Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brooke Pickett at the Contemporary Arts Center

Brook Pickett's paintings are big, as much as 10 feet tall, yet for all that, they are not heroic or any other one thing. They are all sorts of things happening at once. Like a dream journey through a familiar landscape where ordinary shapes and forms take on a strange, hallucinatory life of their own, they are simultaneously intriguing and unsettling. Painted in big, gloopy swatches of saturated pomegranate, avocado, blueberry, goldenrod and rust, objects that were once homely—things that may have started out as table lamps, stools, bits of rubbish or maybe ladders—have somehow mutated into strange visual tone poems taut with suspense and an incipient sense of wonder. We see this in SORROW FLOATS, above left, where a glowing lampshade becomes a beacon in a turbid sea of subconscious intrigue. Part of it has to do with those rich, psychically fraught colors applied in loose brush strokes that can seem very loose indeed compared to Robert Gordy's tightly delineated canvases upstairs. But her compositions are otherwise somewhat tight once you get used to the surprising exuberance of pigments that seem to revel in their own woozy plasticity. In MISSISSIPPI GODDAM, top, verdant green and brown patches evoke the leafy farms and forests of the South, but those vertical bars and ruptured reds suggest trouble, maybe even oppression, lurking beneath the lush arboreal facade.

CLOSING IN AGAINST THE WEATHER is more claustrophobic, a wavy, net-like mesh of pale pulsating blobs that evoke the work of Philip Guston, as noted in Kathy Rodriguez's thoughtful review in Nola Defender. But, ultimately, I think of the “center cannot hold” in the title, a line popularized in Yeats' Second Coming poem, but later associated with Joan Didion, whose writing was always really about her thought processes, which she somehow made fascinating regardless of her subject. So too are Pickett's paintings fraught with their own inner processes, and it is to her credit that they inspire empathy with their silent visual soliloquies. ~Bookhardt The Center Cannot Hold: Paintings and Drawings by Brooke Pickett, Through Sept 25, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805;

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cold Drink Print Invitational at Du Mois

Who can resist a high art event sponsored by a beer company? Print making is an ancient and noble endeavor going back to at least the 5th century if not before, but the Du Mois Gallery is located in a converted shotgun house on Freret Street, far from the Julia, St. Claude or Magazine Street art districts, and that's a good thing. Artists and galleries are probably the most effective tools for urban renewal known to man, and anything that can make the Freret corridor seem hip and happening is welcome indeed. And if Abita Beer flows at the opening, so much the better. The show itself is a grab bag appropriate to a space with a democratic persona, and if there is no unifying theme, there are at least some intriguing, sometimes thought provoking, works to be seen. Aaron McNamee's  GAGA RIG print, above, of a sultry looking Lady Gaga juxtaposed with an offshore oil platform raises questions, like, what's the connection? Beyond the fact that the pop diva's CDs are made from plastic, a petroleum derivative, what this points to is not just the commodification of sex appeal but also the sex appeal of high profit commodities like oil, a big time commodity fetish. A retort of sorts is seen in Julia Samuels' IOWA HAS IT FIGURED OUT, a nearly 8 foot wide relief print like a German expressionist vision of a wind farm replete with spiky turbines and high tension towers amid a spidery web of wires. Techno-pop symbology also appears in Don Maitland's print pastiche of engraved acoustic musical instruments and archaic audio devices punctuated by planes, rockets and razzmatazz in a hieroglyphic scroll of jazz era alchemy, above right (detail). The party continues in Amanda Turpen's SUNDAY DINNER, below left, relief print of some well dressed alligators feasting on a cow carcass in a setting reminiscent of Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury group in London. And while Freret is in no danger of becoming Bloomsbury anytime soon, the Du Mois Gallery is a step in the right direction. ~Bookhardt 
COLD DRINK: Printmaking Invitational Group Exhibition
Through August 6, Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 504-818-6032

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lucian Freud Dies at 88


Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died on Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88. Grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, was already an important figure in the London art world when, in the postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art. More>>

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mysock and Fujinami at Ferrara

WRONG SOUNDING STORIES is one wacky show. Rounding out a season of history-based exhibits, especially in the Julia Street and St. Claude Avenue art districts, Adam Mysock applies his painterly equivalent of genetic engineering to some well known history paintings reworked to feature Abraham Lincoln in a starring role. For instance, his remake of Emanuel Leutze's WASHINGTON CROSSING THE DELAWARE, is very similar to the original, and his deft  brushwork insinuates an “old master” touch, but yes, that's Lincoln's head on Washington's torso. And that vague glint in the distance is a motorcycle doing a wheelie. Okayyyy... Some less famous originals may prove more amenable to this approach. Elihu Vedder's mystical 1863 painting, QUESTIONER OF THE SPHINX, depicts a traveler from the past with his ear pressed to the Sphinx's lips as if awaiting an oracular revelation, only here he has Lincoln's head as mythic dancers cavort around a golden calf in the background. An accompanying Bible quote, “And there was a famine in the land and Abram went down into Egypt...” is typically zany, but not as much as his remake of WHISTLER'S MOTHER with Lincoln dressed a Whistler's mom. While Mysock's nihilistic approach may be liberating in some ways, anything that suggests an attempt to fabricate history may inadvertently put him in the same boat with Rupert Murdoch, Fox News and the Tea Party despite his best philosophical intentions.           

Less flashy but no less peculiar are Rieko Fujinami's black and white mixed media portraits in the back gallery. Their gray-black pigments on mottled surfaces Such as REDEMPTION II, above, and LA-JAN-09, below, come across as psychological expressions of inner states as much as, or perhaps more than, actual likenesses, and even the most affable visages exude a wintry Kierkegaardian gravitas, a sense of forbearance in the face of some looming shadowy void. However one interprets either of these artists' current efforts, they both bring an unusual level of technical proficiency to bear on their chosen subject matter, which in turn inspires interest in where they will go from here. ~Bookhardt

WRONG SOUNDING STORIES: Paintings by Adam Mysock; ETERNAL MOMENT: Drawings by Rieko Fujinami, Through July 27, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471;   

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Julie Dermansky's Haiti at the Ogden Museum


It has been said that “history is written by the victors,” but what if there is too much history and no victors? Last year started with a bang as a huge earthquake hit Haiti and dominated the headlines until the massive Gulf oil spill, and then storms, fires, tsunamis, tornadoes, wars, revolutions and yet more earthquakes, happened in quick succession. Yet the earthquake in Haiti, which shares a common history with New Orleans, was staggering in scope, and this selection of images by Nola-based photographer Julie Dermansky captures not only the overwhelming chaos, but also the extraordinary resilience of the Haitian people. In January of 2010, Dermansky made her way there to try to find an old friend, an arts activist that she later learned had perished in the quake. She remained to document the plight of the Haitian people, and while her images convey the apocalyptic nature of the destruction--in the rubble that is all that remains of the national cathedral,   below, the presidential palace and other massive buildings

where mangled human limbs still protruded from the rubble--they also capture the stoic dignity, endurance and irrepressible spirit of the Haitians themselves. Much media disaster coverage tends to be generic and Haiti often appears hopeless, but Dermansky's cool, compassionate eye reveals a remarkably stoic if vivacious people whose true potential has never really been tapped. Yet if these people have endured so much misery for so long and are still capable of hope, who are we to doubt them? ~Bookhardt
On July 13, from 6—8pm, the Ogden will host HAITI: AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE, a panel discussion moderated by WWOZ's George Ingmire. Featuring New Orleans cultural community activists who were there after the quake, the panel includes Dermansky, journalist Michael Deibert, WWOZ's Maryse Déjean, Haitian Association for Human Development president Dr. Yvelyne Germain-MacCarthy, Ogden curator/photographer Richard McCabe, Tekrema Center founder Greer Mendy and Loyola University's Dr. Jean Montés. Call 539-9650 for more information. HAITI AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE: Photographs by Julie Dermansky, Through July 24, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ancestors of Congo Square at NOMA


It all goes back to Africa. As the source of so much that makes New Orleans unique among cities, our Afro-Caribbean heritage looms large, but the influence of Africa is also evident in American music, modern art, the history of civilization and even the origin of human DNA itself. So it is really quite surprising that it took the American cultural establishment so long to recognize the importance of African art. Fortunately, the New Orleans Museum of Art, despite its limited resources as a smaller regional institution, was unusually prescient and ahead of the curve. In 1966, NOMA director James Byrnes hired a young African art specialist named William Fagaly to assemble a major collection, and for over four decades, with the encouragement of Byrnes' successor, E. John Bullard, he did just that while making NOMA a leader in the field.

This large and varied ANCESTORS OF CONGO SQUARE expo reflects his discriminating yet relentless efforts, so it may come as a surprise that it was originally planned not as an exhibition but as a book. Many years in the making and produced by London's Scala publishing house, it premiered this past May as a massive 376 page hardback featuring some 225 color illustrations and 48 essays by leading scholars. Since Congo Square was the main locus of this city's African culture long before the museum existed, incorporating it in the title was more than appropriate. After all, Congo Square was the only place in America where slaves and free people of color could gather on Sunday afternoons to celebrate their cultural heritage, which in turn helped make New Orleans what it is today.

That said, there is also no denying the formidable exoticism of such a large exhibition of works based on the spiritual traditions of a place where nature is wildly extravagant. Like the old religions of Europe and Asia, traditional African religion was all about spiritually relating to those natural forces and, in that sense, art and religion were inseparable. Both were about the divine spark that underlies all life forms, and as the great African art scholar Robert Farris Thompson put it, when such an art work is successful, it “transcends ordinary questions about its makeup: it is divine force incarnate.” Because such works embody mystery and reflect forces that transcend our ordinary expectations, they resonate in unexpected ways. To look closely at many of these masks and carvings is to see the origins of some of Matisse and Picasso's most emblematic works even as a spirit mask from C'ote d'Ivoire, top left, appears to have presaged the blank faces of Modigliani's nudes. The pristine geometry of a Congo Mboko figure from Katanga province, above left, suggests the origins of Art Deco while, closer to home, the figures on a memorial staff from Benin, top, strikingly evoke the processionary aura of a Second Line parade. Such visual linkages--including an elaborately beaded Nigerian Yoruba costume, above right, that eerily recalls the Mardi Gras Indian suits shown at NOMA during Prospect.1--are abundant, and it seems safe to say that without those vital influences, both modern art and New Orleans culture would be vastly different, and far less interesting.  ~Bookhardt

ANCESTORS OF CONGO SQUARE: African Art in the New Orleans Museum of Art,
Through July 17, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;   

Cy Twombly, Southern Artist, Dead at 83

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cy Twombly's “Bacchanalia: Fall (5 Days in November),” from 1977, part of a show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London that places Twombly paintings with works by Nicolas Poussin. Cy Twombly/Gagosian GalleryCy Twombly’s “Bacchanalia: Fall (5 Days in November),” from 1977, was part of a show at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London that placed Twombly paintings with works by Nicolas Poussin.

Of the rangy Virginian, the critic Robert Hughes once said he was “the Third Man, a shadowy figure, beside that vivid duumvirate of his friends Jasper Johns (of South Carolina) and Robert Rauschenberg (Louisiana/Texas).” More>>