Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ferguson, Michel, Windish and Traviesa at the Front

These days you never know what you're going to see on St. Claude Avenue. That was always true—it's  always been a little strange—but it's doubly true now that it is an arts district. Lala Rascic's black light  installation at Good Children looks cryptic but proved a fertile setting for her recent, and startlingly effective, “lecture performance” on Bosnia as the last refuge of the Homeric epic tradition. Across the street at the Front there are some animal family album photographs, extraterrestrial fashions, and photographs of “random moments within the built environment.” Andrea Ferguson's FAMILY OF MANIMALS are cutely surreal images of animal headed critters in human garb posed as figures in old family albums and the like, printed on cross-sections of tree trunks. Rendered in sepia, they are oddly engaging. Nearby, Brooklyn-based Vashti Windish and Cameron Michel's collages evoke old time psychedelic Tantric-baroque space odysseys with matching fashions, top, from the Lysithean Order, a tribe that they say lives on one of Jupiter's moons where these tunics and accessories are worn by young Lysitheans during rites of passage as they mutate into orbs of light, which must really be something to see.  All of which may help atone, if only briefly, for the loss of some cosmic murals at the Saturn Bar down the street that were tragically destroyed by a fire a few years back. Always a melting pot, St. Claude has  struggled since Katrina to maintain its extraterrestrial heritage and shows like this can only help.

Back on earth, Jonathan Traviesa takes us on a photographic meander through natural and unnatural marvels including some industrial teepees erected on mysterious mountains and a facsimile of Mt. Rushmore in suburbia. More natural are some massive exposed tree roots, above, labyrinthine botanical structures that look  almost extraterrestrial and suggest that planet earth may be home to the strangest life forms of all.  ~Bookhardt
FAMILY OF MANIMALS: Mixed Media Constructions by Andrea Ferguson
ARTICLES OF THE LYSITHEAN ORDER: New Work by Cameron Michel and Vashti Windish 

BEACONS ABOUND: New Photographs by Jonathan Traviesa, Through May 8, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;  
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bedsole at Bienvenu; Butter at Barrister's


Raine Bedsole once stumbled upon a fleet of derelict WWII Navy vessels moored along the Tensaw River in Alabama. Surrounded by dense fog, they looked ghostly, like massive memories suspended in ether. Now Bedsole makes her own vessels, but hers are far smaller. Like spindly canoes or kayaks clad in paper in the form of old photos, children's drawings, scraps of antique maps, ledgers and engravings, they comprise a skein of dreams or a litany of lost moments from the everyday lives of the past. Lit from above and casting portentous shadows, some glow like Japanese lanterns. The ancient Egyptians used to send their deceased away in boats that were guided across the heavens by Anubis, the dog god, but elsewhere it was birds that embodied the spirits of the departed. On the back wall of the gallery there is a pair of large wings that, like the boats, are made up of prosaic paper scraps from the past. Here the spirits of the departed may have taken flight, but every boat carries a contemplative cargo of dreams, memories and misplaced moments.

Lillian Butter's paintings and drawings at Barrister's are all about the lifestyle of a certain subculture of pierced and tattooed wanderers who locally cluster in the St. Roch neighborhood. As expressionistic as anything by George Grosz, the works on view seem to reflect the musings of a fantastic and tortuous imagination—or so we thought until her subjects showed up en masse at her opening, revealing once and for all that Butter is actually a realist. Either way, this Canadian punkster who divides her time between Toronto and Nola is a talented artist as well as the recording angel of a particular milieu. What Toulouse-Lautrec was to the Paris demimonde of the past, Butter is to the St. Roch subculture of the present.

GHOST FLEET: Sculpture and Works on Paper by Raine Bedsole, Through May 22, Gallery Bienvenu, 518 Julia St., 525-0518;
LOST LITTLE GIRL'S ART SHOW: Paintings and Drawings by Lillian Butler, Through May 7, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506;

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jurisich and Forbes at Ferrara

In previous times, writers like Joan Didion and Walker Percy anticipated a looming disintegration of American life and culture that never quite came to pass. What we got instead was global warming and the natural and technological disasters we have come to know all too well. Hurricanes, floods and oil spills have had a bracing effect on the art of Krista Jurasich, whose flair for reconfiguring chaos into distinctive collages and mixed media concoctions is evident in works like Round Town, top, even as she takes a socially critical turn in works like Pass the Buck (Hell Money), left. Here the eyes of corporate and institutional agencies are everywhere, but the clowns of chaos run rampant as monetary malfeasance and militant idiocy go high tech and ordinary folks have to scramble just to keep up. Similarly, Dipstick /Slick depicts a kind of Aquarium of the Americas scene where deep sea monsters, test tubes, corporate clowns and consumer products share space with the fish. These works comprise an eloquent sequel to Jurisich's pictorial quilt-like tapestries inspired by the post-Katrina flood devastation and the subsequent resurrection of the city and its culture while suggesting that states of emergency may be becoming the new American way of life.

 Although every New Orleanian experienced a Katrina odyssey of sorts, Justin Forbes lived first hand what many only saw on TV. After long days in the Superdome, he and his girlfriend ended up in Denton, Texas, where they made a new life and got “right with God.”  If his pre-K paintings resembled an insider's view of hipster life not unlike a localized update of Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD, the work in this new show is similar yet somehow different. The crazies and riffraff that populate his paintings are much the same, but it no longer feels like an insider perspective. Here a sense of new beginnings is palpable, and it will be interesting to see where this new odyssey takes him. ~Bookhardt

The Theatre of Cultural Strata: Mixed Media Works by Krista Jurisich, Through May 2 
Halcyon Days: Paintings by Justin Forbes, Through May 8
Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471;                  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Then & Now at the Contemporary Arts Center

Konsa by Keith Sonnier--Click Images to Expand
In the mid-1970s a group of local artists had an idea: why not stage an art show in an underutilized old building and throw a party with live music at the opening? So they did just that and a grand time was had by all. One thing led to another and in 1976 the Contemporary Arts Center was born in a huge old warehouse donated by Sidney Besthoff. Flash forward 35 years and much has changed. Most of the artists are still around, the old warehouse is all spiffed up, and the CAC is part of the establishment. Then and Now, curated by Dan Cameron, explores what remains and what has changed in the art and artists that defined the Center's funky but fertile early years.

CAC co-founder and proto-conceptual artist Robert Tannen's new piece is an electric clothes dryer filled with house-shaped blocks of wood. Turn it on and it roars like a hurricane. An earlier 54 foot long hammock-like concoction made from steel and aluminum panels, above--was more hopeful, a bridge for spanning expanses of the imagination, but his Zen-like modus operandi is much the same.

Similarly, in Douglas Bourgeois' recent work his subjects are as exotic as they were in his funky 1978 Twilight High painting of students in an imaginary Cajun high school yearbook, only now they're rendered in the dazzling style of a renaissance master on mushrooms as we see in Iko Ikon, above. Robert Warrens, Jim Richard and Clifton Webb remain true to imagism, and in the work of Wayne Amedee, Dawn Dedeaux, George Dureau (Ali, below left), Lin Emery, Gene Koss, Martin Payton, and Elizabeth Shannon (Raft of the Medusa in Drydock, below), evolutionary refinement amid continuity prevails.

Lynda Benglis's elegant knots are still elegantly knotty, and Keith Sonnier's 2009 neon sculpture, Konsa, top, may be even more true to his baroque Louisiana roots than his work of the late 1960s was when he and Benglis melted the hard edges off minimalism and launched postminimalism on the world art map. ~Bookhardt

THEN AND NOW: 35th Anniversary Exhibition of Works by 14 Artists, Through June 12
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3805;

Automata at the Ironworks, April 2, 2011