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,