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;