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; www.arthurrogergallery.com
When it comes to energy and influence, the University of New Orleans Art Department is sui generis. Beyond having its own satellite gallery on St. Claude Avenue and influencing many others in the area, UNO is also distinguished by its hyperkinetic cadre of artist alums who are sometimes as influential in New York and other art capitals as they are here. One time New York neo-geo avatar and current Yale painting department director Peter Halley is a case in point, and while unfortunately not represented here, he was a mentor to Nola native and UNO grad Wayne Gonzales, whose work now appears in top tier New York and London galleries. Gonzales is known for paintings of crowds , top, that suggest spectral afterimages of news photos, and in these works we sense the anonymous power of the collective id, as unpredictable and familiar as a summer storm. For his part, Gonzales was a mentor to current UNO graduate student Nina Schwanse when she attended Cooper Union in Manhattan. A Los Angeles native, Schwanse attempts to “restructure” the usual mass media narratives to create “disjunctive portraits that disappoint,” as seen in K-A-T-E (S), below, a video in which she rather brilliantly and entertainingly impersonates several celebrities named Kate (Gosselin, etc.) at their most inanely self-absorbed.
The further mingling of art stars Joseph Ayers, Marlo Pasqual and Megan Whitmarsh with emerging talents Jason Derouin, Sophie Lvoff and Aaron McNamee was intentional. All reflect UNO's typically offbeat approach to conceptual abstraction, with Whitmarsh's colorfully witty fabric sculpture, below, and McNamee's newsprint periodicals ossified into something akin to stone tablets, detail top right, among the especially emblematic examples. But the biggest surprise may be how polished these emerging artists' works look at the city's leading gallery, as opposed to their usual St. Claude Avenue haunts, where they often seem more experimental. Kudos to Arthur Roger and curator Jim Richard for that. It is an ironic truism that the secret to success is to make “art that looks like art,” and here we see some often familiar work presented in an artfully optimal new light. ~Bookhardt
COMMON GROUND: Group Exhibition Curated by Jim Richard, Through Sept. 12, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com
Many art aficionados, including one of the leading fantastic art web sites, www.phantasmaphile.com, compare Audra Kohout's box assemblages to the those of the great surrealist, Joseph Cornell, while noting that hers are “more personal” or even “emotional.” I would add “visceral” and “protean” as well. Kohout seems to be a shape-shifter in the guise of a middle class Mid City mom, and her boxes, like Dr. Who's phone booth, are vehicles for her travels to other worlds. Where Cornell was like a detached, eccentric bird man obsessed with ballerinas and symbolic objects in perfect equipoise, Kohout meanders between the sweet and the sardonic like a mythic earth mother who knows that without the darkness there is no light and, try as we may, the two can never be sundered but only balanced. In other words, this is some pretty weird, but elegant and eloquent, stuff.
In accordance with Carl Jung, her “other worlds” reflect inner worlds, and many of her doll-like figures hang from strings like puppets who assumed a wayward life of their own. In TITANIA, a fairy princess with long, shapely legs stands on a pedestal holding a big wand over a fallen male puppet. Is she trying to revive him, or did she smite him with it? ZEITGEIST, bottom, features a pair of mythic nymphs; one rides a unicycle on a rail, the other has fallen or jumped off. Standing on her head, her doll legs are spread wide to reveal her private parts. Are they flirting or engaged in kabuki combat? Kohout's flair for transmogrification is epitomized by UNDER LINDEN, left, where a pair of pixie dolls are performing an arcane ritual. Originally the title of a medieval German poem about a trysting place, “Under Linden” became the name of a Berlin boulevard filled with statues of generals in a startling example of how something originally identified with love eventually became associated with war. Kohout gives playfully eloquent form to humanity's most complicated and ironic impulses. ~Bookhardt
PERCHANCE TO DREAM: Box Assemblages by Audra Kohout, Through Aug. 31, Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., 525-7300; www.heriard-cimino.com Left: Arcana
Longtime curator and Prospect founder Dan Cameron has a knack for putting art in context, and this Tina Girouard and Robert Gordy expo at the CAC is right on the money. Both artists helped shape the direction of American art, yet both became somewhat overshadowed. In the late 1960s, Girouard and fellow Louisianians Lynda Benglis, Dickie Landry and Keith Sonnier, helped launch post-minimalism in New York as a way of injecting sinuous, fluid lines into minimalism's stark rigidity. She and Nola native Kendall Shaw were also seminal influences on the Pattern & Design, or P&D, movement in New York in the early 1970s. But one of the greatest P&D painters of all, Robert Gordy, remained in New Orleans until his untimely death at age 52 in 1986. Blending deco patterning with expressionistic and psychedelic flourishes, Gordy produced some of America's more charismatic paintings and prints of the period, and this show provides a welcome window on his and Girouard's accomplishments. Some of Gordy's best works are not on view here, but what we see at least hints at his scope and flair. In his 1981 NIGHT SCENE, top, the patterning and figures recall Keith Haring's early work of the period, but the craft and polish are more typical of Louisiana and European artists.
His 1971 LARGE STILL LIFE painting, bottom, of iridescent fruit amid concrete blocks suggests a Dutch master on acid, and a 1970 screen print, above, of his zany stylized nudes leaping blank blocks that resemble Donald Judd sculptures, is a sly critique of minimalist pretenses.
Tina Girouard replaced minimalism's hard edges with soft sinewy fabric and symbolic content in works like her CONFLICTING EVIDENCE tapestry, above. A seasoned performance artist, she collaborated with Laurie Anderson, Phillip Glass and many others who were part of her exotically patterned life. Many of her and Gordy's works look timeless and vital today while reminding us of Louisiana's major if often overlooked influence on modern American art history. ~Bookhardt
Patterns and Prototypes: Paintings and Mixed Meida Tina Girouard and Robert Gordy, Through Sept. 25, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805; www.cacno.org
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