Prospect.1 was a hard act to follow. It was big, sometimes gaudy, sometimes subtle, but always substantial and very expensive, with cost overruns exceeding a million dollars. Prospect.2 is more modest—its 27 artist roster is one third the size of P.1's—and its exhibitions are far less extravagant. It was hard to get any sense of what it would look like from its eclectic mix of featured artists slated for various venues that were always changing, but now that it's open it can truthfully be said that former director Dan Cameron has again pulled a rabbit out of his hat. It's not knock your socks off like P.1, but it is an intriguing expo with an intimate quality that may be more appropriate for these financially constrained times. What makes it work is Cameron's intuitive genius for weaving the art with various parts of the city in ways that can be unexpected or occasionally even epiphanous.
I'm not big on Sophie Calle, whose word and image narratives can seem repetitious, but her tiny text panels at the 1850 House in the Pontalba Apartments are deftly subversive in that setting. Similarly, William Eggleston's rarely seen black and white portraits work well with his bizarre STRANDED IN CANTON video vignettes, left, of crazed Memphis and Mississippi folk acting out back in those hazy old Wild Turkey and Quaaludes days of 1974. Like a Hunter S. Thompson romp through Faulkner country with Tom Waits overtones, it strangely complements An-My Le's delicate photos of Vietnamese hamlets on the Mekong Delta and in New Orleans East, and Ragnar Kjartansson's video encounters with Louisiana's soulful music and landscape, top, in the austere elegance of the old U.S. Mint on Esplanade. The view at the Contemporary Arts Center--where Dan Tague's sardonic multimedia agitprop exploration of the U.S. Department of Civil Obedience, bottom, shares space with Alexis Rockman's vast Darwinian panorama painting of predatory beasts battling to the death, above, and George Dunbar's tribute to ab/ex action painting--is a bit more variegated, with works by Jonas Dahlberg, Karl Haendel, Gina Phillips, Grazia Toderi and Ozawa Tsuyoshi rounding out the show. Like its predecessor, Prospect.2 seems to have brought out the best in some elements of our burgeoning community of emerging artists. The most spectacular single thing I saw on P.2's opening Saturday was actually at a satellite facility, at a performance of New Orleans Airlift's MUSIC BOX installation of musical shanties, below, fanciful huts constructed from old house parts as playable electronic and acoustic musical instruments. Curated by Delaney Martin, Swoon and Theo Eliezer, and conducted by maestro Martin Quintron, it fulfilled art's original function as an expression of metaphysical magic. It was truly unforgettable. ~Bookhardt
Both a satellite facility of the Prospect.2 Biennial and a prelude to influential street artist Swoon's Dithyrambalina project--an actual house with musical instrumentation built into its structure--this Music Box installation of fanciful musical shanties features electronic and acoustic devices literally built into their woodwork. Cobbled from antique New Orleans house parts by a small army of harmonic savants working collaboratively, it all came together rather rapturously on the evening of October 22, 2011, under the baton of audio maestro Martin Quintron. These crude videos only hint at the transcendental nature of the event as it was experienced by all present. In like fashion, Swoon's Dithyrambalina will rely on collaborating artists to bring it to life. Curated by Delaney Martin, Swoon and Theo Eliezer, the Music Box is the platform for developing the instrumentation that will be built into its walls, ceilings and floorboards in much the way plumbing and electricity are configured in a traditional home.
This show is really kind of gross. I had never heard of the artist, but his flamboyant paintings are in boisterously bad taste. I like them a lot. It takes talent to make such eloquently stomach-churning work, and Jeremy Willis has a flair for revisiting pop, expressionism and the Liepzig School in canvases that take no prisoners but rather colorfully squeeze the vital essences, and possibly body fluids, out of his subjects. So who, or what, is Willis? It turns out that he is an Uptown Nola native who ended up in Brooklyn by way of Amherst and Providence, and his paintings blend something of de Kooning's manic early 1950s women with Francis Bacon's lushly Hannibal Lecter-esque renderings of dislocated, if vividly hued, body parts. But Willis is to those polished icons of painterly virtuosity what Sid Vicious was to the London Philharmonic: pretty raw. Even so, if his brush strokes were really as crude as they seem, none of this would work and we would be left confronting a muddle. So it is to his credit that his paintings confront US instead; you wouldn't want to meet up with one in a dark alley. That Sid Vicious meets Francis Bacon sensibility defines HANGOVER HEADGEAR, top, but TEARS, below, is more complex, an oozing maelstrom of quivering primary colors with smeared crimson lips and white teeth ricocheting off a double vision of a female head--one yellow, one green--in full meltdown mode, and it's all quite repellent if morbidly fascinating. The aptly titled FUCK OFF CREEP, above right, is a latter day nightclub scene, a cool inferno of mauve, cobalt and yellow featuring two babes and a guy, a blabbering paragon of attitude seated at a table. Here everything is reduced to its visceral essence of discomfited flesh, queasy colors and dislocated auras, a visual parable of civilization's decline as it is reenacted daily in a million minor ways. In this show, Willis takes those quotidian human gestures and makes them intriguing. ~Bookhardt
FEAR IS A MAN'S BEST FRIEND: Paintings by Jeremy Willis, Through Nov. 5, Du Mois Gallery, 4921 Freret St., 818-6032; www.dumoisgallery.com
Wayne Gonzales is one of the more interesting artists working in New York today. Although his reputation has steadily grown over years of exhibitions at the Paula Cooper Gallery in Manhattan, where his work also appears in the Whitney, Guggenheim and Hirschhorn museum collections, his current NOMA expo is his first museum solo in the U.S. Why here? Although he has been more of a presence in the New York and London art scenes, Gonzales is a Nola native who grew up in the 9th Ward and Arabi and graduated from UNO. Born in 1957, his early years were affected by the assassination of president Kennedy and the subsequent investigation by then D.A. Jim Garrison, in part because his extended family overlapped with some of its colorful cast of characters. News coverage from the period inspired some earlier paintings such as PEACH OSWALD, bottom, but today he is better known for his monochromatic canvases of crowd scenes that evoke grainy and vastly enlarged blowups of news photographs.
Gonzales has used computers to shape his imagery since the early 1990s, and in emblematic works like SEATED CROWD, top, and CHEERING CROWD, above right, the shadowy forms of the spectators evoke those low res digital images that devolve into muddy contours when enlarged. Seen from a distance, their abstract blurs come together to radiate the eerie unpredictability for which crowds have been known since the gladiators of ancient Rome. Here we sense the muted, potentially explosive, emotions of the public spectacle as experienced at football games and political rallies, in images as ambiguous Rorschach blots and just as open to interpretation. RIGOLETS, above, is a coastal scene in yellow and green with vastly enlarged newspaper halftone dots, and it may elicit memories of happy days in fishing camps or, alternatively, Jayne Mansfield's gruesome death on that same stretch of road. Gonzales is a virtuoso visual poet who employs mass media imagery to personalize the hopes, fears and eerie uncertainties that characterize American life in the early 21st century. ~Bookhardt
Wayne Gonzales: LIGHT TO DARK/DARK TO LIGHT, Through February 26, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; www.noma.org
Over the years Josephine Sacabo's mysterious, dreamy and rather archaic looking photographs, such as COPIA DIVINA, left, have appeared in galleries like fragments of dreams or artifacts brought back by time travelers to the 19th century of the French Symbolists and Magic Realists. It is indeed hard to believe that they are products of our own time, and the same might be said of Ersy's dreamily gothic and surreal bronze, silver and wood sculptures, only her work harks to no specific period or place but to an alien yet familiar realm of the imagination, a place of beautiful if twisted mysteries. Both artists are longtime friends, but the effect of several decades of their work seen in such close proximity is startling if not magical. Ersy's sculpture may come as a revelation as pieces that resembled impressive curiosities in her infrequent and more modest earlier exhibitions, are now revealed to be integral parts of an intricately elaborated parallel universe.
Comprised of mysterious mice and skeletal birds among other fantastical creatures, all are either tangled up in strange mechanisms or arrayed in carnivalesque processions like her miniature HOMMAGE LA SOCIETE DE STE. ANNE, top, or PALLBEARERS, above, or else in otherworldly settings with Max Ernst, Pauline Réage and Brothers Grimm overtones evoked by the clever use of abstract details. And where Sacabo is overtly romantic, if sometimes gothic in works like LA PASION, right, Ersy is as taut and fraught as a Hitchcock thriller. Both are meticulously prolific -- Sacabo has a impressive parallel exhibition of her most recent work at A Gallery for Fine Photography—and the detailed thoroughness of both artists' vision is nothing less than staggering. Some three years in the making, this exhibition of two sui generis New Orleans artists, along with the George Dureau expo upstairs, offers new evidence of the Ogden Museum's potential as a showcase for providing striking new insights that would have been unlikely anywhere else, here or abroad. ~Bookhardt
ERSY: ARCHITECT OF DREAMS: Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture by Ersy; OYEME CON LOS OJOS: Retrospective Exhibition of Photographs by Josephine Sacabo, Through Jan. 8, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600, www.ogdenmuseum.org; PHOTOGRAVURES: Recent Work by Josephine Sacabo, Through Dec. 31, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; www.agallery.com
Sometimes you don't know where you've been until you see it receding in a rear view mirror. When the 21st century began, the usual postmodern tropes of the previous century still applied. A decade later, “postmodern” is a word that is seldom heard in reference to art or architecture. There even seems to be an unheralded revival of classical modernism, with new building designs that look positively 1965 (like the new University Medical Center), while in visual art there has been a quiet reprise of abstraction that evokes 1950s action painting, even as the best examples look relatively fresh today. Iva Gueorguieva's new paintings, for instance, MACHINE VISION, top, are darkly passionate in ways that recall the existentialist intensity of America's mid-20th century painters, poets and musicians—at first glance you can almost hear Charlie Parker or John Coltrane, or even Allen Ginsberg reciting riffs from HOWL: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...” in a miasma of espresso, pot and cigarette smoke.
But that was then. Who is this woman? Bulgaria-born, Philadelphia-educated Gueorguieva lived in New Orleans for three years, then moved to Los Angeles seemingly on a whim a month before Katrina struck. The works in this show were based on her New Orleans memories, and the best of them display similarly perfect timing expressed as prismatic cul-de-sacs and gestural slashes. CLINAMEN, above, is a masterpiece of swirling vortexes and painterly mini- tornadoes as well as controlled explosions like fireworks in a labyrinth. The name refers to the tendency of atoms to swerve, as predicted by the classical Greek philosopher Epicurus in an eerie anticipation of Einstein and Heisenberg. AUTO EXTRACTION, top right, is a lyrical example of visionary abstraction that harks to that portentous point in the 1940s when the surrealism of Arshile Gorky and Roberto Matta morphed seemingly full blown into abstract expressionism. Matta called it “morphologies,” landscapes of the inner world, things felt more than seen. The look may be related, but Gueorguieva makes it lyrically her own. ~Bookhardt
PREFIGURATION: New Paintings by Iva Gueorguieva, Through Oct. 29, Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., New Orleans, LA 525-7300; www.heriard-cimino.com
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