Sunday, August 26, 2012

New and Old Photography at the Ogden Museum

  Jolie Laide by Lisette de Boisblanc

A photograph can reflect many things — a dream, a memory or an event. This Ogden Museum New Southern Photography expo, although lacking any unifying theme, conveys something of a kaleidoscopic quality in work that is mostly quite recent if often rooted by the past. This sensibility is expressed in Lisette de Boisblanc’s X-ray photographs of her grandmother’s doll collection, or what was left of it after it was submerged for days in post-Katrina floodwaters. Her images reveal not only the archaic inner workings of vintage dolls but also the ghostly vestiges of the garments that emanate from them like auras, as we see in Jolie Laide, above, a luminous figure whose blank eyes seem focused on a world invisible to ordinary mortals. No less eerie is Heidi Kirkpatrick’s Mahjong in Fruitcake Tin, above left, a delicate arrangement of Mahjong tiles incorporating photographs of cactus plants, female nudes with spiked collars, views of the Eiffel Tower, skulls and crucifixes in a kind of subconscious smorgasbord. Poignant arrangements of memorial plastic flowers appear in Seth Boonchai’s Broken Flowers installation on the wall and floor even as some surreal views of the random absurdities of the American streetscape link this to the big, ambitious and generally rewarding Louisiana Contemporary expo upstairs.

Women in Front of Barber Shop 1960 by Ralston Crawford

All of this is complemented by the Ogden’s Louisiana Photographs from the Permanent Collection, a grab bag from the great photographers who’ve either resided in or passed through the Pelican State. While some are probably familiar to photography buffs, there are rare surprises like Ben Shahn’s shabbily exotic 1935 Church in Louisiana, Eudora Welty’s circa 1935, darkly surreal Mardi Gras Celebration, left, and Ralston Crawford’s spectacularly graphic 1960 backstreet Barber Shop, above, all of which complement slightly more familiar work by Walker Evans, Fonville Winans, Clarence John Laughlin and others in a show like a chance reunion with dear old friends on a balmy summer day. ~D. Eric Bookhardt
Through Sept. 23, New Southern Photography, Louisiana Photographs from the Permanent Collection, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600

Thursday, August 23, 2012

According to 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' Director Zeitlin Louisiana Is a Dangerous Utopia

Overlooked Atlantic interview resurfaces: Benh Zeitlin says his raved-about new film is a statement about people defending their homes, a depiction of a child's fantastical reality, and a rebuke to meaningless indie filmmaking.

The Atlantic: "...It does seem that there's some kind of implied, not political statement, but when you have the Bathtub put in opposition to this horrible, smoky dystopia on the other side of the levee, and when the government comes into the Bathtub and starts forcibly taking people from their homes, you do get a somewhat anti-American message. Is there some kind of political statement going on there, or is it just simple juxtaposition? 

Zeitlin: "I guess it is a political statement. People should not be forced to leave their homes. The whole movie is about why you can't be pulled out of your home.
The inspiration for making the film was the post-Katrina reaction of, "Why do you still live here? Why can't you just move to St. Louis? This is too dangerous. You shouldn't build there. This is a waste of money. Why would you want to live there?" The Bathtub hopefully is an answer to that question. Because this is the greatest place on earth. We have the most freedom, we don't need money, we don't need all these things that are thought of as necessary. We don't need that because we have this place that feeds us both literally and spiritually.
Read the full interview: Here>>    See also this update: 
What Beasts of the Southern Wild Really Says>>

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Katrina Andry at Staple Goods Through August

They are bold bordering on outrageous, even over the top. As woodcut prints go, most of them are exceptionally big, almost five feet tall, yet precisely rendered. Even so, expressionistic qualities make Katrina Andry’s edgy images almost seem to pop out at you, for they deal not just with “otherness,” but they do so in ways that are quite challenging. Most of her images of black female stereotypes are so outrageously executed they come across like parodies of parodies. But this is where it gets tricky because stereotypes are essentially parodies that have gained some popular traction, so by pushing them beyond the pale, Andry indulges in a bit of imagistic jujitsu and, in effect, flings them back at us in ways that heighten their underlying tensions.

Much of this focuses on the conflicts built into popular perceptions. For instance, Mammy Complex, top, depicts a white working mom and a black nanny tending to the mom’s two kids in a modern update of the old Southern domestic workers who used to mind the children of upper class white folks. Here the black woman appears in blackface and outrageous clothes that highlight her cultural “otherness” in contrast to the stiffly “proper” white woman, in a composition framed by a traditional American quilt pattern. But this is one of Andry’s tamer works—references to the fraught ethno-sexual implications of the term “jungle bunnies” in an adjacent woodcut, Jungle Fever, left, epitomize the bold complexity of her approach, which often goes so far as to feature white looking figures with pink "watermelon" tinted faces within otherwise black roles in a further subversion of trite racial paradigms. Another work, below, features a female African-American figure like a long-distance runner set against a quilt-like reverse map of America hovering over clapping hands. A caption reads, “The Keys to the Gated Community and White Acceptance,” but gated communities are actually still segregated, if only by class. Such ironic, in-your-face, thematically confrontational works might come across as pedantically scolding were they not rendered with such a literally sharp knife and with such carnivalesque flair, making them ultimately sui generis, in a class by themselves. ~ D. Eric Bookhardt

Otherness and American Values: Woodcuts by Katrina Andry, Thru Sept. 2, Saturdays and Sundays; Staple Goods, 1340 St. Roch Ave., 908-7331

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Andy Warhol's circa 1967 Marilyn Monroe

When JFK was in the White House and New York was the capital of the world, a little-known artist named Andy Warhol had his first solo exhibition in Manhattan. The year was 1962 and the show included his iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Campbell’s Soup cans and Coke bottles. The Peter Pan of pop art had crafted an aesthetically provocative vision of all that was crass and ironic in American culture and somehow made it fun. The world would never be the same, and although pop’s glory days are long gone, it remains a symbol of a stylishly naive and uniquely American extravagance, perhaps because we remain a preternaturally adolescent nation forever fixated on a neon vision of fulfillment. Whatever the reason, these pop pieces by Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Tom Wesselmann and others at the Octavia Gallery look almost as fresh now as they did then.

Smoker by Tom Wesselmann

Warhol’s evolution is illustrated in his 1967 lithograph of Marilyn Monroe in which she appears with a lurid green face and purple-crimson lips, an expressionistic treatment appropriate to Vietnam War-era angst, but his Jane Fonda of 1982 is paradoxically prettified, as was typical of his Reagan-era work. There also is a Lichtenstein Landscape Mobile, left, that is a wacky pop take on Calder, as well as some Dine variations on his traditional graphical hearts and bath robe themes, and a nice selection of iconic Wesselmann works, including some sensuously minimal nudes by the Matissean master of pop soft porn. And there are some surprises including a rare and unique 1981 Oh! Calcutta! subway poster, below, transformed by Keith Haring’s seminal graffiti figures. Local artists’ works in the show include Jeffrey Pitt’s Haring-esque marker paintings, and Sarah Ashley Longshore’s Trophy Wife Junk Drawer painting of high heel pumps, lipstick and derringers, a reminder that Warhol started out as a shoe illustrator and survived being shot by a woman with a handgun at the peak of his fame. History has a way of repeating itself, and we are lucky when it remains confined to acrylic on canvas. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Living With Pop: Works by Andy Warhol, Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring & Others, Through Sept. 29, Octavia Art Gallery, 4532 Magazine St., 309-4249

Sunday, August 5, 2012

What is a Photograph? at NOMA

Clarence John Laughlin's Elegy for the Old South

So just what is a photograph, anyway? Once as rare as they are now everywhere, photographs were first made with metals in near- alchemical processes that gave us delicate little images like the mysterious Daguerreotypes that made ordinary folks look as silvery and luminous as specters. But here every form of photography is represented thanks to prescient former NOMA director John Bullard, who began building the museum's major collection just as  it was finally becoming accepted as an art form several decades ago.

Digital code blowup of earliest known photograph, below left.

In a sense, photography parallels the history of modernism itself with its emphasis on science and the prosaic surfaces of everyday life, so it is fitting that the first known photograph, a view of some French rooftops by Nicéphore Niépce, suggests an abstract painting. Here a copy of Niépce's photo is accompanied by a large blowup printout of its digital code, the cybernetic DNA that would be used to reproduce it as an image on a smart phone or computer screen, symbolically encompassing the entire history of this most protean of media from past to present. The oldest photographs on view include Anna Atkins's gorgeous 1850 cyanotype Ceylon, a ghostly print of Asian fern fronds, and an 1855 mourning bracelet elaborately woven from human hair with a built in Daguerreotype of a child. Arnold Genthe's atmospheric 1923 French Quarter courtyard, bottom, looks more ancient than it is, a ghostly sepia time capsule on paper, even as Berenice Abbott's 1932 New York City at Night--a jazzy panorama of brightly lit skyscrapers like a cluster of glowing crystals--evokes the romance of modernism's past. But Clarence Laughlin's Elegy for the Old South (No. 2) plantation house photomontage uses surrealist collage techniques to capture the dreamy convoluted madness of Faulkner country, top, and what this show really illustrates is that, more than mere objects, photographs are both mental and physical icons, mechanical elaborations of memory, personal or societal, frozen in time. ~Bookhardt

What is a Photograph?: Exhibition Explores the Definition of Photography, Through August 19, New Orleans Museum of Art
City Park, 658-4100