Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pavel Wojtasik's Prospect.2 Video Installation Below Sea Level at Delgado, Parallel Play Open Studios at T-Lot

The Delgado College art gallery, with its tall arched windows, is one of the more imposing local art spaces, but lately it has become a darkened cavern. Once inside you are in a circular audio-visual environment surrounded by moving panoramic views of New Orleans area wonders such as the petrochemical corridor, the Huey Long bridge and ravaged portions of the Lower 9th Ward--bleak vistas balanced by views of the natural bounty of the swamplands, the vast Mississippi and its eternal parade of ships, as well as pulsating city streets throbbing with the passing parade of colorful humanity for whom all the city is a stage, and on a good day many are in costume. Polish expat Paval Wojtasik's magical technical accomplishments in his 30 minute video loop Below Sea Level (short preview version above) captures this as a panoramic ballet of people and things in motion, a gliding and pirouetting, expanding and contracting landscape where streets appear as compressed crystal ball vistas that suddenly expand to surround you with panoramas of boulevards or bayous, or even the tiled delirium of the Harvey Tunnel, below.

It recalls both the metaphysical grit of Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law movie and the rhapsodic pacing of Walt Whitman's lyrical visionary evocations of American life. Wojtasik calls it “a love poem,” and like all ideal love, it is unconditional.

One of the great things about the Prospect biennials is how they inspire the community to step up their game, and the artists of the T-Lot studios responded by allowing visitors on weekends. The occupants of this aesthetic beehive, a group that includes Angela Berry, Hannah Chalew, Siobhan Feehan, Georgia Kennedy, Stephen Kwok and Natalie McLaurin, provide surprise offerings ranging from a techno-pagan altar and pre-fab ruins to flow charts of fun over the course of a lifetime, as well as a variety of mechanical-sculptural mystery objects. You never know what you'll see, but it's a great place to be surprised.~Bookhardt

BELOW SEA LEVEL by Pavel Wojtasik, Through Jan. 29, Delgado Art Gallery, 615 City Park Ave., 671-6377;, PARALLEL PLAY: Open Studio Exhibitions by T-Lot Artists, Sat. & Sun, 12—5pm, Through Jan. 31, T-Lot Studios, 1940 St. Claude.,

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prospect.2: Vezzoli's Sophia Loren at Piazza d'Italia

It is one of the most debated, celebrated and acclaimed examples of postmodern architecture in the world. Created as an urban plaza and monument to this city's Italian community—the first large scale Sicilian community in America—the Piazza d'Italia was designed by Charles Moore, a former dean of the Yale architecture school and influential pioneer of postmodernism. Declared a masterpiece even before it was completed in 1978, it leads a surprisingly obscure existence in the CBD literally in the shadows of far less celebrated structures. And like celebrities who shine brightly at first only to slide slowly downhill, the Piazza d'Italia has led a checkered existence over the years, and was even declared an urban ruin less than a decade after its completion when its maintenance plan fell victim to changing economic times. Like a misunderstood genius in need of a sponsor, it was rescued by the Loews hotel chain, which renovated the adjacent old Lykes office building into visitor accommodations in 2003, and devoted over $1 million to restoring the Piazza to its former glory as part of the deal. And in fact the Piazza d'Italia these days looks pretty terrific now that its fountain in the shape of Italy, once barren and dusty, glitters with clear water and the neon traceries over its surreal stylized arches and colonnades glow in the luminous shades of a confectionery rainbow.

Even so, it might still seem a little lonely as an obscure aesthetic oasis in that bustling neighborhood of office towers, hotels and casinos if not for a new addition that suddenly appeared like an apparition in a strategic spot on the plaza. It is Sophia Loren, no less, that voluptuous cinematic goddess of all things Italian, rendered in bronze in a brilliant gesture by acclaimed Milanese sculptor Francesco Vezzoli as his contribution to the Prospect.2 Biennial. Loren devotees should be warned, however, that this rendition of the statuesque diva features some distinctly idiosyncratic touches, not the least being an architectonic bas relief nestled in her arms, covering her storied  bust. What gives?                    

For the amateur aesthetic investigator, consider this your very own DA VINCI CODE moment. If you recognize that mysterious bas relief as a Giorgio De Chirico painting, you are in on the the secret of the Piazza's design plan, for architect Moore was indeed inspired by a series of De Chirico paintings all bearing the same PIAZZA D'ITALIA name, many of which featured a statue of the Greek goddess Ariadne situated in the same spot Loren now occupies. While borrowing De Chirico's abstracted forms, Moore, in collaboration with local Perez firm architects Allen Eskew, Ron Filson and Malcolm Heard, employed buoyant neon colors to make this Piazza d'Italia more like a Fellini movie set where a cameo appearance by a Sophia Loren would not be unexpected. All of which may have come as a surprise to anyone anticipating something more like a classical Palermo piazza, but even here it should be noted that De Chirico's father was a son of Sicily, so the circle remains unbroken. And that is how, instead of simply reflecting history, our Piazza d'Italia ended up making architectural history instead. ~Bookhardt

Salon des Refuses Open Exhibition at Trouser House

The 1863 Paris Salon des Refuses was a class act. Composed of artworks rejected from the official Paris Salon, it even included Manet's mega-iconic PICNIC ON THE GRASS. No such notoriety attends the 2011 Trouser House Salon des Refuses on St. Claude, where nothing was ever considered for Prospect.2 in the first place. Instead, Trouser House accepted anything, first come first serve, until all the walls were covered. Beyond democracy, this sounds more like anarchy, yet the show is not without cohesion: everything on the walls is also somewhat off the wall. If the space station could digitally capture the dreams of sleeping eccentrics, this is what they might look like. So in MARINE LIFE TESTS SUPERNATURAL POWERS, above, a painting by Santa Fe's Lisa Corradino, we see turtles and pelicans beaming evil eye death rays at an oil rig even as Barcelona's Pere Ibanez's photograph, LES PLAISIRES, bottom, depicts a voluptuous nurse in a bloody bikini brandishing a hypodermic in her rubber gloved hand--a theme echoed inferentially in Brandi Couvillion's GUN, DOLL, SHRIVELED SOUL assemblage. Edgy works are balanced by others like New York based Stacey-Robin Johnson's BLUE PRINT FOR PARADISE, right, a kind of South Bronx Gaugin earth mother pastiche, par for the course at a place where experimental art coexists with organic farming out back, replete with chickens and yard eggs. Sadly, this grand experiment must now close even though Trouser House founder-director Emily Morrison thought she had followed the rules by operating in a building zoned for commercial use. But the city decreed that it must be brought up to the latest commercial code standards anyway, at a cost she could not afford, because it turned out that the building had never actually been used commercially before, snaring her in a classic catch 22. Meanwhile let's hope for  divine intervention; Trouser House epitomizes much of what is brave and experimental in New Orleans today, and deserves better than death by red tape.

SALON DES REFUSES: Open Call Exhibition of 70 Local, National and International Artists, Fridays-Sundays Through Nov. 30, Trouser House, 4105 St. Claude Ave., 512-626-3653;

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Prospect.2: Nick Cave and Joyce Scott at Newcomb


It was New York Times art critic Roberta Smith who put it best: “Whether Nick Cave's efforts qualify as fashion, body art or sculpture, and regardless of what you ultimately think of them, they fall squarely under the heading of Must Be Seen to Be Believed.” Of course, Smith never lived in a city with our Mardi Gras Indians, the next closest thing to Cave's mixed media Soundsuits, top, but she's right, their presence is redolent of exotic energies from the far reaches of the imagination if not the planet. A former dancer turned instructor at the Chicago Art Institute, Cave made his early suits out of twigs before moving on to more colorful materials such as beads, buttons, sequins and feathers--a look not unlike Big Chief Victor Harris' striking Fi Yi Yi Indian suits at the New Orleans Museum of Art during Prospect.1. According to former Prospect director Dan Cameron, Cave does indeed include Mardi Gras Indians among his influences. Their shamanic presence also recalls African ceremonial regalia, and they are also worn in live performances, which makes them fine companion pieces for Joyce Scott's beaded sculptures in the adjacent gallery.

Also a performance artist deeply influenced by African and African American traditions, Baltimore- based Scott is a creator of bead sculptures that are decorative yet acerbic, often beautiful yet biting. A critic of all forms of violence, institutional as well as random, and all depredations against women, Scott knows how to be seductive without pulling her punches. Cobalt, Yellow Circles, above, is a deeply hued maze with floating figures not unlike a Nigerian Yoruba bead work version of a Navajo dream catcher. Nearby, a gnarly beaded head emerges from a green glass, pistol-shaped bottle filled with bullets. Titled Head Shot, right, it draws you in then creeps you out, a tactic echoed in reverse in the more enigmatic Sexecution I, bottom. That mix of seduction and revulsion, beauty and beastliness, is what is known as the human condition, and what Scott and Cave do with it makes this a show worth seeing. ~Bookhardt

PROSPECT.2: Works by Nick Cave and Joyce J. Scott for Prospect.2, Through Jan. 29, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;

Sunday, November 6, 2011

NOLA NOW at the Contemporary Arts Center

Meander through the Prospect.2 exhibits on the first and second floors of the Contemporary Arts Center and ascend via the stairs or elevator to the rarely seen third floor, and you enter another world. There the raw wood columns, brick walls and rough wooden floors reveal what the CAC looked like prior to its elegant, late 1980s renovation. Some feel that with all the polish it may have lost some of its soul, and this NOLA NOW show, and the raw space it occupies, strongly hints at that less complicated if perhaps more vital time. In fact, Chris Saucedo's weird pagan temple atop an oyster shell mound titled NEW ORLEANS 2011, top, with Sally Heller's polyvinyl mesh fantasy forest in the background, even looks like a flashback to the CAC's early years, and in a good way.

Much new art that used to appear at the CAC now more often appears on St. Claude, and this show draws heavily from the new emerging artist cadres that arrived here in large numbers after Katrina, mingled with a variety of veteran artists. The resulting exhibition reflects what curator Amy Mackie calls “a new creative class” whose work expresses a desire for “an environment less scathed,” or even “a stronger sense of purpose in a world where things fall apart over and over again.” Here 19th century optimism is echoed in James Taylor Bonds' ironic paintings of 21st century ruins inhabited by figures reminiscent of a more rustic past, just as the ruins of the Six Flags theme park look bizarrely buoyant in Andy Cook's colorful photographs, below. Similarly, Luba Zygarewicz's tersely minimal PETRIFIED TIME dryer lint totems, and Robin Levy's THRESHOLD installation of an empty utility room with its echoes abandoned housing, above, are balanced by Monica Zeringue's and Grace Mikell's (above right) intriguing magic realist investigations of the female psyche. All in all, NOLA NOW provides an insightful investigation of some of the prevailing tendencies in contemporary New Orleans art.

NOLA NOW, Part I:  Swagger for a Lost Magnificence, Through Jan. 29, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805;