Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sacabo and Carter at A Gallery for Fine Photography

In art, there is a certain point where romanticism and magic realism intersect. In photography, that point, or place, is southern Louisiana and adjoining regions. It's a legacy that was epitomized in the late, legendary New Orleans photographer, Clarence Laughlin, a self-proclaimed "extreme romantic" who became America's first surrealist photographer in the 1930s. His legacy lives on today in an array of Louisiana photographers including Josephine Sacabo among others, and extends slightly west into Beaumont, Texas, where Keith Carter has long pursued his dreamily localized form of magic realism. Both employ a hybrid of digital techniques and archaic processes and both are featured in shows at A Gallery for Fine Photography. Sacabo's photogravure expo, like her recent book, is titled Nocturnes, but there are also some exciting new images where her baroque feminine mysticism takes a taut new turn. Inspired by the late Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, arguably the most psychological figure in Latin American fiction, works like Geometry of Discord, above left, or The Now Instant, bottom, convey something of the confluence of circumstance and emotion that can lead to intuitive epiphanies of one sort or another. There is a near constructivist formalism about these new works, a nod, perhaps, to Lispector's Ukrainian birth before emigrating with her parents to Brazil as a child in the 1920s.

Keith Carter's Natural Histories series lives up to its name in images made using archaic lenses to take us through a looking glass into a parallel universe where feral humans and decorous animals occupy a whimsical Darwinian wonderland. They may originate in east Texas, but Carter's images delve into the rich recesses of mythology and the human psyche to explore the common threads of human and animal attraction in forms ranging from the luminous blue wings of the Blue Atlas Moth, above, to the mating games of formally attired humans in archaic bal masques. All appear as artifacts, reminders that we are products of the same earth with all of the beauty and bestiality that implies. ~D. Eric Bookhardt 

Natural Histories: Photographs by Keith Carter; Nocturnes: Photographs by Josephine Sacabo; Through January, A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313

Sunday, December 23, 2012

2012: The Year in Review

The old year--including the so-called "Mayan apocalypse"--has come and gone and most of us are still here. Even among the Maya there was no real consensus about what it all meant beyond a vague sense of transition. Maybe the old Taoist maxim, "continuity in the midst of change," offers the best advice, while coincidentally providing a pretty good description of our local art community over the past year. Although 2011 was unusually tumultuous, 2012 was more a time of consolidation and assimilation, if not entirely uneventful.

One looming change involves the Heriard-Cimino Gallery. Long recognized as a Julia Street leader for its distinctive curatorial vision, H-C has just closed and will move to San Francisco for an indefinite period, according to longtime director Jeanne Cimino. Although it is not yet known what form its new iteration will take, its elegantly provocative presence will certainly be missed. But a new gallery will open in early January at the same location:

The Boyd Satellite Gallery appears to be the work of local artist Blake Boyd and partner Ginette Bone, whose name, reassuringly, is listed as the director. The web site opens with a graphically striking rendition of the letters "BS" in what can only be considered an experiment in branding. Its artist roster features Boyd along with septuagenarian Warhol Factory vestiges Billy Name and Taylor Mead as well as co-septuagenarian Brit pioneer pop artist Derek Boshier and Brit veteran David Eddington. Adding to the intrigue, an announcement states that the gallery was founded "during the apocalypse, December 2012, representing regional, national and international artists." If the enigmatic name and artist roster come as a, um... surprise, the talented and thoughtful Ginette Bone is at least a promising new addition to the select circle of Julia Street gallery directors.            

If Julia Street seems otherwise serene, the Contemporary Arts Center provided some colorful counterpoint last March when curator Amy Mackie quit after 14 months on the job. Her philosophical differences with CAC management seemed underscored in short order when the main exhibition, titled Spaces and spotlighting St. Claude Arts District artists, was unexpectedly shut down for several days to facilitate a film shoot. Many of the artists protested by removing their work, and while film shoots have interrupted CAC exhibitions before, New Orleans has changed since Katrina and St. Claude artists are famously passionate, so the uproar, if unprecedented, was hardly surprising. Then in late May, executive director Jay Weigel announced that he would resign pending the hiring of his replacement, something that had somehow been in the works for years without ever quite happening.  Since then, the CAC has intensified its outreach and programming while launching innovative exhibition projects like its Press Play video expos and its Soundscape series of works by sound artists, programs that, with rotating shows in niche spaces like its Spiral Ramp Gallery and Corner Gallery (see Rontherin Ratliff's Revolve sculpture, top), have created what Weigel calls "a more collaborative atmosphere" that he credits interim curator Jan Gilbert with facilitating. Meanwhile the search is on for a new director. Former CAC board president and Search Committee chair Robyn Dunn Schwarz reports that "over 60 resumes have been received, out of which 10 applicants are now under consideration." She and Weigel are both adamant that the search will remain ongoing until "exactly the right person" is found. "No one's fingers are crossed harder than mine," says Weigel.

And so it goes, with most of the city's respective art communities exhibiting strong vital signs. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, after weathering turbulence last year, now features some outstanding exhibitions that really merit a visit, even as the low key McKenna Museum of African American art perennially deserves more notice than it receives. The St. Claude scene continues to expand with minimal obvious financial support even as it epitomizes an alluring sense that something dynamic and authentic is happening here--a quality that propels some intriguing interactions with other cultural capitals. For instance, the New York based Joan Mitchell Foundation maintains its only American satellite facility on Bayou Road, where its quietly substantial activities have significantly enriched our art scene. The management of the Prospect New Orleans International Biennial,  now paradoxically based in Los Angeles, appears more organized than ever as it prepares to launch Prospect.3 in 2014.

Finally, the New Orleans Museum of Art seems to have emerged from its first century of existence in fine form thanks to the efforts of current director Susan Taylor and longtime predecessor, E. John Bullard. In fact, if surging attendance, strong finances and high visibility are any gauge, NOMA may have entered a golden age. Some of its current success can be attributed to its sophisticated outreach efforts. "We're always looking for ways to engage our audiences, new and current," says Taylor, citing popular exhibitions coupled with "a re-launched educational program focused on schools and literacy including a visual literacy program for 3 and 4 year olds." Taylor says she wants NOMA to be so much a part of the city's fabric of life that it becomes our "cultural living room." If appearances are any guide, she seems well on her way. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Filming Beasts of the Southern Wild

See also: Beasts and Spielberg by A. O. Scott

Sunday, December 16, 2012

PhotoNOLA at the Ogden Museum, the Octavia Gallery and the Staple Goods Gallery

PhotoNOLA is the New Orleans Photo Alliance's big annual event, and although its official festivities only last for a few days, many of its over 50 photography exhibitions extend through December, some  through January. (See for the list.) It's too much for most people to see, but an exhibit of prints by Photo Alliance members at the Ogden Museum provides a useful  sampler. Most of the work is consistently interesting, but the edgy, art history inspired collaborative pieces by Epaul Julien and Elizabeth Kleinveld can be startling. Their emblematic Ode to Van Eyck's Arnolfini Marriage, above left, is mostly true to the renaissance original but with a modern multicultural twist. While you're there be sure to check out the splendiferously sprawling Louviere + Vanessa retrospective, including such fantastical works as Mare Nubium, below.

 A different interplay of past and present appears in the Octavia Gallery's Contemporary Antiques expo where local masters of archaic photographic techniques such as Debbie Fleming Caffery, David Halliday, Josephine Sacabo and Euphus Ruth share space with literally hundreds of Instagram photos arranged salon style, covering the walls. These works offer a contrast between the instant gratification of digital technology and the aura of depth and presence associated with the much slower and more labor intensive photo techniques of the past, as we see in David Halliday's Cicada:

Photography was originally seen as an alternative to painting, which the soft focus lenses of the 19th century often suggested, but in more modern times paintings became much sharper, sometimes abstract or photographic. Lake Newton's Painter's Choice series of abstract photographs at Staple Goods blurs the boundaries between the brush and the lens. Photographs with minimal titles like Baltimore, Palermo or Memphis often possess the mysterious presence of cyphers that playfully link photographic immediacy to the legacies of modernist painters in a circular continuum of influence. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Contemporary Antiques: Curated by Franke Relle, Through Jan. 5, Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249;  Currents: Group Exhbition by New Orleans Photo Alliance members, Through Jan. 6, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600, ; Painters' Choice: Photographs by Lake Newton, Saturdays, Sundays Through Jan. 6, Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331.
(Left: Baltimore by Lake Newton) 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Deborah Luster at Arthur Roger; Shelby Lee Adams and Tav Falco at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art

More than any other medium, photography is about time and its relationship to light and circumstance. In the hands of three Southern photographers, the results are often poetic. Deborah Luster's early works on view at Arthur Roger predate her more famous images of Louisiana prisoners and crime scenes, but the same insightful whimsy illuminates views that include rural children posed with captive eels, or else dressed in their Sunday best amid fields of billowy cotton. Here the street corner magic tricks of characters like Damien and Listine, top, coexist with a colorful array of personalities who appear as living and breathing stories rendered in flesh, memories flash frozen in time.

The inhabitants of Shelby Lee Adams' controversial Salt and Truth series of portraits from rural Appalachia are shocking for their candor. Here eccentric characters gaze intently at us from within crumbling clapboard shacks or decrepit barns with raccoon skins nailed to plank walls. Much of this suggests a Diane Arbus version of  WPA photography, but Adams, a native of the area, understands that while his subjects lack sophistication they also radiate the enduring tenacity one might expect from living examples of unadulterated Appalachian Americana.

Legendary musician, author and historian Tav Falco has long been a dedicated photographer of his native turf, and his images taken in and around Memphis in the 1970s glow with the quiet lucidity of a vision that distills people and places to their salient inner essence. But this is the South, so all those ghostly landscapes and ramshackle structures seem inhabited by the spirits of all who have come before. Or as Falco puts it: “Photography is a lone process of the lone eye blinking and twitching and gazing upon the terrifying, amusing and often diverting evidence of the living and the dead.” ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Send it On Down: Photographs by Deborah Luster, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999;  Salt & Truth: Photographs by Shelby Lee Adams, 50 Photographs: An Iconography of Chance: Photographs by Tav Falco, Through Jan. 7th, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600,

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Against the Tide: New Paintings and Mixed Media by Jacqueline Bishop at Arthur Roger

Does anyone seriously doubt global warming anymore? People who who used to ask why we live in such a vulnerable place had a rude awakening when hurricane Sandy made it clear that vast tropical storms are no longer confined to the tropics but now threaten even New York's financial district. Perhaps climate change is just a reminder that we have become alienated from our origins. Jacqueline Bishop has been addressing such questions in her paintings and mixed media work for many years, and her new Arthur Roger show is startling, not simply for its meticulous virtuosity, but also for its scope. Sages have long said that the subconscious, including dreams, is where nature still rules in otherwise “civilized” humans, and this exhibit brings together a remarkable melding of wild nature and the inner wildness of the psyche in works that revisit old themes while pursuing new directions.

World View, top, revisits one of Bishop's iconic symbols in the form of a bird's nest seemingly floating in blue space where it is entangled in vines and seemingly bursting at the seams with a profusion of birds, butterflies, fish and tropical fruit. At the center lies an iridescent blue-green sphere--planet earth--as a kind of cosmic egg.  In World Journey, trees and furry creatures ride in pirogues across a dark blue sea, and here the sense of space expands, though not as much as in Passage, a large painting where layers of thin gray clouds define a cobalt blue sky where many birds are darkly silhouetted. In Procession, above, the birds are silhouetted a fiery crimson sky while in the foreground a doe with a tree rising from its back rides a choppy blue sea in a dingy. Although this makes no “logical” sense, it eloquently speaks a poetic language of dreams and metaphors to evoke the interconnectedness of all earthly life. The aura of these paintings is magical and cannot really be reproduced. You just have to be there. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Against the Tide: New Paintings and Mixed Media by Jacqueline Bishop, Through Dec. 22, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999 (Left: Boat)

"FORE:" Post-Post-Black Art at Studio Museum Harlem

By Holland Cotter

In 2001 the Studio Museum in Harlem opened a group exhibition called “Freestyle,” the first in a series of  freshly minted African-American talent. And in the catalog for that show the curator, Thelma Golden, dropped a neat little cultural bomb. She referred to the group of artists she’d chosen, most of them then in their 20s, as “post-black.” Heads spun, and are still spinning. Even some young artists to whom it was applied weren’t quite clear about what to do with it. Overnight the dynamics of contemporary art changed.

More than a decade later it still is, to judge by the fourth and latest of the museum’s new-generation shows, this one titled Fore, organized by three young staff curators, Lauren Haynes, Naima J. Keith and Thomas J. Lax. Like its predecessors it keeps racial politics alive but discreet and covers the waterfront in terms of mediums, which it samples and mixes with turntablist flair. More>>

See Also: Clueless NYTimes Critic Ken Johnson Called Out In Open Letter>>

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Volatilia at Barrister's

 Last year's Automata exhibition exhibition of robotic sculpture at the Old Iron Works on Piety Street was so spectacular that it was only logical to wonder what might come next. In fact, the moon, the stars and curator Myrtle von Damitz' extended family obligations meant that this year's expo of Automata artists would morph into the more subtle Volatilia exhibit at Barrister's. Intended as “a pseudo-mystical exposition,” it takes its name from a term the poet Coleridge used to mean “winged words” of the sort logged in his Volatilia day book for “impounding stray thoughts.” At Barrister's, they appear as unlikely devices that suggest flight or escape, mechanical concoctions imbued with, if not consciousness, then at least attitude. There is a modestly Mad Max aura about much of this, as if the industrial revolution had been suddenly slammed irrevocably into reverse and made far more personal and whimsical.

 Travis Linde's Loki's Carriage combines archaic Visigoth technology with sense of drama in the form of something like a three wheel stroller, comprised of iron and animal parts, for baby barbarians. Rachel David and Noel Bennetto's Bird Brain Brand, above, is a hand cranked and hand forged multiple-wing device, perhaps a prototype for industrial flying machines devised by a species of crows with corporate ambitions. But if the avian species went corporate, what will happen to bird songs? Fear not, Taylor Shepherd and Delaney Martin produced WNEB87.9, a functional radio station capable of broadcasting their chirping for perpetuity. Other bird inspired concoctions include Ersy's mini-sculpture, Seeker, top, a kind of bicycle with feather wings, a propeller and trainer wheels for a fledgling mini-Icarus. Elizabeth Shannon and Jacqueline Mang take us back to the future with relics of flying creatures we never knew existed, but Megen Lee-Hoelzle's preserved faeries in four inch glass jars offer proof, of sorts, of a humanoid species capable of flight long before the Wright brothers. Here evolution appears to have taken a more intimate alternate route. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Volatilia: Group Show of Automata Artists Curated by Myrtle Von Damitz, Tuesdays-Saturdays Through Dec. 2, Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506; 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"Lifelike" at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Visual art has long been concerned with “realism” -- the accurate depiction of the “real” world around us--but now, thanks to digital photography, the internet and cell phone cameras, we live in a world filled with images of everything that happens to almost everyone all of the time, as pictures of pets, birthday parties and vacations migrate from digital devices to social media sites at lightning speed. Everything is special for at least a moment, but this renewed popular focus on the ordinary actually reflects the concerns and obsessions of the pop art movement a half century ago. The New Orleans Museum of Art's big new Lifelike exhibition revisits pop art's fascination wit the ordinary updated with additional new works that reflect the digital zeitgeist of the 21st century.   

Made up of over ninety works from the 1960s to the present inspired by everyday objects and situations, Lifelike spotlights the work of fifty internationally famous artists  including art stars like Chinese dissident sculptor Ai Weiwei and the Italian master prankster Maurizio Cattelan. Here German maestros like Gerhard Richter and Thomas Demand appear along side iconic American pop artists Andy Warhol, Ed Keinholz and Chuck Close, among others. But where 20th century masters like Warhol and Keinholz were content to present commonplace items as objects of contemplation, the artists of the 21st century have not hesitated to employ technology and special effects to create realistic objects that fool the senses.

For instance, Leandro Erlich's Subway, 2010, installation (detail, top left) features a life size steel door like the kind seen on subways only here the window frames a continuous loop video of seated somnolent subway riders like members of a mechanical ashram of meditators in motion. Similarly, an untitled Maurizio Cattelan sculpture realistically recreates a pair of stainless steel elevators that are actually installed seamlessly into the pristine walls of the museum. They look no different from other elevators except for their size, barely over a foot tall. At the other end of the scale, Robert Therrien's untitled folding table and chair sculptures are exact replicas of the sorts of folding seats and tables found in conference or meeting rooms, but here the chair seats come up to your chest and the table is tall enough for an adult to walk under with room to spare.

While those surreal spatial distortions are fun, some of the more subtle pieces are no less stunning. For instance, Ugo Rondinone's ultra-convincing (cardboard leaning on the wall) sculpture looks just a discarded bit of packing crate only it's really a cast bronze panel meticulously painted to look like a scrap of corrugated cardboard. Ditto Alex Hay's Paper Bag, which looks just like an ordinary brown paper sack, only this one is around 5 feet tall. Fashioned from fiberglass and epoxy, it might be something left behind for the clean up crew in that room with the giant folding table and chairs.

Some of the most haunting pieces in the show include Robert Bechtle's 74 Mailbu painting of a two tone Chevy in a 1970s suburban carport. It reads like a scene from childhood, and if anyone wonders what it's like in that suburban house, Keith Edmier's Bremen Town is a full size environmental installation of a 1960s suburban kitchen replete with period furnishings and paisley wallpaper. Organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this is one of those rare art exhibitions that combines pervasive high quality and intellectual heft with boatloads of popular appeal. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Lifelike: Works Based on the Commonplace by 50 International artists Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg, Richter, Cattelan, etc.; Tuesdays-Sundays through Jan. 27, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100

Harper at Antenna, Benischek & Miller at The Front

Autumn is the season of renewal in New Orleans, and this November marks both the re-opening of the Antenna Gallery at its new St. Claude  location and the fourth birthday of the Front. Yet, both feature works dealing more with endings than beginnings. At Antenna, David Harper explores mourning in sculptures crafted from white porcelain, fabric and lace inspired by the Dutch still life tradition. But where the Dutch masters painted arrangements of flowers and fruit with occasional skulls as reminders of mortality, Harper's style is even more gothic. Better, Still features a deathly white porcelain doll next to a porcelain snake with blue floral patterns on its snow white skin, in a haunting if creepy reprise of the way ornamentation has been used to commemorate the departed. In Noblesse Oblige, a large white porcelain deer with two heads appears in an delicate lace cage-like vitrine on a faux polar bear rug. Amid smaller and subtler works, it rounds out Harper's beautiful, yet disturbing, elaboration of a dreamlike yet historically based, alternate reality.

Brad Benischek and Case Miller's Breaking Up Is Hard To Do at the Front, pictured, is a no less psychological, yet totally funky, environmental installation crafted to resemble a bitter end border crossing at some dark twilight zone of the soul. Featuring a realistic, life size recreation of a steel, graffiti smeared, Port of Embarkation complex, it is really an architectural rendition of the Charles Bukowski/Tom Waits world view. an externalized equivalent of the bleak inner landscape of emotional loss that results when the bonds of love are sundered and people move on--which at the opening featured a guitar strumming bum playing Nirvana and Jacques Brel covers as viewers traversed a winding, infernal looking corridor that deposited them unceremoniously outside the building. Not always appreciated, this at least offered a reminder, if any were needed, of how disconcerting emotional transitions can be.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Better, Still: New Work by David R. Harper, 12-5pm Sat-Sun Through. Dec 2,
Antenna Gallery, 3718 Saint Claude Ave., 250-7975; Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Installation by Brad Benischek and Case Miller, 12-5pm Sat-Sun Through. Dec 2,
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Aaron Collier at Cole Pratt; Anita Cooke at Ferrara

For most of America's history, art was all about recognizable objects. Whether sharp or fuzzy, detached or sentimental, we knew what we were looking at--until 60 or so years ago when abstract expressionism seemed to appear out of nowhere. Or did it? In fact, abstraction had been with us all along, as rural ladies from Appalachia to Iowa stitched patchwork quilts that were really the first American abstract art form. Some surmise that all those repeating orderly patterns may have been a response to the chaos of rural life, and while Aaron Collier admits to being influenced by growing up with his granny's quilts, his new paintings are more about the tension between stability and change. And where abstract expressionism was all about inner, or subjective, values, Collier's explosions of color and gesture encompass our contemporary concern with atmospheric upheavals and the unholy symbiosis of technology and pop culture that define modern life. In Broken Star, top, most patchwork quilt elements are there, but the energy is fractured and serrated with glaucous phosphorescence radiating outward as if from a particle collider. With and Without Weight, above left, further elaborates Collier's collision of established order and chaos theory in a visual metaphor of what happens when nature starts to undo everything we thought we knew and science—and human improvisation--have to scramble to make sense of it all.

Much of the texture of modern life comes from complex layers of everything ranging from laws to the dense electronic circuits that entangle our lives like cat's claw vines. Nature and culture are invoked in Anita Cooke's Density expo at Ferrara, in works like Hidden Garden, above-detail, where her granny's  sewing machine helped her cobble swirls of colored thread into works that mimic the complexity of the natural world as well as the modern systems that were designed to serve us, but in which we now appear irrevocably entangled.  ~Bookhardt

Broken Star: Oil Paintings by Aaron Collier, Through Nov. 24, Cole Pratt Gallery, 3800 Magazine St., 891-6789; Density: New Sewn Constructions by Anita Cooke
Through Nov. 28, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471 
(Left, Aaron Collier: Out of Line)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tantric Wealth: Derek Larson at the May Gallery

The massive, hulking brick building looming above the Claiborne Ave. overpass between Montagut and St. Ferdinand streets looks like the industrial structure it once was, and while you'd never know it from the outside, it currently comprises over 50 artist studios. It also houses the May Gallery, the St. Claude Arts District's northernmost outpost, which currently features Derek Larson's no less surprising Tantric Wealth exhibition, a mixed media extrapolation of ancient beliefs and contemporary currencies. Specifically, his  busy montages of monetary symbols like euros, pesos, pounds, dollars or krona are configured into into contemporary Yantras, the sacred diagrams employed in traditional Hinduism as meditative pathways to cosmic consciousness. All are untitled, and all radiate the irony that inevitably attends any fusion of things macro and micro, sacred and venal.

Adding to their pop aura, all are rendered in acidic shades of tangerine, mauve, salmon and so forth, in patterns as incomprehensible as global finance itself. And while the sages of ancient Asia offered paths to self-liberation, today's global economy more often resembles something the Egyptian pharaohs might have devised, only our new pharaohs are the global financiers who sometimes seem to try to rule the world even as the high priests of technology keep the masses mesmerized with the latest addictive gadgets that command ever more of our attention, as we see in Larson's video projections of people seemingly transfixed, meditating on their pods, pads, tablets or cell phones. Like digital yogis, they channel vast networks of universal corporate consciousness, and here we encounter a Ray Bradbury vision of a dystopia of electronic lotus eaters where everyone is wired into a waking dream of virtual connectedness, a realm of eternally ephemeral enticements that never fail to tantalize even as the latest “new and improved” iteration of electronic nirvana looms on a perpetually receding horizon. The reality is more nuanced than this sounds, but Larson gives us a lot to think about. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Tantric Wealth: Multimedia Installation by Derek Larson. Open Second Saturday Evening, Nov 10, and by appointment through Nov. 23. May Gallery, 2839 N. Robertson St., 316-3474  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"It's Hot Out" by VonHaffacker and "Bullets for Breakfast" by John Isiah Walton at the Second Story Gallery

It's not often that cops become serious artists, and it's even rarer for them to exhibit paintings based on what they see on the mean streets of the city. A local white cop who signs his name VonHaffacker is all that and more, and his two person expo with emerging black artist John Isiah Walton at the Healing Center's Second Story Gallery may be the most provocative show this month. Here the paintings have ballistic impact as we see in works like Throw me Somethin' Mista, his still life painting of an AK 47 assault rifle draped with Mardi Gras beads, or Doing Lines, his near photographic view of some power lines with a telltale pair of sneakers dangling ominously against the sky.  But his masterpiece, Ghost of Telly Hankton, is a mosaic portrait of the murder kingpin made up of hundreds of  spent shell casings shaded with varying degrees of oxidation to comprise an oversize mug shot with an iconic, arresting presence. It is accompanied by a wall essay on Hankton's bloody antics that reads like one of Quentin Tarantino's violence-porn movie plots, only this is the real thing, not some emotionally retarded director trying to be cute with carnage. Here VonHaffacker strikes a nerve and then some.

More ballistic art appears in John Isiah Walton's Bullets for Breakfast series of gold and metal leafed cereal box portraits of famous assassination victims in history ranging from John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King to Abraham Lincoln. Interesting, but most pale in comparison to his simple sculptures of cereal bowls filled with rounds of live ammo ranging from small bore bullets to hefty hollow points with a spoon stuck into them. No, it's not the breakfast of champions, but it does illustrate how violence has become the all American commodity, a toxic product that wreaks havoc on our streets even as it poisons our national image in the eyes of the world. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

It's Hot Out C'he in New Orleans: Recent Paintings by VonHaffacker; Bullets For Breakfast: Works by John Isiah Walton, Through Nov. 3, Second Story Gallery, 2372 St. Claude Ave., 710-4506

Critic Dave Hickey Calls NY/London Contempory Art a Dead Zone, an Ossified Extension of Wall Street

This will come as nothing new to readers of New Orleans Art Insider, which has long noted that nothing of consequence has happened in New York or London contemporary art in decades, but it's interesting when one of our leading critics, Dave Hickey, phrases it with such blunt concision. From the Guardian:

One of America's foremost art critics has launched a fierce attack on the contemporary art world... Dave Hickey, a curator, professor and author known for his collection of essays The Invisible Dragon and his wide-ranging cultural criticism, is walking away from a world he says is calcified, self-reverential and a hostage to rich collectors who have no respect for what they are doing.

"They're in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It's just not serious," he told the Observer. "Art editors and critics – people like me – have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It's not worth my time."

Hickey says the art world has acquired the mentality of a tourist. "If I go to London, everyone wants to talk about Damien Hirst. I'm just not interested in him. Never have been... If it's a matter of buying long and selling short, then the artists he would sell now include Jenny Holzer, Richard Prince and Maurizio Cattelan. "It's time to start shorting some of this shit..."

Will Gompertz, the BBC's arts editor, concurred: "Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore," he said, adding that "the current system of collectors, galleries, museums and art dealers colluding to maintain the value and status of artists has quashed open debate on art. I hope this is the start of something that breaks the system. At the moment it feels like the Paris salon of the 19th century, where bureaucrats and conservatives combined to stifle the field of work. It was the Impressionists who forced a new system, led by the artists themselves. It created modern art and a whole new way of looking at things.

"Lord knows we need that now more than anything. We need artists to work outside the establishment and start looking at the world in a different way – to start challenging preconceptions instead of reinforcing them..." More>>

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Between You and the Mountains: New Sculpture and Paintings by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels at Parse

“As above, so below.” So said the medieval European alchemists and astrologers. The idea that the lives of ordinary people reflect broader universal patterns harks back to the earliest beliefs of the Hindus, Buddhists and Hebrews among others for whom the triangle was an important symbol. Triangles also play an important part in Serra Fels' “blueprint” paintings and wood sculptures at Parse. Echoes of the Hindu Shri Yantra, their sacred mandala for the origins of time and space, as well as the geometric Hebrew Kabbala,  appear everywhere in her works, which Fels says reflect all of the people whose personal and social histories, as well as DNA, go into the making of a single individual. Painted with a thin pigment wash on antique French meteorological tables, they suggest mysterious diagrams, perhaps of the arcane secrets of the soul, or maybe mystical alchemical algorithms of how many angels can fit on an atom of DNA. While visually intriguing, their effectiveness reflects the way they resonate an aura of concealed yet extensive esoteric knowledge.

Similar triangulation appears in Fels' hut-like sculptural installations, above. If they look familiar it helps to know that she was one of the artists who created the Music Box installation of sonic shanties in Bywater earlier this year. The structures, which mirror the forms of rooftops or mountain ranges, are more precise and convey, on a smaller scale, the sense of mystery that we associate with ancient obelisks and Egyptian pyramids. Constructed of antique wooden slats in receding triangular patterns with triangular doorways, they are imposing yet airy. Like the paintings, they suggest a sense of intimate personal space mingled with the impersonal mathematical geometry of the infinite, reminding us that according to Albert Einstein--as well as the ancient Hindu and Buddhist sages--time and space, like energy and matter, are all one and the same. For Fels, dealing with the intimate, as well as the infinite, is all a matter of perspective. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Between You and the Mountains: Sculpture and "Blueprint" Paintings by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels
Wednesdays - Saturdays through October, Parse Gallery, 134 Carondelet St.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Where Do We Migrate To at the CAC

We live in a time of vast migrations, of ideas, money and especially people. Migration's internal flip side, immigration, has become a flash point both domestically and abroad, as the nativist political noise machine defines most immigrants as “other,” a potential enemy within, never mind that our own forebears might have once been in that number. Unlike reactionary politics, this Where Do We Migrate To exhibition is very visually muted despite its reverberating video soundtracks. Resonance is the fourth dimension of all art forms and here the tone is sociological yet contemplative, occasionally punctuated with totalizing elements like Xaviera Simmons' wall-size Superunknown (Alive In The), below, a massive display of 42 large photographic color images of boat people copied off the internet, all of them adrift in leaky vessels listing ominously toward oblivion, awaiting “rescuers” who may not arrive.

Oblivion of another sort appears in Julika Rudelius' video, Adrift, where people in a room are all nodding off as if on a moving train or bus, only here it is the room itself that lurches in an rolling spasm like an existential travelogue by Samuel Beckett. Another play on mass movement appears in Korean artist Kimsooja's Needle Woman video, top, where the motionless back of her head appears like a meditative island of tranquillity in a turgid sea of immigrants, one of the show's more effective couplings of sociology and visual poetics. But all those huddled masses are the fuel on which the fires of nativist sentiment feed, and the soundtrack of Brendan Fernandes' Homecoming video of loudly roaring jungle cats actually does sound a lot like the subtitles beneath them that read: “Go Home.” Even so, nativism is often just a futile attempt to grasp the ungraspable as summed up neatly in Adrian Piper's Everything #4, a simple oval mirror inscribed with the gold leaf message: “Everything Will Be Taken Away,” below. So true, yet for many in this thoughtfully meandering exhibition, everything was left behind already. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Where Do We Migrate To?: International Group Exhibition Curated by Niels Van Tomme, Through January 20, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528-3805