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

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Children's Garden at LeMieux; Kinderszenen at Tulane

Ah childhood, that wondrous time when all the world was new. It is an age of marvels, but marvels are not always marvelous. Childhood friends may reveal the world to us, but they might also get us in trouble. Some kids are kind and some are cruel, but most parents are almost never cool. Childhood's complexities are explored in Alan Gerson's new paintings. In Children's Garden two boys ride on the shoulders of their hairless, business-suited fathers through a lush tropical landscape filled with huge strange plants that seem to greet their arrival with carnivorous interest. In Birthday a twisted looking tyke poses grimly with a cake in a room choked with darkly bulbous balloons and the kinds of colorfully wrapped packages that make you automatically think “bomb.” In Mask, a child in an overly realistic Frankenstein mask stands in front of a brick building like an old fashioned prison (or grade school), in a stiffly menacing pose that makes gun control start to seem like a good idea after all. Gerson, who describes himself as a “recovering attorney,” paints children the way Diane Arbus photographed them, in canvases where the walls are always claustrophobic and plants are always gravid with dark portent. Lets hope they don't grow up to be lawyers.

 More Gersons appear in the Kinderszenen show at the Carroll Gallery, but here there are contrasts. For instance, Stephen Paul Day's porcelain tile sculpture Reader, bottom, evokes vintage alphabet blocks and first grade readers suggesting that transitional time when when wonder must come to terms with "civilization." But in Mark Bercier's paintings little girls sometimes seem almost deliriously gaga, yet here the stark graphics in his Healin' Symbols and Forgotten Dreams canvases invoke A. R. Penk's graphic expressionism and Henry Darger's disturbed innocence to strike a balance between creepy and sweet that keeps you guessing. To be any good, figurative art must convey as much psychological substance as any actual person and Monica Zeringue's precisely surreal graphite drawing, Structure 4, left, suggests a surreal group portrait of her own youthful self as a manifestation of the  collective schoolgirl psyche, even as Sibylle Peretti's Genie and Victor armless ceramic sculptures, above, meditatively evoke inner lives quietly fraught with intensely complex emotions. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Children's Garden: Paintings by Alan Gerson, Through Nov. 10, LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St., 522.5988; Kinderszenen: Works about Childhood, Memory and Nostalgia, Through Oct. 18, Carroll Gallery, Tulane University, 314-2228;