Sunday, September 25, 2011

Michele Basta at Coup d'Oeil

Michele Basta's hybrid creatures at Coup are fantastical by any measure. A mix of  hallucinatory surrealism and a side show take on mythology, her humanoid beasts are paradoxical in so many ways that it is almost as if their mannequin-like appendages and oddly mammalian features were  products of an alternate reality where bizarre incongruities are par for the course. How else to explain FROM WHAT I REMEMBER/ METAMORPHOSIS, right, a cat-headed female in a tattered hoop skirt and long black gloves. With her lynx-like head thrown back as she appears to exhale a huge plume of crimson paper flames, she dominates her corner of the gallery while posing no end of enigmatic possibilities for which there are no immediate answers. A related work, SPHINX, top, in a nearby alcove, inverts the equation with the body of a lioness and human upper torso topped with a demonic hybrid head. Instead of arms, she sprouts wings made up of hundreds of pages of poems in an extravagant new take on the term “literary lion” 

There are also some oddly expressive human heads that seem to sprout from Victorian-era spring mounted mechanisms of mysterious provenance. For dog lovers there is COMPANION, above, a hyena with conjoined human and canine heads. On the walls are some Victorian looking light boxes with glowing panels comprised of pressed flowers embedded in colored resin to yield a cathedral-like glow, but what gives Basta's beasts and light boxes their uncanny resonance is their sense of being artifacts from a parallel universe. Taking her cues from the esoteric inner symbolism of alchemical science, Basta externalizes the baser demons that roam the wild regions of the psyche in a process of transformation that puts their feral energy to use on behalf of a more holistic understanding of human potentiality, a quest that propelled both Carl Jung's psychology and no end of surrealist experimentation—parallel currents long known to Europeans, but only slowly coming to light on these shores. ~Bookhardt   

"AND THE EARTH BEGOT..." Mixed Media Sculpture by Michele Basta, Through Oct. 8, Coup d'Oeil Art Consortium, 2033 Magazine St., 722-0876;

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Friedlander, Roma & Warhol at the Newcomb Gallery

One of the ironies of a town notorious for taking genius for granted was that it was left to two great photographers from elsewhere—Lee Friedlander and Ralston Crawford—to document the legendary traditional New Orleans jazz musicians of the 1950s. In this JAZZ PEOPLE series, the young Friedlander's vision is at its most direct and unvarnished, yet his famously sly use of incidentals is evident in works such as his 1958 JOE JAMES AT THE WESTWEGO FIREMAN'S HALL portrait, top, in which the intense pianist is framed by Falstaff Beer graphics in the background.

Friedlander's cinematic mise-en-scene methodology stands in marked contrast to Andy Warhol's nearby POP SHOTS series of closely cropped Polaroid photographs, yet the stylized glitz of the Peter Pan of Pop is localized in his series of portraits of former New Orleans Museum of Art photography curator Tina Freeman, above, interspersed with the likes of Pia Zadora and other 1970s glitterati.

To casual observers, some of Thomas Roma's photographs can seem somewhat elusive at first. Like Lee Friedlander's jazz portraits in the next room, Roma's  compositions can look random, so it takes a minute to realize that his views of Brooklyn and Sicily often involve a visual counterpoint as complex as a Bach fugue. Like Friedlander, Roma incorporates incidentals that most photographers avoid, but here they result in an ambient sensibility that breaks the usual rules while communicating the haphazard intimacy of the Brooklyn landscape. Even so, his most compellingly human works would have to be his COME SUNDAY photographs of worshipers in black Brooklyn churches, some of which were once synagogues, as is occasionally the case in Nola's Central City as well. Here the epiphanies of a very emotional form of religious experience are conveyed with great warmth and empathy, which makes for a striking contrast with his more circumspect Brooklyn and Sicilian vistas. In this show, many of the uncanny connections that link Brooklyn, New York, New Orleans, and even  Sicily, are all on display under the same roof. ~Bookhardt
PICTURES FOR BOOKS: Photographs by Thomas Roma, JAZZ PEOPLE: New Orleans Jazz Photographs by Lee Friedlander, POP SHOTS: Polaroid portraits by Andy Warhol, Through Oct. 9, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;

Sunday, September 11, 2011

15th Annual No Dead Artists at Jonathan Ferrara


Of late, New Orleans in general and St. Claude Avenue in particular have become something of a national epicenter of DIY emerging artist activity, and in some ways it really is kind of extraordinary. But it is also a phenomenon with deep roots tracing back to those institutions and galleries that focused on emerging artists all along, not just in the present. In that sense, the 15th annual NO DEAD ARTISTS show at Ferrara marks a continuation of an old tradition. As always, it is something of a grab bag. The 37 works were selected by jurors Toby Devan Lewis, William Morrow and Susan Taylor from the roughly 1500 submitted by over 300 artists, and viewing them is like reading tea leaves as portentous trajectories of talents and trends converge to reveal names and ideas that, if history is any guide, may later resurface with increasing luster. More>>
Click Images to Enlarge--Top: Eva Sintamarian: Every Object is Modified by One's Look; Meg Turner: Market Street Power Station;  Rebekah Miller: Skins; Leslie Lyons: Girdle; Alissa Polan: Yael. 
NO DEAD ARTISTS: Juried Exhibition of 14 Emerging American Artists, Through Sept. 24, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471;

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Visionary Art from the Kleinbard-Roche Collection

The Soldier's Family, 1947, by Daniel Pressley
The Ogden Museum's current offerings are of some interest, especially the photography shows, but the big surprise is the Alexa Kleinbard and Jim Roche collection of visionary outsider art. Both are artists themselves, and their collection suggests a mixed media installation in its own right, as well as a fresh new take on what outsider art can mean. Most folk art has ranged from cute to weird in exhibitions that were often  anthropological in tone, but here the spirit of each artist, forcefully or quietly, reaches out and grabs you. They all have a story to tell, and if you make eye contact, they will make you listen. It's a world of self-taught artists acting under orders from God or gods, known or not, and you are there to witness marvels large and small.

Of them, the substantial painted wood carvings of Tallahassee's O. L. Samuels are hard to miss. An 80 year old former tree trimmer brought back from the dead after a fall, Samuels creates mythic or demonic beings that radiate an otherworldly joie de vivre. LARGE MONSTER BEAST, left, is emblematic, and EDNA, a wood sculpture of an intricately painted woman with an intense visage, is eerily alive, dominating the space in front of a wall of “religious” paintings by Roger Rice, an ordained minister in Oklahoma. While some preachers merely condemn lewd or scandalous
behavior, Rice shows us precisely what he means in some of the most graphically lurid images the Bible ever inspired. Conversely, Daniel Pressley's paintings such as circa 1947 THE SOLDIER'S FAMILY, top, depict ordinary slices of life imbued with a vibrant magic realist intensity, as do Remy Mott's curiously haunting paintings, for instance, CUBAN WOMAN, right, or Sylvanus Hudson's iconic HEART WITH CROSS, bottom, with its homespun voodoo overtones. What they all have in common is a sense of reinventing the world we thought we knew, as if these artists had traveled to a rustic parallel universe in a backyard space capsule and come back with souvenirs for all to see. Wonderful stuff. ~Bookhardt  

Self-Taught, Outsider and Visionary Art from the Collection of Alexa Kleinbard and Jim Roche, Through Sept. 18, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,