Sunday, July 15, 2012

Katie Holten at NOMA; Michel Varisco at the Ogden

One of the side benefits of the St. Claude Arts District's latest export, the hot new indie movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, is that it immerses viewers in the precariousness of life along Louisiana's steadily sinking coastline. Further investigations into this lacy, tattered patch of land can also be found in two noteworthy museum shows. At NOMA, multimedia artist Katie Holten's Drawn to the Edge is a series of very large drawings of the rapidly eroding edges of  marshes where fragile grasses are consumed by the sea at an alarming rate. Hanging in the museum's Great Hall like giant banners from a conquering army of geologists, some evoke computer charts or geological contour maps, while others reveal fluid lines worthy of the Pre-Raphaelites—Edward Burne Jones' painting of a drowning Ophelia is an  all too apt metaphor. Holten, who once represented her native Ireland at the Venice Biennial, also includes samples of marsh water and sediment as well as resurrection ferns—a more hopeful metaphor in an expo that strikingly conveys the precarious patterns of life where the land meets the sea.        

Michel Varisco's large photographs of the Louisiana wetlands and Gulf of Mexico, Shifting, document both their beauty and degradation in images that can be stunning on several different levels. First, there is something magical about the place that functions as the womb of the American continent where fish and fowl eternally return to mate and recreate their kind. A vast estuary of near mythic proportions, it is a place Native Americans considered sacred. Scarring the natural beauty is an infestation of oil company canals like giant syringes injecting lethal salt water into this extraordinarily fertile terrain that feeds and protects us, causing it to rapidly melt into the Gulf. The result is Eden reduced to a crime scene, and Varisco effectively captures its beauty and horror for all to see. ~Bookhardt

Drawn to the Edge: Installation of Large-Scale Drawings by Katie Holten, Through Sept. 9, New Orleans Museum of Art, City Park, 658-4100; Shifting: Photographs by Michel Varisco, Through July 23, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600