Sunday, April 29, 2012

Mysterious Disappearances Stun Art Community

In Mikhail Bulgakov's great novel, The Master and Margarita, the devil and his big black cat arrive in Moscow during Joseph Stalin's reign of terror. The diabolical duo are shape shifting tricksters who wreak havoc among Moscow's elite--at a time when Stalin caused many people to abruptly “disappear,” they cause other people to abruptly disappear, throwing the political class into chaos. Lately, many things in the local art scene have also mysteriously disappeared. For instance, Alex Podesta has long been known for his lifesize sculptures of bearded guys in bunny costumes, so it was shocking to see a Podesta show sans rabbits. His new sculptures at the Front featuring peculiar devices manipulated by disembodied hands, pictured, are intriguing, but ghosts of bunny men still haunt the room.

Both he and Lala Rascic were included in the Spaces exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center. The gallery and its entrance, left, were definitely there when the show opened on February 25, but in a mere few weeks the gallery suddenly disappeared without a trace as we see in the photo, below right, dated April 11th. At first no one seemed to know what became of it, but some artists said
it was really only the entrance that had disappeared, walled off in a mysterious plot perpetrated by either the devil or Quentin Tarantino (whose locally shot film Django Unchained, is about the disappearance of an immigrant dentist's wife). All told, the gallery went missing for ten days. Witnesses say the first hint of these remarkable events came about when a crew of spectral workers taking suspicious measurements announced their intention to make the gallery entrance vanish, and many artists responded by preemptively making their work vanish from the show. Lala Rascic managed to stage a “Flash Mob” protest ritual in the gallery before it was sealed off, a performance she repeated at this Front expo. Adding to the angst, some of the artists' families had made plans to visit New Orleans to see the CAC show only to have it suddenly disappear from view. By April 19th the gallery entrance had reappeared as mysteriously as it vanished, and then the show itself reappeared, with noteworthy omissions, by April 21, but the controversy continues. CAC director Jay Weigel says it was all result of “misinformation,” misunderstandings and having to rely on movie revenues to supplement declining donations. But others argue that vanishing art shows are likely to make funding for such programs vanish as well, and indeed, Bob Snead, an Antenna Gallery artist and treasurer of the Press Street non-profit literary and visual arts collective, says some St. Claude galleries now qualify for foundation grants that have devilishly vanished from the CAC's base of potential donors. It seems transparency is now all the vogue, while vanishing acts are considered problematic. Whatever the cause, these remarkable disappearances have been disquieting if not disturbing. Was it the Rapture or Mayan prophesies? Were the bunny men harbingers of doom or resurrection? Was it an omen that two of them were spotted in the Spaces show when the doors were pried open again? Perhaps only the devil or Quentin Tarantino knows for sure, but neither would confirm or deny the rampant speculation. ~Bookhardt   

Alex Podesta and Lala Rascic: New Work
Saturdays and Sundays through May 6
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;


CS Monitor Celebrates St. Claude

National Journal Says Nola the "Hot" Art City

Delaney Martin explains The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory

When the levees burst after hurricane Katrina in 2005, flooding 80 percent of the city and killing more than 1,700 residents, for a while there was neither art nor reason to celebrate. Now, however, a grass-roots artistic renaissance is marching in to lift spirits. It’s found in collective art galleries sprouting in a scruffy section of town and young, indie filmmakers telling big stories with small budgets.

Artistic revival? “It’s visible in the air, it’s on the ground, you see it in galleries opening, in people showing up for film screenings – it’s palpable,” says Glen Pitre, the dean of the New Orleans independent film scene. “Folks feel like they’re part of rebuilding the city, but it’s not just selfless. It’s also a desire to hop on a fun, fast-moving train going somewhere exciting.”

“What’s happened is an astonishing burgeoning of galleries every place on St. Claude Avenue,” says longtime New Orleans gallerist Andy Antippas, who’s organizing another collective. The movement started with a handful in 2008, and now there are arguably more galleries run by broke artists on this one-mile strip, per capita, than in any city of comparable size in the United States. “It’s totally out of whack,” says Jessica Bizer, a member of Good Children Gallery.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Goldfinch at Barrister's; Schwanse and Gu at UNO


Despite her own colorfully pictographic epidermal adornments, Jessica Goldfinch thinks tattoos have had it, at least, in America. What was once outre is now blasé, but Russia is different, especially its prisons, where tats still rule. There they are not just edgy but also markers of status and identity, in symbolism that takes on unexpected new twists because of the way the old USSR reversed the roles of religious and political icons. For instance, a Jesus tattoo symbolizes state persecution more than religious redemption, but a crucifixion scene on an inmate's chest indicates a master thief, so her collage painting of a crucifixion scene with with an onion domed structure in the background, left, is titled Prince of Thieves. But a tattoo of Lenin on the chest, like the one seen in Father Lenin, top, offered protection from being shot in the heart by a guard since Lenin was a holy icon in the old sectarian USSR, where Jesus was relegated to outlaw status. These mostly smallish paintings and sculptures explore the complex range of symbolism found in a state run alternate reality where Western values are inverted and reflected back at us in reverse. Another highly symbolic series of flowers with hypodermic syringes instead of pistils and stamens--a visual exploration of addiction's deadly allure seen in her Syrinx Flora sculpture,  bottom,--makes this Goldfinch's most seductively provocative exhibition to date.

At the UNO St Claude Gallery, Chen Gu's Far Away series imagines a world where female desires are paramount, and her highly varied visual meanderings are like snippets from a colorful journey. Nina Schwanse's mostly video subversions of the seductive female pop persona have been so elaborate and thorough that this Trouble Every Day expo can only hint at the highly elaborated extent of her very obsessive oeuvre, perhaps best seen on her website: Suffice it to say, she's really something. ~Bookhardt

Crimes Against Faith and Other Tales of Compulsion: New Work by Jessica Goldfinch at Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave, 710-4506;, Far Away and Trouble Every Day: New Work by  Nina Schwanse and Chen Gu, UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave., 280-6493;
All through May 5

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dario Robleto's "Prelives of the Blues" at NOMA


During his last years, my frail 90-something-year-old grandfather had a caretaker who had been a nurse in her native Latvia. An avid butterfly collector, she liked visiting his ramshackle house with an acre of overgrown orange trees — all that remained of his citrus farm after Winter Park, Fla., engulfed it. Butterflies were plentiful there, and the nurse’s collection was beautiful and meticulous; in tray after tray her precisely ordered specimens lay resplendent in death.

 It’s not fair to compare Dario Robleto’s Prelives of the Blues show to a butterfly collection, but the parallels are inescapable — and inexplicable. Most of the 24 precisely ordered and taxonomically arranged sculptures and works on paper are said to be inspired by blues, jazz and rock ’n’ roll. They take many forms. For instance, in The Minor Chords Are Ours, bottom, he minor chords contained in a 60-year-old record collection were transcribed to audio tape stretched taut to resemble thread, then wrapped around wooden spools in Mason jars. In another, a pale, iridescent drumstick meticulously crafted from glass produced by atomic bomb tests turns out to be a tribute to the late rock drummer Keith Moon, and in Will the Sun Remember At All, top, the glowing stellar objects are actually blown up images of stage lights copied from old record album jackets. The Sun Makes Him Sing Again, above, is a light box take on some of James Brown's song notes and I Wish The Ocean Sounded More Like Muddy Waters features a tracery of tiny pink seashells spelling out the name “Muddy” like thin pink icing on vanilla cake.

What does any of this have to do with the blues or any other soulful music? Frankly, not much. If you want soul, go downstairs to the great Thornton Dial show. The strength of Prelives resides in its oddly convoluted obsessions and meticulous arrangements of objects taken far afield from their origins. It is mostly rather dry with a near Agatha Christie-like flair for inventive twists and wry intrigue. As with Christie, most of the clues lead you astray. ~Bookhardt

The Prelives of the Blues--New Work by Dario Robleto, Through Sept. 16, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100;

Sunday, April 8, 2012

David Bates at Arthur Roger Through May 19


Dallas artist David Bates may be the finest painter his home town has ever produced, but when it comes to his favorite sport, fishing, he heads to Louisiana, to the remote extremities of Plaquemines Parish. While the paintings in this Down Highway 23 series reflect the everyday lives of fishermen, they were inspired by a trip he made in 2010 when, instead of the usual scenes of shrimpers, oystermen and boats laden with the day's catch, he encountered a coastal dystopia defined by reporters, politicians, tar balls, oil slicks and clean up crews in hazmat suits. Evidence of the BP oil blowout was everywhere in a coastal landscape transformed into something nightmarish, but amid the chaos he soon began to spot the familiar faces of those who derived their living from those waters, visages like the woman titled simply Louisiana, below left, and what he saw in them was not defeat but the same resilience that had faced many hurricanes and came back for more.

Net Fishermen, top, is emblematic. Painted in a style that recalls the stoic strength of Diego Rivera's peasants, or Lynd Ward's starkly monumental images of 1930s American workers, it's a view of three men in a boat culling fish in a net--but the hovering gulls and stormy sea transform a prosaic scene into something far more iconic. Similar sensibilities are seen in Bait Fishing II, a view of two guys working a seine net, and in Cleaning Fish, Venice Louisiana II, both timeless scenes of the sort that have been eternally reenacted since since the stone age. Both are also defined by the stoic resolve seen in the faces of the figures. But his Port Sulphur Refinery at night is a hellish vision that might have inspired William Blake's line about “dark satanic mills,” yet all are rendered in vigorous, expressionistic slashes of pigment delivered with the bold, Zen-like economy of a karate master. Here Bates clearly defines the  the clash between technological depredation and the timeless, nature-based lifestyle that he renders with such mythopoetic resonance. ~Bookhardt

DOWN HIGHWAY 23: New Paintings by David Bates, Through May 19th, Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St. 522-1999; 
(Click images to expand)
Left: Loading Traps

Monday, April 2, 2012

One Million Bones +++ Congo Square +++ April 7

On Sat., April 7, Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park was the site of a one-day installation of 50,000 handmade bones as part of the One Million Bones Project. The project is an international public awareness initiative focusing attention on humanitarian crises around the globe. One Million Bones is a large-scale social arts practice that uses education and hands-on art making to raise awareness of genocides and atrocities going on around the world, this very day. More>>

Damien Hirst Called An "Oligarch" By Bloomberg News: "It's All About Money"

Damien Hirst often says that for an artist to be taken seriously, the art should outshine the cash. In his retrospective at Tate Modern (through Sept. 9), the cash sometimes gets the upper hand. Security guards mind his $80 million dollar diamond skull as they would a jewelry store, refusing women with handbags. A nearby stall sells $75 dollar T-shirts featuring the sparkly cranium. Cash inevitably comes up in conversation as the U.K.’s richest artist is interviewed on Tate’s top floor. Jovial Hirst has lost his scruffiness. He looks not unlike an oligarch on his day off: black jacket over a black shirt, multiple (skull) rings, a gold chain around his neck. With his auction prices down -- the most a Hirst fetched last year was a mere $1.8 million, versus $19.2 million in 2007, according to the Artnet database -- Hirst talks up his market. “Art is the greatest currency in the world,” says Hirst, 46. “Gold, diamonds, art: I think they’re equal things.”  More>>

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lithographs from the Tamarind Institute at Newcomb


Eclectic exhibitions with limited work by each artist can be disorienting even if the artists themselves are big, familiar names. That goes double if their medium is not typical, so viewing this retrospective of lithographs from the Tamarind Institute featuring work by modern masters can be like looking for old friends in costume on Mardi Gras day; some are obvious but others are not. For instance, a mysterious image of the word Angel spelled out in Hells Angel script on a flesh toned field turns out to be Ed Ruscha playing coy, whereas Kiki Smith, bottom, is easy and Philip Pearlstein's Nude on an Indian blanket is typical of his sympathetic flair for female sensuality. And Jime Dine's prints of empty male bathrobes standing with arms akimbo suggest Hugh Hefner as a ghost haunting the Playboy mansion. Scary. Abstractions can work well in lithography and an untitled Sam Francis from 1966, left, displays perfect pitch for line and color, but Hung Liu's Wildflower, top, conveys a sense of Asian delicacy in Western terms, in a piece that is in many ways representative of this show's quietly meditative aura.             

 The Landscape, Seascape, Cityscape component of the Nola Now show at the Contemporary Arts Center has been held over for two weeks until April 7. Featuring a variety of styles and media, this too is a smörgåsbord, a Whitman sampler of new work and golden oldies by mostly local artists such as Jacqueline Bishop whose large lithograph, Sonatina, appears above. Curated by Don Marshall, this and the Spaces expo upstairs, curated by Visual Arts Director Amy Mackie, have  helped bring local artists back to the CAC in a big way for the first time in ages. Unfortunately, Mackie recently resigned due to “philosophical differences” with CAC management. Whatever the reason, the abrupt loss of the last two CAC Visual Arts Directors, both from New York's innovative New Museum, can't possibly help when it comes to attracting qualified successors. ~Bookhardt

Tamarind Touchstones: Fabulous at Fifty: Lithographs from the Tamarind Institute, Through April 15, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328;; NOLA NOW, Part II: Landscape, Seascape, Cityscape, Through April 7, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805;