Sunday, August 28, 2011

Villere Street Revisited; Kaechele Vindicated???

St. Roch is one of those urban frontier neighborhoods where artists, charm and creativity share the streets with with chaos, crack and crime. Staple Goods Gallery at the corner of St. Roch and Villere Street was an oasis of tranquility even before Aaron Collier's deft graphite drawings turned up on the walls. More sober and subdued than his colorful paintings at Cole Pratt, they recall the American Scene realist artists of the 1930s, but with disjointed negative spaces and conceptual flourishes that can make the images look like they're falling off of the paper. Somewhat experimental, with little in the way of emotional content to draw one in, they look a tad academic. But they are also not what one would see in most commercial spaces and, on balance, this is an almost ideal venue for them.

John Pilson's short videos at Arthur Roger are also set on Villere Street, at Kirsha Kaechele's old gallery space. In IDEA FOR A FILM (video still, top), some of the neighborhood kids who hung out there devise a story about a couple with a dog washing business facing eviction. With area artists Adrian Price and Srdjan Loncar as actors, the result was a multilayered vignette that spotlights the storytelling talents of the kids. In HUNTER, below, Kaechele employs various settings and techniques to narrate a mysterious story, and both videos are poignant reminders of time's passage--Price now lives in New York and Kaechele in Tasmania--but both also capture something of the atmospheric surreality of that time and place. The gallery is still pristine, but there are no longer free programs for neighborhood children, kids and artists no longer hang out there, and Kaechele's handyman demolished the two flood damaged houses across the street months ago.

Kaechele had for the past several months been publicly castigated for allowing them to rot, allegedly for many years—an accusation lodged last winter in a poison pen letter by someone with an axe to grind.  The accusation turned out to be false. In fact, she never owned either of them until 2009. The buildings had long been considered tear-downs, and when she bought them two years ago in a last minute attempt to avert demolition, she said she would restore their facades and rebuild the rest. Then her finances unraveled. Why ordinarily responsible parties repeated false charges without fact checking is still a mystery; the sale dates are publicly available on the city tax assessor web site. She also never owned the Safe House building. Ever. Had the anti-Kaechele blitz been based on her tendency to seem tone deaf and stage events that looked too big or ostentatious for the neighborhood, her critics might have been on firmer ground. Instead, much pontificating was based on a false charge. For  Kaechele, disputing that allegation would have meant deflecting blame on to persons who had helped her in the past, which she chose not to do. So what had once seemed clear, at least to some, is now more nuanced. The irony is that--with the obvious exception of the poison pen provocateur--many on both sides of this controversy seemed sincere. We are all human and we all make mistakes, but false claims are false claims, and there is no way around that. As someone wiser than me once put it: you can argue about opinions, but facts are facts. Period. And that's that. ~Bookhardt 
MINING THE EDGES: Drawings by Aaron Collier, through Sept. 4, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331; NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and IDEA FOR A FILM: New Videos by John Pilson, through Sept. 12, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;