronting a muddle. So it is to his credit that his paintings confront US instead; you wouldn't want to meet up with one in a dark alley. That Sid Vicious meets Francis Bacon sensibility defines HANGOVER HEADGEAR, top, but TEARS, below, is more complex, an oozing maelstrom of quivering primary colors with smeared crimson lips and white teeth ricocheting off a double vision of a female head--one yellow, one green--in full meltdown mode, and it's all quite repellent if morbidly fascinating. The aptly titled FUCK OFF CREEP, above right, is a latter day nightclub scene, a cool inferno of mauve, cobalt and yellow featuring two babes and a guy, a blabbering paragon of  attitude seated at a table. Here everything is reduced to its visceral essence of discomfited flesh, queasy colors and dislocated auras, a visual parable of civilization's decline as it is reenacted daily in a million minor ways. In this show, Willis takes those quotidian human gestures and makes them intriguing. ~Bookhardt
   

FEAR IS A MAN'S BEST FRIEND: Paintings by Jeremy Willis, Through Nov. 5, Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 818-6032; www.dumoisgallery.com

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wayne Gonzales at the New Orleans Museum of Art

 

Wayne Gonzales is one of the more interesting artists working in New York today. Although his reputation has steadily grown over years of exhibitions at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Manhattan,  where his work also appears in the Whitney, Guggenheim and Hirschhorn museum collections, his current NOMA expo is his first museum solo in the U.S. Why here? Although he has been more of a presence in the New York and London art scenes, Gonzales is a Nola native who grew up in the 9th Ward and Arabi and graduated from UNO. Born in 1957, his early years were affected by the assassination of president Kennedy and the subsequent investigation by then D.A. Jim Garrison, in part because his extended family overlapped with some of its colorful cast of characters. News coverage from the period inspired some earlier paintings such as PEACH OSWALD, bottom, but today he is better known for his monochromatic canvases of crowd scenes that evoke grainy and vastly enlarged blowups of news photographs.

Gonzales has used computers to shape his imagery since the early 1990s, and in emblematic works like SEATED CROWD, top, and CHEERING CROWD, above right, the shadowy forms of the spectators evoke those low res digital images that devolve into muddy contours when enlarged. Seen from a distance, their abstract blurs come together to radiate the eerie unpredictability for which crowds have been known since the gladiators of ancient Rome. Here we sense the muted, potentially explosive, emotions of the public spectacle as experienced at football games and political rallies, in images as ambiguous Rorschach blots and just as open to interpretation. RIGOLETS, above, is a coastal scene in yellow and green with vastly enlarged newspaper halftone dots, and it may elicit memories of happy days in fishing camps or, alternatively,  Jayne Mansfield's gruesome death on that same stretch of road. Gonzales is a virtuoso visual poet who employs mass media imagery to personalize the hopes, fears and eerie uncertainties that characterize American life in the early 21st century. ~Bookhardt



Wayne Gonzales: LIGHT TO DARK/DARK TO LIGHT, Through February 26, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org
            

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Josephine Sacabo and Ersy at the Ogden Musuem

   

Over the years Josephine Sacabo's mysterious, dreamy and rather archaic looking photographs, such as COPIA DIVINA, left, have appeared in galleries like fragments of dreams or artifacts brought back by time travelers to the 19th century of the French Symbolists and Magic Realists. It is indeed hard to believe that they are products of our own time, and the same might be said of Ersy's dreamily gothic and surreal bronze, silver and wood sculptures, only her work harks to no specific period or place but to an alien yet familiar realm of the imagination, a place of beautiful if twisted mysteries. Both artists are longtime friends, but the effect of several decades of their work seen in such close proximity is startling if not magical. Ersy's sculpture may come as a revelation as pieces that resembled impressive curiosities in her infrequent and more modest earlier exhibitions, are now revealed to be integral parts of an intricately elaborated parallel universe.


Comprised of mysterious mice and skeletal birds among other fantastical creatures, all are either tangled up in strange mechanisms or arrayed in carnivalesque processions like her miniature HOMMAGE LA SOCIETE DE STE. ANNE, top, or PALLBEARERS, above, or else in otherworldly settings with Max Ernst, Pauline Réage and Brothers Grimm overtones evoked by the clever use of abstract details. And where Sacabo is overtly romantic, if sometimes gothic in works like LA PASION, right, Ersy is as taut and fraught as a Hitchcock thriller. Both are meticulously prolific -- Sacabo has a impressive parallel exhibition of her most recent work at A Gallery for Fine Photography—and the detailed thoroughness of both artists' vision is nothing less than staggering. Some three years in the making, this exhibition of two sui generis New Orleans artists, along with the George Dureau expo upstairs, offers new evidence of the Ogden Museum's potential as a showcase for providing striking new insights that would have been unlikely anywhere else, here or abroad. ~Bookhardt

Read more about Josephine Sacabo and Ersy in the New York Times (Click Here)

ERSY: ARCHITECT OF DREAMS: Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture by Ersy; OYEME CON LOS OJOS: Retrospective Exhibition of Photographs by Josephine Sacabo, Through Jan. 8, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600, www.ogdenmuseum.org; PHOTOGRAVURES: Recent Work by Josephine Sacabo, Through Dec. 31, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; www.agallery.com

Left: Claustro by Josephine Sacabo

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Iva Gueorguieva's "Prefiguration" at Heriard-Cimino

 

Sometimes you don't know where you've been until you see it receding in a rear view mirror. When the 21st century began, the usual postmodern tropes of the previous century still applied. A decade later, “postmodern” is a word that is seldom heard in reference to art or architecture. There even seems to be an unheralded revival of classical modernism, with new building designs that look positively 1965 (like the new University Medical Center), while in visual art there has been a quiet reprise of abstraction that evokes 1950s action painting, even as the best examples look relatively fresh today. Iva Gueorguieva's new paintings, for instance, MACHINE VISION, top, are darkly passionate in ways that recall the existentialist intensity of America's mid-20th century painters, poets and musicians—at first glance you can almost hear Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, or even Allen Ginsberg reciting riffs from HOWL: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...”  in a miasma of espresso, pot and cigarette smoke.


But that was then. Who is this woman? Bulgaria-born, Philadelphia-educated Gueorguieva lived in New Orleans for three years, then moved to Los Angeles seemingly on a whim a month before Katrina struck. The works in this show were based on her New Orleans memories, and the best of them display similarly perfect timing expressed as prismatic cul-de-sacs and gestural slashes. CLINAMEN, above, is a masterpiece of swirling vortexes and painterly mini- tornadoes as well as controlled  explosions like fireworks in a labyrinth. The name refers to the tendency of atoms to swerve, as predicted by the classical Greek philosopher Epicurus in an eerie anticipation of Einstein and Heisenberg.  AUTO EXTRACTION, top right, is a lyrical example of visionary abstraction that harks to that portentous point in the 1940s when the surrealism of Arshile Gorky and Roberto Matta morphed seemingly full blown into abstract expressionism. Matta called it “morphologies,” landscapes of the inner world, things felt more than seen. The look may be related, but Gueorguieva makes it lyrically her own. ~Bookhardt
 

PREFIGURATION: New Paintings by Iva Gueorguieva, Through Oct. 29, Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., New Orleans, LA 525-7300; www.heriard-cimino.com