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;