Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why Build a Musical House?

 Swoon's Dithyrambalina, Quarter-Scale Model of the Musical House--Click Image for More

Even before the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had huge numbers of run down properties and abandoned lots. These symbols of city-wide dysfunction are also the tableau in front of which New Orleans’ rich musical and visual heritage parades and performs. This project is an attempt to redress the futility of this blight by finding within it vast resources of salvageable materials. By turning our salvaged construction into a music box that is free, public and playful, we are inviting the wider community to imagine and participate in a new landscape of potential and possibility.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Grant v. Lee at Good Children Gallery


It was the great cataclysm of 19th century America, yet the Civil War is a mystery, a miscalculation on both sides that led to unspeakable carnage. Featuring the work of 14 artists from all over, and curated by Sophie Lvoff, this show is less about history and more about the war's psychic legacy as a subtly pervasive influence that still haunts us. For instance, Chris Domenick's CALVARY MONOLOGUES are graphite grave rubbings from Civil War era headstones with memorial inscriptions layered in  patterns that evoke the chaos of the war itself--a theme echoed in James Taylor Bonds' painting of battlefield mayhem with Civil War soldiers seemingly joined by haggard youths from later conflicts where the venues changed but the mayhem remained the same. Even so, what stood out about the Civil War was the awful intimacy of battles fought on the combatants' home turf, pitting friends or family against each other. Something of that violent intimacy is evoked by Markus Fiedler's precise beeswax sculpture of a lifesize military knife, or Grant Willing's large photos of knives resting on planks framed by dark forests. Katherine Wolkoff's large color photograph of a human-size hollow in high weeds, top, suggests the imprint of a fallen body, an eerily pastoral touch reinforced by Paul Mpage Sepuya's psychically fraught photographs of his Louisiana aunt's rural home.

Erik Kiesewetter's digital images of darkly distressed paper with boldface type announcing IT WAS NO RIOT—IT WAS A MASSACRE, top left, recall the turmoil of the times even as Rachel Jones' line drawings of Civil War soldiers, above, whimsically portray the perpetrators/victims of the carnage. Most whimsical of all is Nina Schwanse's video of herself as two drag queens acting out the roles of Grant and Lee in a bitch fight that either trivializes the conflict, or illustrates how it still pervades American life--in a show that is either thoughtfully subtle or overly vague, depending, like everything else about the war, on your perspective. ~Bookhardt 

GRANT V. LEE: Group Show of Contemporary Works Related to the Civil War, Through July 3, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427;

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Newton's History of the Land at Staple Goods Gallery; An American Memory at Fair Folks and a Goat


Conceptual art means many things to many people. At its worst, it is the last refuge of the uninspired, but when it works it allows us to see the world anew. In this Staple Goods expo, Nola-based artist Lake Newton presents iconic images and objects that reflect the encounters we all have with everyday places and things, only here they resonate in unexpected ways. WEST POINT, MISSISSIPPI, top, is a photograph of a window studded with raindrops, but the image is reversed so the drops seem to almost ooze from within the glass. In this slight departure from purely documentary practice, a relatively minor intervention brings a vertiginous "through the looking glass" quality to an image that might otherwise reprise a common cinematic cliche. In another, below right, a closely cropped documentary shot of the cracked, raised outline of a hand tossing a cup as it appears on a trash can in a fast food restaurant, evokes the humid grittiness of the place while seeming as mysterious as Egyptian hieroglyphics. A related sense of mystery is echoed in a baroque blob of melted lead left by a burned car encountered in rural Louisiana and relocated to the gallery wall. The photographs, in particular, reflect Newton's view of the artist as "as an author who--on the basis of facts and by means of a minimal shift of perception--creates a fiction in close proximity to reality. In the best case, an artist describes not only the situation and objects, but endows them as well with a deeper meaning and lets them transcend themselves with a disturbing and visceral force. This is a powerful trait of art as it deprives us of convictions and poses more questions than it answers." In these works Newton eloquently extracts maximal poetic content from his minimal prosaic subjects.

The artists in AN AMERICAN MEMORY explore the loose ends that historical imperatives  like Manifest Destiny leave in their wake. Here Hanna Chalew's meticulous cut paper recreations of charmingly blighted Nola cityscapes, above, complement Georgia Kennedy's series of box sculptures that redeploy the “golden spike” symbol of the railroads' conquest of the continent to suggest more ironic or intimate scenarios. Siobhan Feehan and Philip Jordan's text and image celebrations of figures as varied as Jane Jacobs and Billy the Kid complement James Taylor Bonds' whimsical portraits, bottom, of the outsiders who got caught up in history rather than leading it. Or as curator Michael Martin puts it: “The reflexive relationships that the American people have with America ultimately shape the landscapes we inhabit. Each artist brings their own experience with America to their work and as a result adds to the dynamism that is this country.” All of which intimates a vision that is more incidental, more human and less monumental, than Manifest Destiny or any of the grand narratives of the history books. ~Bookhardt
HISTORY OF THE LAND: Mixed Media Works by Lake Newton, Through July 3, Staple Goods Art Gallery, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 940-5771,
AN AMERICAN MEMORY: Group Exhibition Curated by Michael Martin, Through July 15, Fair Folks & A Goat Gallery, 2116 Chartres St. 872-9260,  

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Swoon's Thalassa at NOMA


The opening was a vast populist affair as legions of cognoscenti, including thundering hordes of art and music-crazed twenty-somethings, descended on the New Orleans Museum of Art for the opening of Swoon's encompassing paper sculpture Thalassa in the Great Hall. During the past three years, Daytona-born, New York based Swoon developed a close relationship with New Orleans and several Nola artists. In 2008, she began wheat-pasting her paper cutouts on walls in the Bywater neighborhood. Since then, she's been involved in a collaboration with the New Orleans Airlift (dedicated to the cross-pollination of artistic ideas between New Orleans and other countries) on the creation of a musical arts venue and house in the Bywater called Dithyrambalina.

Swoon is internationally famous for her large-scale paper cutouts which she wheat pastes on the exteriors of buildings. Her work often depicts portraits of families, friends, and residents of local neighborhoods performing everyday activities such as working, cycling, or sitting on stoops. As an artist working extensively in prints and cutouts, she takes inspiration from vintage German Expressionism as well as Indonesian shadow puppetry. In 2005 she began displaying her installations in gallery settings in addition to her outdoor installations.

(Thalassa was made possible by support from The Joan Mitchell Center, the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, and Charles L. Whited, Jr.)

Hansen and Sauer at LeMieux

Click Images to Expand
Once, not so long ago, in places like Chalmette, Marrero or even parts of Gentilly, local lawns were  miraculous places. There, on expanses of St. Augustine grass guarded by concrete gnomes and lawn jockeys, Virgin Marys routinely appeared amid stoic pink flamingos, colorful mirror balls and fanciful mosaic shrines cobbled from broken crockery. Changing tastes and Katrina's tidal surge swept much of it away, but all is not lost. The quest for kitsch is so deeply ingrained in our DNA that it's only natural for artists to heed the call, and Shannon Landis Hansen has transformed LeMieux into a near-psychedelic cornucopia of tchotchkes taken to the next level. For instance, WITHOUT A NET, above left, is a fully functional reprise of one of those fabulous fifties suburban kitsch lamps taken to diabolical extremes with masked, insanely contorted ballet dancers surrounded by a maze of ceramic shards, creepy clowns and fairytale figures in manic, hallucinatory clusters. Likewise, her RED CHAIR, bottom evokes a freakout at a Chinatown souvenir factory with ceramic mandarins, dragons and the like sprouting from crimson brocade on an actual chair that all but dares you to sit on it. More arts-for-arts-sake is A SHATTERING NOTE, top, as ceramic fragments appear reworked into a wacko wall sculpture that takes iconic kitsch to a Shangri-La level of cosmic irony where Wedgewood meets John Waters. Impressive stuff.

Christine Sauer's rather cellular looking fabric constructions are iconic in their own quiet way, with works in her CLUSTER series suggesting microscopic blowups of overlapping cell structures rendered as intricately stitched tapestries. The colors and needlework recall Central and Eastern European—especially Russian (think decorated Easter eggs)--folk arts, with hints of Native American bead work, but the cellular patterns appear universal, and there is an almost metaphysical sensibility of the micro and the macro, the earthly and the cosmic. Similarly, EMERGE/SUBMERGE (detail, above) transforms patterning that might be merely decorative into a wall hanging so contemplative that it borders on the mystical. The subtly, if intricately, haunting quality of many of these works makes for an auspicious return of Christine Sauer to the Julia Street gallery scene. ~Bookhardt

BREAKING MUSE: Ceramic Assemblages by Shannon Landis Hansen
TEXTILE CONSTRUCTIONS: Fabric Art by Christine Sauer
Through July 30
LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988;

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Historia Del Futuro at the Newcomb Gallery; Synthesis: Mixed Media Photographs at the Darkroom


Portentously titled LA HISTORIA DEL FUTURO, or "The History of the Future," this stark exhibition of photographs by Michael Berman and Julián Cardona is billed as "focusing on the wild places in the desert southwest and the people crossing these lands at the U.S./Mexico border." Its implicit message--that the Mexicans are not only coming, but will keep on coming--is fraught with perplexities best left for  discussion elsewhere. What we see here are stark black and white documentary photographs, mostly of Mexicans in dire straits amid landscapes so desolate as to make Death Valley look inviting. Indeed, the threat of death is inescapable as they endure 40 mile marches across blazing circuitous wastes for the privilege of working at tasks so numbing they don't even tempt our long term unemployed. Although generally in the social documentary vein of the 1930s WPA photographers, the drama here is mostly cumulative as images of new wayfarers lighting votive candles in a church (top, Julian Cardona) yield to panoramas of heat, dust, bones and privation such as Michael Berman's VOPOKI WASH, ARIZONA, above left, suggesting that vast stretches of our Mexican border, and those who cross it, occupy the far reaches of Hades, and we can only contemplate with wonder and dread the desperation of those who feel compelled to undertake such ordeals. Surely there must be a better alternative.

A very different approach appears at the Darkroom, in this SYNTHESIS expo of images derived from alternative photographic processes. What is documented here are psychic states expressed in works such as Terry DeRoche's palimpsest blowup of a 1968 Polaroid family portrait with superimposed handwritten commentaries, above, or Ann Schwab's deadpan-poetic self portrait with thread and botanical specimens or Leah MacDonald's hyper-painterly encaustic on silver print, FRUIT, right (all of which were eloquently complemented by the rather psychodramatic BETWEEN FATEFUL AND FORLORN show--featuring impressionistic work like Ann George's neo-Victorian OBEDIENCE AND THE GIFTS, below--at the nearby Photo Alliance Gallery through June 5th). Sadly, this is the Darkroom's final exhibit as this important local institution suspends operations this month. It will be sorely missed.  ~Bookhardt

LA HISTORIA DEL FUTURO: Photographs by Michael Berman and Julián Cardona, Through June, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;
SYNTHESIS: Mixed Media Photography, Through June (by appointment), The Darkroom, 1927 Sophie Wright Place, 522-3211;

New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery, 1111 St. Mary Street, 610-4899;